Why the Name : Banjul ?

Map and Flag of The Gambia

Have you ever wondered what the name of the capital of The Gambia, Banjul, could mean? To me, the name sounds like it has some strength into it… try it: “BANGJUL.” Well, it turns out that Banjul takes its name from the Mandé people who gathered specific fibers on the island, which were used in the making of ropes. Bang julo is the Mandinka (Mande) word for rope fiber. The mispronunciation of this word led to the name Banjul.

Bathurst (modern-day Banjul) in 1824

As we learned earlier in the week (A Polish-Lithuanian or Latvian Colony in Africa?), the King of Kombo leased the area encompassing modern-day Banjul to the Duke of Courland in 1651. One could say that Banjul was a vassal possession of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or Latvian colony in Africa. Prior to 1816, Portuguese referred to the area as Banjulo, while the British called it Banjola. In 1816, the then king (Mansa) of Kombo, Tomani Bojang, ceded the area to Alexander Grant, a British commander, who turned it into a trading post and base to control the entrance to the Gambia estuary, enforce the Slavery Abolition Act, and protect British commercial interests in the region. The British first named the area St Mary’s Island (then known as Banjulo by the Portuguese), and later renamed it Bathurst after the 3rd Earl of Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the colonies. It became the center of British activity in the Gambia Colony and Protectorate. The town kept the name Bathurst, until independence when it was changed to Banjul in 1973.

A marketplace in Bathurst in 1910

As you look at the painting of Bathurst in 1824, you can clearly see that Gambians were fully dressed, thus once again destroying the idea repeated by Europeans that Africans were roaming naked (Description of African Dressing in 1400s) throughout the continent, or that they did not have a textile industry (History of African Fabrics and Textiles).

Banjul is the capital and fourth largest city of The Gambia. It is located on St Mary’s Island (Banjul Island) where the Gambia River enters into the Atlantic Ocean. It is The Gambia’s largest and most densely populated metropolitan area. It is a vibrant city, with great hospitality. So, as you visit Banjul, remember to look for the fiber that gave its name, and most importantly look to the spirit of the people which is strong, warm, and welcoming. Enjoy!

8 thoughts on “Why the Name : Banjul ?

  1. That’s cool that you’re back to these name origin posts. I really enjoyed the other ones I read so far. That was good to learn. A mispronunciation started the name? I would’ve never guessed. I thought it would be a word that was spelled and pronounced right. It’s sort of like Jellico, TN being a corruption of Angelica of all things.

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      1. It’s good that you’re back and it’s great hearing back from you in the comments section. Sometimes I just wonder about al the names of different cities or even if they’re spelled the same, they can be pronounced differently. You have Charlotte, MI which is pronounced Char-LOT. There’s Cairo, IL which is pronounced KAY-row and not like the city in Egypt.

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      2. Oh yeah… that is true… the use of the different names in other areas, and then the “americanization” or “making it its own” of the name giving rise to different pronunciations… that leads to differences that make it hard for historians hundred years down the line

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      3. Yeah, it’s like how the English-speaking world calls the capital of Portugal Lisbon, but the Portuguese call it Lisboa. For African examples, you could make a case for Johannesburg being called “eGoli” in Zulu, Brazzaville being “Kintamo” in Kikongo, or Porto-Nova being “Ajashe”.

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