Gambia River

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Gambia River
River gambia Niokolokoba National Park.gif
Gambia River in the Niokolo-Koba National Park
Map of the Gambia River drainage basin
Physical characteristics
SourceFouta Djallon
MouthAtlantic Ocean
 • location
 • coordinates
13°28′N 16°34′W / 13.467°N 16.567°W / 13.467; -16.567Coordinates: 13°28′N 16°34′W / 13.467°N 16.567°W / 13.467; -16.567
Length1,120[1] km (700 mi)

The Gambia River (formerly known as the River Gambra) is a major river in West Africa, running 1,120 kilometres (700 mi) from the Fouta Djallon plateau in north Guinea westward through Senegal and The Gambia to the Atlantic Ocean at the city of Banjul. It is navigable for about half that length.

The river is strongly associated with The Gambia, the smallest country in mainland Africa, which consists of little more than the downstream half of the river and its two banks.


The Gambia River runs a total length of 1,120 kilometres (700 mi).From the Fouta Djallon, it runs northwest into the Tambacounda Region of Senegal, where it flows through the Parc National du Niokolo Koba, then is joined by the Nieri Ko and Koulountou [fr] before entering the Gambia at Fatoto. At this point, the river runs generally west, but in a meandering course with a number of oxbows, and about 100 kilometres (62 mi) from its mouth it gradually widens, to over 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) wide where it meets the sea.


There are several bridges crossing the river. The largest and furthest downriver is the Senegambia Bridge between the towns of Farafenni and Soma in The Gambia. Opened in January 2019, it provides a link between the stretches of the Trans-Gambia Highway on the North and South Bank of the river. It also provides an expedited connection for Senegalese trucks traveling to and from Casamance. The bridge is 1.9 kilometres (1.2 mi) long and replaces a previously-unreliable vehicle ferry. A toll is levied on vehicle crossings.

There are also bridges in the Upper River Region of The Gambia at Basse Santa Su and Fatoto that opened in October 2021,[2] as well as a bridge in Senegal at Gouloumbou.

All other crossings are done by ferry, including a primary crossing between Banjul and Barra at the mouth of the river, or by small boat.


The earliest known inhabitants of the area along the Gambia river include the Jola, the Balante, the Bainuk, and the Manjak.[3] According to oral tradition, large numbers of Mandinka immigrants from Mali led by Tiramakhan Traore, one of Sundiata Keita's top generals, came to the region in the 14th century. Some modern historians, however, posit that relatively few immigrants, primarily jula traders, instead led a gradual socio-cultural shift towards identification with the higher-status Mandinka ethnicity and the ruling Mali Empire.[4][5] These jula made the Gambia an important part of the wider West African trade network, where salt, shellfish, iron, cloth, ivory, beeswax, gold, slaves, leather and more were exchanged as far as the Niger River and beyond.[6][7]

Alvise Cadamosto sailed to the Gambia in 1455 and referred to the river as the Gambra or Cambra. Other sources from that period record names such as Guambea, Guabu, and Gambu (possibly a conflation, at the time or in later historiography, of the name of the river and the kingdom of Kaabu).[8]

During this period, kingdoms along the river Gambia included Niumi (also known as Barra), Niani, Kantora, Jimara, Kiang, Badibu, Fulladu, Tumana, and Wuli. Many of these have lent their names to regions of The Gambia today. Major trading posts on or near the river included Barra, Albreda, Juffure, James Island (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Tendeba, Joar, MacCarthy Island, Fattatenda, and Sutukoba. James Island, then called Fort St. Andrea, was established as an early European outpost by the Duke of Courland, but in February 1660 he sold the place to the Dutch.[9]

Around the turn of the 19th century, the Scottish explorer Mungo Park traveled up the Gambia twice on his way to the Niger River.[10]

Flora and fauna[edit]

The aquatic fauna in the Gambia River basin is closely associated with that of the Senegal River basin, and the two are usually combined under a single ecoregion known as the Senegal-Gambia Catchments. Although the species richness is moderately high, only three species of frogs and one fish are endemic to this ecoregion.[11]

Oysters are harvested from the River Gambia by women and used to make oyster stew, a traditional dish in the cuisine of Gambia.



  1. ^ "Gambia River". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  2. ^ Ma, Jianchun (13 Oct 2021). "Building the Friendship Bridges towards a Shared Future of China and The Gambia". The Point. Retrieved 3 August 2022.
  3. ^ Bühnen, Stephan. “Place Names as an Historical Source: An Introduction with Examples from Southern Senegambia and Germany.” History in Africa, vol. 19, 1992, pp. 49. JSTOR 3171995. Accessed 3 Aug. 2022.
  4. ^ Wright, Donald R. “Beyond Migration and Conquest: Oral Traditions and Mandinka Ethnicity in Senegambia.” History in Africa, vol. 12, 1985, pp. 335–48. JSTOR 3171727. Accessed 3 Aug. 2022.
  5. ^ Buhnen, 51.
  6. ^ Wright, Donald R. “Darbo Jula: The Role of a Mandinka Jula Clan in the Long-Distance Trade of the Gambia River and Its Hinterland.” African Economic History, no. 3, 1977, pp. 33–45. JSTOR 3601138. Accessed 27 Jul. 2022.
  7. ^ van Hoven, Ed (1996). "Local Tradition or Islamic Precept? The Notion of zakāt in Wuli (Eastern Senegal) (La notion de "zakāt" au Wuli (Sénégal))". Cahiers d'Études Africaines. 36 (144): 703–722. doi:10.3406/cea.1996.1863. JSTOR 4392734. {{cite journal}}: |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  8. ^ Buhnen, 71.
  9. ^ "America and West Indies: May 1673." Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 7, 1669-1674. Ed. W Noel Sainsbury. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1889. 487-499. British History Online Retrieved 17 March 2021.
  10. ^ Capt. Washington. “Some Account of Mohammedu-Siseï, a Mandingo, of Nyáni-Marú on the Gambia.” The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, vol. 8, 1838, pp. 448–54. JSTOR 1797825. Accessed 27 Jul. 2022.
  11. ^ "509: Senegal – Gambia". Freshwater Ecoregions of the World. Archived from the original on 30 October 2016. Retrieved 30 October 2016.

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