written accounts of the region come from records of Arab traders in the ninth
and tenth centuries AD.
By the 11th or
12th century, the rulers of kingdoms such as Takrur (a kingdom centered on the
Sénégal River just to the north), Ancient Ghana and Gao, had converted to
Islam and had appointed Muslims who were literate in Arabic as advisers. At
the beginning of the fourteenth century, most of what is today called The
Gambia was a tributary to the Mali Empire. The Portuguese reached the area by
sea in the mid-fifteenth century and began to dominate trade.
In 1588, the
claimant to the Portuguese throne, António, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive
trade rights on the Gambia River to English merchants; letters patent from
Queen Elizabeth I confirmed the grant. In 1618, James I granted a charter to
a British company for trade with Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana).
Between 1651-1661 (the time of the Commonwealth) some parts of Gambia were
under Courland's rule, bought by prince Jacob Kettler, who was a Polish
During the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, Britain and France struggled continually for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal and Gambia rivers. The 1783 Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of the Gambia River, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on its north bank. This was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1857.
established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816. In the
ensuing years, Banjul was at times under the jurisdiction of the British
Governor General in Sierra Leone. In 1888, The Gambia became a separate
agreement with France established the present boundaries. The Gambia became a
British Crown Colony, British Gambia, divided for administrative purposes
into the colony (city of Banjul and the surrounding area) and the
protectorate (remainder of the territory).
general elections in 1962, the United Kingdom granted full internal
self-governance in the following year. The Gambia achieved independence on 18
February 1965 as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth of
Nations. Shortly thereafter, the government held a referendum proposing that
an elected president replace Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. The
referendum failed to receive the two-thirds majority required to amend the
constitution, but the results won widespread attention abroad as testimony to
The Gambia's observance of secret balloting, honest elections, civil rights
and liberties. On April 24, 1970, The Gambia became a republic within the
Commonwealth, following a second referendum, with Prime Minister Sir Dawda
Kairaba Jawara, as head of state.
symbols of the ancient empires of
Takrur, Ghana and Gao are known. The oldest visual documentation about
the Northwestern African empires is on the portolans, made by Catalan
sailors and explorers. On one such a portolan the emperor of Mali is depicted,
seated on his throne and with a sceptre and orb in his hands.
the middle of the 14th century the mouth of the river Gambia was within the
reach of European traders and trading companies, the ancient heraldry of The
Gambia is mainly the heraldry of the Western trading powers.
European traders to set foot in The Gambia were the Portuguese who developed,
from the middle of the fifteenth century a Portuguese Seaborne Empire.
They were, after 1588, followed by the British and, during the
Commonwealth, by Jacob Kettler.
In 1651 Jacob (James) Kettler (1610-1682),
Duke of Courland (Latvia), bought some
parts of The Gambia and obtained a grant of the island of Trinidad from King Charles I. During the
Swedish-Polish war (1655-1660) Duke Jacob was captured and the West African
possessions were lost (1664).
Jacob Kettler bore as a
Duke of Courland and Semgallen:
Arms: ¼: 1&4: Argent, a
lion Gules; 2&3: Azure, a deer issuant from the outside Or. And on an
escutcheon Or, a kettlehook sable surrounding the crowned cypher SA (=
Sigismund August, King of Poland 1548-’72) parted per pale with the wolfs’
jaw of Bathori (arms of Stefan Bathori, King of Poland 1575-’86)
Crest: 1. Kettler; 2. A deer
issuant Or (Semgallen); 3. A lion issuant Gules, crowned Or. (Livonia)
Siebmacher I. 7.)
short Courlandish intermezzo the place of Jacob Kettler was filled in by
Dutch, Danish and English companies, mainly operating from the Gold Coast, (today’s Ghana).
Crown Colony Britsh Gambia
separate political entity of the “Crown Colony of The Gambia” was represented
from 1889 by a badge on the British blue ensign. This consisted of a landscape with a palm tree
and an elephant, common for all British West African colonies, and the letter
“G” for Gambia.
Badge on the Blue Ensign
of The Gambia was granted on 18 November 1964, three months before
independence. It is:
Arms: Azure, an axe and an adze in saltire, Or,
within a double bordure Argent and Vert.
Crest: A bush of groundnut (Aracis hypogæa -
Fabaceæ) proper, on a helmet to the dexter, lambrequined Azure and Or.
Supporters; Two lions proper, the dexter with an axe,
the sinister with and adze.
Motto: PROGRESS PEACE PROSPERITY in black lettering on a ribbon
Argent, lined Gules.
and the Mandinka-adze symbolize the importance of agriculture for the
economy. Blue is for love and
reasonableness, white is for the peaceful scenery of Gambia and the
friendliness of its people, green is for hope and tolerance. The groundnut-bush
symbolizes the main trade crop. The lions are symbols of courage, dignity and
ð See the illustration in the head of this
abolition of the monarchy did not have any consequence for the achievement.
police force in The Gambia was the Gambia River Police, formed in 1855. Prior
to this, security in the small colonial enclaves was provided by British
troops and a small local militia, drawn from traders, freed slaves, and
other settlers. The River Police's role was to control smuggling, enforce
taxation, and prevent insurgencies. Its 10 men were aided by the local
militia, and were further reinforced in 1866 by the establishment of
the paramilitary Gambia Constabulary. Initially formed with 40
constables, this was increased to 100 in 1870. At this point, all imperial
troops were withdrawn from the colony and policing was left to the
Constabulary and local militia
Banner Royal West African Frontier Force
Frontier Police force was founded in 1895. The establishment of the West
African Frontier Force in 1900 led to the creation of the Gambia
Company in 1901, which also aided in maintaining the colony's security.
In the Protectorate, security was the responsibility of the district chief.
In 1909, the British issued an ordinance granting the chiefs to appoint
'badge messengers', who were allowed to keep the peace and had all the same
authority of the colony police. Francis has noted how "Although Gambians
staffed the lower level of the force, to the local population, the police and
security services, limited as they were, represented an essentially foreign
independence in 1965, the Constabulary and Frontier Police merged to create
the Gambia Police Force. Following the Gambia Regiment being
disbanded in 1958, the police took on all defence responsibilities. A 200-man
paramilitary force, the Gambia Field Force, which was part of the police
after 1958, maintained responsibility for internal security.
Gambia Police Force badge 1965-1970
Gambia Police Force emblem (current)
Gambia Police Force sleeve patch (current)
Armed Forces, also known as the Armed Forces of The Gambia, consists
of three branches: the Gambia National Army (GNA), the Gambia Navy, and the
Republican National Guards (RNG). It formerly included the Gambia National
Gendarmerie (GNG) from the 1980s to 1996, when they were moved under the
jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior.
The commander-in-chief is
the President of the Gambia whereas practical control is exercised
by the Chief of the Defence Staff
Royal Gambia Battalion West African Regiment WWI
The Gambia Regiment was a British Army colonial regiment drawn from the Gambia Colony and Protectorate that existed between 1901 and 1958. Known as the Gambia Company from 1901 to 1939, and from 1945 to 1950, its strength fluctuated from peacetime and wartime, peaking at two battalions during World War II. It saw active service in both world wars, fighting in German colonies in Kamerun and East Africa during the first, and in Burma against the Japanese in the second. It was raised as part of the larger Royal West African Frontier Force, and was part of the 81st (West Africa) Division during its operations in WWII.
81st (West Africa) Division
© Hubert de Vries 2008.12.01. Updated