There are 8 main ethnic groups in Gambia living side by
side with a minimum of inter-tribal friction, each preserving
its own language, music, cultural
traditions and even caste
systems though there is an increasing amount of cultural interaction
and fusion. Indeed, the average Gambian will tell you he feels
he has more in common with his countrymen than he has with a Senegalese
from the same tribe! This by no means suggests that there is a
lack of individual identity. While there is growth in multi-ethnic
expressions, the search by groups to reaffirm their identities
Each of these communities speak their own language, all of which
are classified as part of the Niger-Congo language group and as
a whole represent a snap-shot of Senegambia society.
However, classifying people by blood or ethnic traits is increasingly
difficult as there has been extensive migrations and inter-marriages
over the centuries. There were migrations of people into the Gambia
before the 19th century but such movement of people greatly increased
after the establishment of Bathurst (Banjul) in 1816. They came
from Casamance, Futa Toro, Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea Bissau and
other West African countries.
The single largest ethnic group in Gambia is the Mandinka,
(Mandingos) an agricultural people with a hereditary nobility.
Before they migrated to the Gambia valley they lived in the northern
slopes of Futa Jallon Plateau. The country of the Manding is in
the Niger Valley.
very prominent in the capital city of Banjul and are prominent
in the Senegambia region. Their language is the lingua franca
for Gambia and can be heard being spoken in trading centres and
family compounds. In the up-river area of Gambia they are called
The people called the Creoles or Akus,
are Christians who are descendants of freed slaves who first came
to The Gambia in 1787 from Sierra Leone. and who rank among the
bureaucratic elite as well a being prominent in the private professional
Jola or Kujamat people are predominantly
organized around the cultivation of rice and are mainly based
in the Foni district of the Western Division. Theirs is a uniquely
segmentary society with no tradition of having a paramount chief.
Their traditional location in swamps and deep forests meant that
they were among the last people to be converted to Islam.
The Fulanis or Pol Futa a they are sometimes
known are mainly engaged in herding of cattle and running
their ubiquitous small corner shops. They are generally of lighter
skin than most of the population and several theories, some of
which have proved controversial have been put forward as to where
they originally came from.
The Serahule people are involved mainly
in farming, trade and property development. They can be found
in their largest numbers in the Basse region and speak in a number
of dialects including Azer and Kinbakka. They created the Ghana
Empire which encompassed Mauritania to present-day Ghana.
The other ethnic groups are the Serer
who are predominantly involved in fisheries have customs and a
language which bear considerable similarities to the Wolof. Then
there are the Tukulor
share strong ties with the Fulani's culture, history and traditions
and are mainly engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry.
There also exists a small community of
other groups such as the Lebanese, Europeans, Mansoanka, Bayot
, Bambara, Badibunka, Balanta, Hausa, Mankanya and the Mandjak
Other Ethnic Groups