Growing up in The Gambia by Michael Mallinson – Vintage Gambia, West Africa


Image © Michael Mallinson Gambia Cutter, Bingtang Creek, The River Gambia, West Africa

Our River Gambia Expedition 2012 FB page was recently ‘liked’ by a gentleman called Michael Mallinson of Toronto, Canada. He had grown up in The Gambia during the 1950’s and 1960’s, when his dad worked for the United Africa Company (U.A.C.). “My mother had intended to have me in Gambia, but at the very last moment flew home to England because the only doctor in Gambia told her she was going to have a complicated, placenta-first birth and needed more care and treatment than he could provide. In any event, she had a perfectly normal birth and took me back to Gambia when I was four months old.”

Michael also made a comment on our FB page referring to his history in The Gambia and we were immediately intrigued us:

Since then, we have been corresponding with him and he has shared with us some wonderfully evocative stories, from his childhood memories of growing up in the small West African country. He also shared some beautiful old photos (see above) from that era.

We asked him if he would mind us sharing his stories and family photos on our blog and, thankfully, he agreed. Following is the story behind the above image:

‘Helen, here’s one. It’s always been a favourite snapshot of mine, despite being so blurred! It’s of a cutter sailing fully loaded with sacks of groundnuts down Bingtang Creek. They were a magnificent sight on the river, and seeing several of them under full sail together approaching Banjul was memorable. Another absolutely wonderful memory I have was watching the fishing fleet from our front garden as it returned to Bakau at the end of the day. There were many fishing canoes, all under lug sails, coming home. It is a sight that disappeared in the mid 1960s as outboard motors became common.

As mentioned, my Dad worked for United Africa Company. The U.A.C. manager’s compound is now the British High Commission complex. Our house was the one on the north side, nearest the church and the MRC tennis courts. Of course, there wasn’t that ugly great wall around it and the beautiful neem trees next to the tennis courts hadn’t been cut back. Our house had a very low wall at the top of the slope leading down to the cliff, with casurina trees along it. It was a wonderful cool shady place to sit and stare out to sea, watching the fishing fleet sail or paddle to the fishing grounds and then come home under sail in the late afternoon.

When I went (back) to The Gambia in January 2010 my youngest daughter, then 26, came with me. One of the things she enjoyed most was when I took her down to the beach at Bakau for the fishing boats coming in after a day on the water. It’s a colourful and noisy display. More will follow. Michael’

Helen goes shopping for supplies in a Gambian market – dried fish and chillis for Mbal (local dish). Image © Jason Florio

We’re enjoying Michael’s memories so much – mainly because we both know The Gambia so well too – albeit in a different era but, some things are still the same…the fishing port at Bakau for instance. That hasn’t changed much at all, since Michael’s childhood days – we’ve often sat and watched the colourful wooden fishing boats – pirogues – return daily, with their catch (and reaped the delectable rewards, once the fresh fish has been smoked and cooked by the local women who set up their stalls by the river there – served on still-warm tapalapa (local bread), stuffed with onions and spices!). And, we know exactly that spectacular view Michael describes … the cliff side view, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Suffice to say, we’re looking forward to Michael’s next installment and we hope you can stop by again to make the most of them too.

H & Flo (The Florios)

About River Gambia Expedition 2012

Jason Florio, FRGS: award-winning photojournalist. Helen Jones-Florio: expedition & photography producer. 2009: The couple co-led the West Africa expedition 'A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush - a 930km African odyssey' - the first circumnavigation of the small West African country, by foot, with two donkeys and a cart. Resulting in the award-winning series of portraits of Gambian village chiefs (Alkalo's) www.floriophoto.com (under 'Projects') http://930kmafricanodyssey.tumblr.com/ 2012-13: The couple co-led their second West Africa expedition - 'River Gambia Expedition - 1000km source-sea Africa odyssey' over-landing for 400km and canoeing the River Gambia for 720km https://rivergambiaexpedition2012.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Adventure, Culture, Documentary, Environmental, photography, River Gambia, The Gambia, tradition, Travel, West Africa and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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