On our last expedition in 2009, ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey’, when we walked completely around the small West African country of The Gambia, an important part of our journey was to document the people who we met along the way. We did this through photography and writing a blog
It wasn’t until we got on the ground, in Gambia, and talked with two of our local Gambian expedition team mates, Janneh and Samba, that we came up the idea of Florio photographing the village chiefs – known locally as Alkalos. But, in order to do this, we had to follow local protocol. There is a longstanding, inspiring, tradition in The Gambia called ‘Silafando’ – a Mandinka word which translates as ‘a gift to you on behalf of my journey’. It meant that whenever we entered a village, the first thing we would have to do was to introduce ourselves to the chief and then offer the ‘Silafando’ – a gift of kola nuts. This a great sign of respect to the chief, his elders and the Gambian culture. Once the chief accepted the ‘Silafando’ it signified that we were welcomed and allowed to camp in the village – either in the chief’s compound, if it was spacious enough, or somewhere else, preferably in a shady spot (beneath a the large leafy neem tree, for example). It also meant that we were in the village as guests of the chief – under his protection – and traditionally, in turn, the villagers treat any travelers with respect; as we respected them too.
I’d sometimes film some of the photo shoots – ‘Wobbly Productions’ (for obvious reasons!). Here is a link to Youtube and Florio photographing Lamin Jammeh – the village chief of Khalaji. See how many kids there are? This was indicative of almost all of the villages we stayed in…we’d be constantly surrounded, and every move watched, by dozens of curious, boisterous, vociferous children!
After the shoot, chief Lamin Jammeh got down to the business of sweeping the ground, around our camp site, with us – his ever-present cigarette dangling from his mouth – to make sure that we “the toubabs are comfortable in their home for the night”. How cool is he.
On our next journey, the River Gambia Expedition, 2012, we hope to make a similar project, collecting – through multiple medias: visual/written/audio – stories documenting the lives and cultures of the indigenous people, who live and work along the course of the course of the River Gambia.- one of Africa’s last free-flowing, major rivers Starting in the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea, on into hippo-abundant Niokolo Koba National Park, Senegal, and finally into The Republic of the Gambia – following the same course as the early gold and slave traders had done century’s ago – to the 10km wide mouth of the river, where it opens into the Atlantic Ocean, after over a 1000km journey.
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Please click on the image below to watch Jason Florio as he explains how you can own one of his fine art photography prints, from a series of images he will take whilst on the River Gambia Expedition 2012: