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Jola people

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Title: Jola people  
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Subject: Carabane, Ethnic groups in Senegal, The Gambia, Senegal, Manjack people
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Jola people

Total population
Regions with significant populations
Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau
African traditional religion (Jola religion), Christianity, Islam

The Jola (Diola, in French transliteration) are an ethnic group found in Senegal (where they predominate in the region of Casamance), the Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. There are great numbers on the Atlantic coast between the southern banks of the Gambia River, the Casamance region of Senegal and the northern part of Guinea-Bissau. The Jola are believed to have preceded the Mande and Fula peoples in the riverine coast of Senegambia and may have migrated into Casamance before the 13th century. The Jola and Serer people with whom they have an ancient relationship with[2] are believed to be some of the oldest historical inhabitants of the Senegambia Region.[3] The Jola language is distinct from the Dioula language of the Dioula (Dyoula) Mande people of the Gambia, Upper Niger and the Kong highlands of Burkina Faso.


The Jola speak a variety of dialects which may not, at times, be mutually intelligible, including:


The Jolas were the last ethnic group in the Senegambian region to accept Islam. Even though some accepted Islam after the Soninke-Marabout war, they honour the traditional use of palm wine in their rituals.[4] They have one God that they associate with the natural phenomena like sky, rain, and the year, Emit or Ata Emit, literally, "To Whom Belongs The Universe" or "The Master-Owner Of The Universe".[5] They have charms and sacred precincts that they honour and with which they communicate ( but do not worship). The Jola people believe that spirits called Bakin or Eneerti (Mandinka Jalang) can protect their families, their villages, and their rice fields; and can even protect them from conversion to Islam and Christianity.

Before the influence of Islam and Christianity in their ways of beliefs, all Jolas placed great respect in the proper observation of funeral ceremony, and still today some do, for they are of the belief that it enables the dead person’s soul to go to its final destination to join his or her ancestors. It was and still is strongly accepted by those Jolas who still practice their ancestral religion that without performing these funeral sacred rites, the soul is prevented from entering the presence of the creator (Ata Amit), and the ancestors. Jolas believed strongly in living a good humanistic life in this world. They believe that if one lives a bad life in this world, when the person dies the soul of the dead person is punished to become an exile spirit with no bed to lie on. In the Jola Cassa subgroup this exile spirit is called a Holowa. This exile spirit becomes a roaming spirit with no respect from the other spirits.


Jola village

Unlike most ethnic groups of the Senegambian region, the Jola have no caste system of griots, slaves, nobility, leather workers, etc. Their communities are based on extended clan settlements normally large enough to be given independent names, including the Jola Karon, Jola Mlomp, Jola Elinnkin, Jola Caginol, Jola Huluf, Jola Jamat, Jola Joheyt, Jola Bayot, Jola Brin, Jola Seleky, Jola Kabrouse, Jola Jiwat, and Jola Foni.[6] Jolas are also able herbal medicine practitioners. Their high adaptation to the nature and environment allowed them to be able to create musical centred civilisation, natural medicine centred civilisation, and most important of all, rice cultivation centred civilisation which they do effectively by using a locally made farming tool called the kajando.

Like most of the indigenous ethnic groups of the Senegambian region—the Baga, the [7]




The ekonting is a three-string gourd instrument, the folk lute of the Jola. It has an internal pass through body dowel stick with a round gourd body and its sound box is made of a hemispherical calabash, with a nailed goatskin. Before the invention of nails, palm tree thorns or wood pegs were used as nails. The three strings, which are attached to a long neck, today are nylon fishing line. Before, they were made of palm tree roots (Jola language: kuhall kata kubekel). The neck is a bamboo stick (Mandinka language: bangoe) that passes through the calabash to the other side. A hole is made in the sound box to allow the sound to escape. The bridge of the ekonting is not fixed to its skin as many lutes are. It is free, and can be moved back and forth on the skin of the sound box and it is always held in position by the pressure of the strings when it is in playing position.


The galire is a one-string instrument of the Jola of Thionck-Essyl, with its strings stretched across a single 1 meter curve made of fine mangrove wood. At first sight, it looks like a hunter's bow. It's played with one hand holding a flexible fine string (made of palm leaves) beating on the arc's string, while the other hand holds one end of the arc and adjusts the tune with the thumb. The other end of the arc rests in the mouth of the player, who sings. The vibration from the player's song on the string of the arc and the beating with the fine flexible string leads to the pleasant and characteristic sound of the galire.

The exile of young people to cities has led to the stark decline in usage of this traditional instrument among the Jola people of Casamance and the Gambia.

Other musical instruments

Below is a list of few Jola instruments. Note: The Jola language of Thionck Essyl is used to name them. Their names may differ somewhat in other villages' languages.

  • Ewang: used during male initiation
  • Fouindoum: drum used during initiation
  • Etantang: used for Koumpo dance and Wrestling festivities
  • Ediando: used by the women during initiation dances
  • Gabilene: sound make with a horn of an animal
  • Emombi: used only during initiation - sacred and rarely seen - once each 20 to 30 years
  • Elere
  • Bakitia: like two maracas without the handle attached with one cord:
  • Efemme: a calebasse reversed in a container full of water. Used by woman to improvise for or replace a drum when it's raining.


Early history

These megaliths were built by the ancestors of the Serer people or of the Jola.[8][9][10][10][11][12][13] The Serer and Jola people believe in a common ancestry and have joking relationship with each other which they assign to their ancient shared cultural heritage. According to the legend of Jambooñ and Againe (an ancient Serer and Jola lengend[14]), two sisters boarded a pirogue with their parties. Due to act of nature, the pirogue broke into half at the Point of Sangomar. Those who headed south became the ancestors of the Jola (descendants of Agaire) and those who headed north became the ancestors of the Serer people (descendants of Jambooñ).[2] The Point of Sangomar is one of the sacred Serer sites.

Medieval history

Slave trade & Jola diaspora

In the mid-1440s the simple diverse folk population of the Senegambian region faced the most uncivilized and inhuman disintegration of its people, and their rich diverse cultures, by the Portuguese, the first Europeans who set out to seek slaves in Africa to sell to the New World. These Europeans came by medium size boats that they used to navigate both the Gambian river and the Casamance rivers, since there were no infrastructures at this time to travel by land, invaded and took from this region the best workers, the best priests, the best natural doctors, the best folk musicians etc. and took them to work in Spain and in Portugal. Later in the sixteenth century, when these European realized that they could make enormous profit by using the labour of the Africans to exploit the wealth of the Americas they started selling the African slaves to North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean countries to provide slave labour in the gold and silver mines and on the agricultural plantations, growing crops such as sugar, cotton, rice, and tobacco.

From 1445 to 1600 about one million Africans were taken from the West African region, particularly from the Senegambian region. The ethnic groups that suffered most during this slave aggression were those living along the coastal areas of the river Gambia and the river Cassamance, and these are the Manjagos, the Balantas, the Papels and the Jolas. There is still a very old saying among the elderly Jolas that the music of the Akonting in its initial stage was so sweet to the devils that the most outstanding Jola Akonting players who played late at night in the rice fields when work was suspended for the day and it was time to play the Akonting and dance and drink their palm wine until they got tired and then came home, that most of these Akonting players did not come home. On the following day when the people went out to search for them they saw prints of shoes on the ground which they associated with feet of devils because in those days Jolas didn’t use shoes or know how shoes looked like. This is how the Jola Ekonting came to the Americas.

Notable Jola People

  • H.E. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh: The President of the Republic of the Gambia (July 1994 to Present)
  • Pierre Goudiaby Atepa: Internationally renowned architectural engineer in Senegal. He has offices in these African countries: Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Togo, Mauritania, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso. In 2006 he opened Space "ATEPA" on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France and he also opened an office in Beijing in 2010. Future offices are planned for New York and Tokyo.
  • Jules Francois Bocandé: Former Senegalese international football Striker. He was the French Ligue 1's top goalscorer in 1985-86 with Football Club de Metz. He also played for PSG, Nice, and Lens.
  • Robert Sagnia: Prominent Senegalese political figure. Served for a long-time as Minister in Socialist Party governments, was also Mayor of Ziguinchor from 1984 to 2009.
  • Bishop Maixent Coly: - Bishop of Ziguinchor (1995–2010)
  • 'Francois Diadhiou, Foreign Language Instructor, USA
  • Bishop Augustin Sagna:- Bishop of Ziguinchor (1966–1995)

