How many people have passed Adama Barrow by, when he was a security guard in the UK, and looked down at him. The same could be said of Jammeh, when he stood guard in uniform. The Gambia, it seems, has the fortune of unlikely presidents. Jawara is no different.

When he first arrived in Banjul, from Barrajally, he was a modern day version of a JJC (Johnny Just Come.) He couldn’t speak the dominant olof language, and he had a funny name that made him the butt of many jokes!

Jawara’s birth exactly 94 years ago today, had come at the time of great growth and prosperity for his father. “Mandinka tradition believes that every child comes into household with his or her own helping of good luck. Perhaps, to give thanks for the privilege and blessings, my father named me by one name only, Kairaba- the great blessing, the big peace, the peace bringer. I was given no other name and that made both me and the name special in the family.”

The reverence the name enjoyed in the village however, did not replicate in Banjul. The Half-Die boys distorted his beautiful name to Kairabe, a Mandinka greeting, meaning “how are you?”

They’d carry on with an unnecessary exchange of greetings and how much that riled the then young man! The taunts were so tough on Jawara, it prevented him from mingling with his peers. He attributed it to an attitude of condescension suffered by Banjulians. “It was a form of intolerance I knew was just wrong. It was discrimination that was not being taken for what it really was. I could see no reason why someone’s bona fide name or his mother tongue should become a source of molestation and discomfort for him.”

The other problem the young Mr Jawara was face with was learning olof. “I forced the olof words out of my mouth, mastering of course the swear words well before the good and clean sentences…” Suffice it to say, he mastered the language and set about remedying the other issue.

That was a harder problem to solve. He asked his elder brother, the late Basadi, if he remembered his father giving him another name. The response was negative. Determined to fit in, Jawara took the ultimate decision. On his very first day in school, when he was asked his name, he unilaterally, without consent from his parents blurted out a name of his choice! He was to be known by that name for many years afterwards, until he changed it again!

Follow us for the three different name changes Jawara did, and why.