Janjanbureh - A view from our expert author

A few old buildings of minor interest are dotted around Janjanbureh. Best known among these is the pair of dilapidated waterfront warehouses touted as having slave-trade associations by local guides.

Founded by the British in 1823, the port of Janjanbureh (also spelt Janjangbureh), administrative capital of CRD, stands on the North Bank of the 20km² MacCarthy Island about 200km inland of Banjul. Officially known as Georgetown until 1995, it is still often referred to by that name, or as Makati (a bastardisation of MacCarthy). A busy and thriving commercial centre throughout the colonial era, it is now quite a sleepy laid-back place with a population of no more than 4,000 and an economy so stagnant you might well find yourself wondering whether it’s a public holiday, irrespective of which day of the week you happen to visit.

A few relicts of the town’s early days line the picturesque waterfront, and the lushly wooded island is home to plenty of monkeys and birds, but otherwise it is rather lacking in tourist attractions. Nevertheless, Janjanbureh, together with the facing stretch of the North Bank, hosts by far the biggest concentration of lodges and eateries in the Gambian interior, most of which fall firmly into the budget or shoestring category.

Creole house from the 1830s,  Janjanbureh Island, the Gambia by Ariadne Van Zandbergen,

Creole house built in the 1830s, in Janjanbureh Island © Ariadne Van Zandbergen,

Around town

A few old buildings of minor interest are dotted around Janjanbureh. Best known among these is the pair of dilapidated waterfront warehouses touted as having slave-trade associations by local guides. The roofless and rather fort-like CFAO Warehouse, immediately east of what is now the ferry slipway, is often referred to as the Slave Market, though in fact it was constructed in the late 19th century and only ever served as a storage place for legitimate goods. However, it is possible that the same site was used as a camp and assembly point by slave traders in the 16th and 17th centuries.

On the opposite side of the ferry slipway, the socalled Slave Dungeon – a dank subterranean storeroom adorned with recently added chains and lit by flickering candles to enhance its sinister mood – is also part of a warehouse, built in the late 19th century by the mercantile Maurel & Prom Company. Another landmark with tenuous slave trade associations is the Freedom Tree, which was planted in front of the police station to replace the ‘original’ in 2002, and has become the subject of a legend very similar to the one associated with the Freedom Flag at Albreda. Be warned that local guides are adept at guilt-tripping tourists by showing them this trio of spurious sites and then angling for money.

Formerly known as Georgetown, this sleepy island-bound town combines good facilities and easy road access with some historic sightseeing and great birding.

Several less controversial 19th-century architectural landmarks can be seen along Owen Street. A few doors up from the police station, the town’s last intact Creole-style wooden house was originally built by the Jones family, one of the 200 liberated slaves brought to MacCarthy Island in 1832. The plain rectangular Methodist Church, which lies a block further east, is claimed to be the denomination’s oldest church in sub-Saharan Africa, having been inaugurated by the Reverend William Fox in 1835 at a site chosen as a Wesleyan Mission 11 years earlier.

On the western edge of town, the Armitage High School was established as the country’s only boarding school in 1923, catering mainly to the progeny of district chiefs, and many of its alumni went on to achieve prominent government positions in the postindependence era. A contender for the country’s most underwhelming historical site is the ‘last gas lamp’ on the corner of Jackson and Meller streets – a relic of a gas lighting system installed in 1905, it is basically just a headless pedestal dwarfed by a 10m-tall concrete pylon right alongside it!

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