Lang Tombong Tamba former army chief of staff of the Gambia


  1. ^ Klein, Martin A. "Shrines of the Slave Trade: Diola Religion and Society in Precolonial Senegambia." The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 31.2 (Autumn 2000): 315. Accessed through Gale (Cengage), 6 Aug. 2009
  2. ^ a b (French) Ndiaye, Fata, "LA SAGA DU PEUPLE SERERE ET L’HISTOIRE DU SINE", [in] Ethiopiques n°54 revue semestrielle de culture négro-africaine Nouvelle série volume 7, 2e semestre 1991 "Le SIIN avant les Gelwaar" (Retrieved : 6 July 2012)
  3. ^ Stride, G. T.; Ifeka, Caroline , "Peoples and empires of West Africa: West Africa in history, 1000-1800", Africana Pub. Corp., 1971, p 6
  4. ^ Gambian Jola scholar Daniel Laemouahuma Jatta
  5. ^ See article J. David Sapir
  6. ^ Patience Sonko-Godwin, Ethnic groups of the Senegambia Region, Banjul, Gambia 1986 ISBN 9983-86-001-5,Ethnic Groups of the Gambia: A Brief History (1988),quoted by Daniel Laemouahuma Jatta
  7. ^ Daniel Laemouahuma Jatta
  8. ^ Gravrand, Henry, "La Civilisation Sereer - Pangool", Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines du Senegal, 1990, p 77, ISBN 2-7236-1055-1
  9. ^ Gambian Studies No. 17., "People of the Gambia. I. The Wolof with notes on the Serer and the Lebou", By David P. Gamble & Linda K. Salmon with Alhaji Hassan Njie, San Francisco (1985)
  10. ^ a b Espie, Ian, "A thousand years of West African history: a handbook for teachers and students", Editors : J. F. Ade Ajayi, Ian Espie, Humanities Press (1972), p 134, ISBN 0391002171
  11. ^ (French) Becker, Charles: "Vestiges historiques, trémoins matériels du passé clans les pays sereer". Dakar. 1993. CNRS- ORS TO M [1] (Excerpt) (Retrieved : 28 June 2012)
  12. ^ Hughes, Arnold; David Perfect (4th revised edition, 2008). Historical Dictionary of The Gambia. Scarecrow Press. p. xix.  
  13. ^ Stride, G. T.; Ifeka, Caroline , "Peoples and empires of West Africa: West Africa in history, 1000-1800", Africana Pub. Corp., 1971, p 8
  14. ^ According to both Serer and Jola tradition, they trace their descend to Jambooñ (also spelt : Jambonge, Jambon, etc.) and Agaire (variantes : Ougeney, Eugeny, Eugene, etc.). For the legend of Jambooñ and Agaire, see :
    • (French) Ndiaye, Fata, "LA SAGA DU PEUPLE SERERE ET L’HISTOIRE DU SINE", Ethiopiques n°54 revue semestrielle de culture négro-africaine Nouvelle série volume 7, 2e semestre 1991 "Le SIIN avant les Gelwaar"
    • (English) Taal, Ebou Momar, "Senegambian Ethnic Groups : Common Origins and Cultural Affinities Factors and Forces of National Unity, Peace and Stability", [in] The Point, 2010 [2] (transitional error in Ebou Taal's work, line of descent is other way round)

External links

  • Les Diolas (French)
  • Les jeunes Diola face à l'exode rural (French)
  • Diola (Spanish)
  • Akonting, A West African Ancestor of the Banjo
  • Banjo Ancestors: The Akonting and Buchundu Folk Lutes
  • Folklore and Language materials collected in the 1960s among the Kujamaat Jóola (Diola Fogny)
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