All the above quotations and many more, describe a veteran in the
history of Gambian literature. It all came as a shock when Ebou Dibba passed
away at the age of 66 years, 4 months, 10days. He passed away in the United
Kingdom where he was residing. It was on December 29, 2000 and he was interred
on January 04, 2001.
But who is Ebou Dibba?
If he was alive, he would have celebrated his 62nd anniversary on August 10 next. Aji Ndey Jack, his mother would have been very happy and she would have wished that the late Babou Dibba were alive. Those are dreams that will never and forever come true, because Ebou Kebba Dibba was snatched away by the jaws of death. He was born on August 10, 1943 and he lived to witness the birth of seven brothers and sisters two of whom are presently Permanent Secretaries today (Yusupha Dibba and Amie Dibba).
From Mohammedan Primary School to Gambia High School and then to Cardiff University in the UK for his BA in 17th Century French Literature, Ebou Dibba only paused in his pursuit for higher education when he successfully bagged his Masters at King’s College London specializing, as in his BA, in 17th Century French Literature.
Anyone who knew Ebou Dibba closely would use one word to describe all his professional life, ARTIST. No need to know Picasso to recognize in Ebou his artistic talents. Not a painter or sculpture, but an artist. He has spent his life immersed in promoting art both for the UK and for Africa. He has also taught for several years in an Adult Education Centre in the UK. Some of the responsibilities he assumed were, Director of the Adult Education Centre, Patron of the Art Centre in Surrey and as reviewer & editor of books for UK publishers.
Ebou will certainly be remembered even in high circles in the UK. The Gambia and particularly Ebou Dibba’s Family were proud to learn of the award of the Order of the Member of the British Empire (MBE) offered to Ebou for his immense selfless contribution in the UK. He also organized successful exchange programs for UK students as well as Gambian students. Almost forty years in the UK has made Ebou a symbolic figure worth emulating.
Ebou Dibba would probably never have been known so well amongst Gambians if not for his famous books. He has published four books: two novellas and two novels. In there order of publication, the first is a novella of about 40 pages entitled Olu and the Smugglers which marks the inauguration of a literary genre targeting above all the youths.. His first novel, Chaff on the Wind, is set in The Gambia. Some of the characters of Chaff on the Wind are found in his second novel Fafa creating thus an apparent link between the two. His novel Alhaji was the last and it is for young readers.
Olu and the Smugglers, 1980, novella, 40 p, Longman Group, “Action Books” collections.
Published in 1980 at the Longman Group Publishers in the UK, in the “Action Books” collection, Olu and the Smugglers marked the start of Ebou Dibba’s literary career.
Olu and the Smugglers is a well illustrated novella (more than 30 illustrations) of 40 pages written in much simpler English for young readers.
A young boy, Olu, arrives at Uncle Yancoba and Aunt Abie in a small village situated near the sea. Though Olu is very imaginative and tends to exaggerate everything, Uncle Yancoba and his wife are always happy to welcome Olu because they have no child of their own. On Olu’s arrival, a strange disease seems to have struck the village and apparently canned beef has something to do with it. One night, Olu and his friend Abu notice strange happenings by the river side: a boat, flash signal lights, people disembarking from the boat and a cyclist riding by. Olu and his friend will do all they can to convince Uncle Yancoba. The latter will accept when a sergeant is suspected of being involved. The boys and Uncle Yancoba will convince the inspector of police who will take the matter seriously. After an ambush organized by the police, it turns out that the corrupt sergeant and his accomplices are diamond smugglers. Ebou Dibba will later write a similar story involving a horse on diamond smuggling. These diamonds were taking from Sierra Leone. It is to be noted that the story of “blood diamonds” is still a heated subject in the press.
Chaff on the Wind, 1986, novel, 203 pages, Macmillan Education.
The novel is about two young men, Dingding and Pateh, who came from the countryside on board of a ship in the thirties. The latter is ambitious and enterprising. He quickly finds himself a job and seduces a young girl called Isatou. Dingding is the opposite of Pateh. He is shy and reserved. However, he is luckier than Pateh.
Isatou is married to Charles, the old cousin of a Signare. She hates this relationship. She ends up carrying the baby of …Pateh. Both of them have to flee to Senegal where Isatou delivers a baby boy.
Dingding inherits from his death employer after marrying his daughter. He becomes a successful businessman. Pateh is one of his employees. Pateh finally dies following his numerous encounters with the French colonial police.
Fafa novel, 1989, novel, 118 pages, Macmillan Education.
Four friends are the main characters of this novel set in the fifties: Sisi Massod, the shopkeeper from Morocco, “Guerre Quatorze” who fought the First World War, “Professor” a teacher, and Fafa, the watchman.
Fafa wants to marry Kombeh who is not ready to engage herself in any form of relationship with him. He is not the type of man she is looking for.
The three friends will crack their brains to map out strategies to resolve the problems. A beautiful story that touches on human struggle and feelings.
Alhaji, 1992, novella for young readers, 72 pages, Macmillan
Alhaji, 16, receives a horse as a present from a tourist. He names the horse after himself. One day, as he was looking for a lift, he got one from two strange people who seem interested in his horse. Kebba, the driver and proprietor of the vehicle, invites Alhaji to his hotel where, to be tempted to sell, he is offered a prostitute. He still refuses to sell. Nevertheless, he realises that Kebba has a pertinent eye on his horse. Kebba also seems to be observed by two secret agents one of whom is working undercover as a teacher where Alhaji is going to school. Alhaji (the horse) is stolen, when Alhaji the hero refuses to part with it, to help in diamond smuggling to Senegal. Fortunately, Alhaji (the horse) is found by Alhaji (the hero) in Senegal and the smugglers find themselves behind bars.
Ebou Dibba is without doubt the first Gambian author to have writing using the Gambian setting. In his two novels, he succeeded in not only including some of the social and cultural setups of the 30s but equally used some of the local language in his novels. There is also a strong presence of historical events such as a plane crash in Jeswang, the approaching Second World War and the festivities marking the anniversary of George VI. It should also be noted that in both novels, he set up a rich mixture of cultures: Sidi Masood (Marocan origin), “Guerre Quatorze” (Paterson from the Bahamas), Fafa (a fanafana probably from the Saloum region) and Charles (Portuguese origin). Issues of complexities surrounding marriage and love dominate the two novels. What best to conclude this but with Hassoum Ceesay’s own words “He deserves Steward Brown’s epithet of ‘a novelist of real stature.’”
May his soul rest in Perfect Peace!