SR article

Compound life

The housing of Gambian people is quite different than it is in the Netherlands. In The Gambia, people live with their whole family (grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins etc.) in a so-called compound, or kunda in Mandinka. A compound is an enclosed piece of land with some kind of yard in it. At the sides of the yard, long houses are built with different rooms in it. Dependent on the wealth of the family that owns the compound, the houses have window panes, doors and roofs made of corrugated sheets or of a more luxurious material. In the same way, the compound has a fence around it made of wooden sticks, corrugated sheets or bricks (from relatively poor to a little more rich). The fence has a gate that is almost always open, which is characteristic for the open Gambian culture.

Most compounds don’t have a living room, the people live outside. The floor, walls and even the ceiling of the rooms are decorated with colourful cloths. Many villages still don’t have electricity, which causes the rooms to be quite dark. If a village is connected to the electricity network, they are dependent on the running times. It is only running from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and the lights are often very weak.

A Gambian compound

Taking care of children

Women get many children in The Gambia, 6 is not uncommon. According to Islam men can have up to 4 wives. This means that there can be for example 18 kids living in one compound that all have the same father. The wives take care of the kids together. However, the women also have to work in the community garden and they have to take care of the household. Because of this they often don’t have time to look after their children and the eldest kids take over this task. Often you can see a young girl carrying a baby on her back around the village.


Running water is also not available in most compounds. Women go a few times a day to the well to fetch water for cleaning, cooking, washing etc. The cooking happens on a log fire. The traditional way of having lunch and dinner is eating with your right hand while sitting on a mat in a circle with the whole family and a big bowl in the middle. The meal usually consists of rice with fish or chicken and a sauce. Women spend a few hours in the kitchen cooking for lunch. What is left of the lunch is used for dinner.

A Gambian kitchen

The dinner times of Gambians are different than we are used to. Breakfast is a cup of tea or coffee and, if they can afford it, a piece of white bread with mayonnaise. This is eaten at around 11 o’clock. Lunch is served at around half past two and dinner can be as late as 10 p.m.

As you can see in the picture above, the toilet is a hole in the ground with a small shack built around it.

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