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Feature News: How The Gambia Came To Have Its Name?

Posted by Abeiku Ebo on

Feature News: How The Gambia Came To Have Its Name?

The Gambia is West Africa‘s smallest country in terms of landmass but what it lacks in size, the country nicknamed The Smiling Coast makes up for a wide variety of cultures and a hospitable destination for tourists from especially Europe.

The economy of The Gambia is heavily reliant on its tourism sector because of its hospitable and welcoming citizens even if there are only 2.3 million of them. The Gambia’s aforementioned nickname is as a result of its place on the African map where its strategic insertion into Senegal makes it look like a face cracked a smile.

The Gambia achieved independence from the British in 1965. Even at that time, the country was regarded as a constitutional monarchy since Queen Elizabeth was the head of state and her appointee, the governor-general, was the head of government. Dawuda Jawara became the country’s first president in 1970.


During the colonial days, it was called British Gambia, in reference to the lands Britain claimed for itself around the River Gambia. This was common practice among the colonizers to name an area they took by adjectivizing the name of the area with their identity. That is how come we spoke of French Guinea, which became Guinea as well as Portuguese Guinea which became Guinea-Bissau. In 1970, the name The Gambia was taken after the country became a sovereign republic.

The long-serving leader Yahya Jammeh renamed the country the Islamic Republic of Gambia in 2015 only for current head of state Adama Barrow to go back to the republic era name.

But was inspired “Gambia” at all?

There are two reigning theories as to how Gambia came to be known. The most popular is that the name comes from the Mandinka term Kambra or Kambaa, in reference to the largest river in the country. Kambaa or Kambra was then corrupted into Gambia by the colonizers.

The second theory is that the name comes from what the Serer people called Gamba, a traditional calabash that is beaten to announce the death of an and respected Serer individual. Both the Serer and the Mandinka are ethnic natives of West Africa and The Gambia in particular.

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