By Yusef Taylor
‘Aku a ye seneya‘ [wash it until it is clean] is a Mandingo phrase. Apparently this is where the name Aku name originates from. The Akus are an African tribe in The Gambia that are descendants of freed slaves. Akus mostly go by the last names such as Joiner, Thomas, Goswell, Johnson, Coker, Goddard, Greywood and Taylor to name but a few. This tribe of wanderers could have originated from any African colonial post where Africans were kidnapped as slaves and shipped to the Americas and Europe.
After slavery was abolished, freed slaves were returned to old African colonial posts such as Free Town in Sierra Leone and Liberia. As an Aku I took some time to dig up some of my history and I learned that my grandfather originated from Sussex in Sierra Leone. Coincidentally I am now living in West Sussex in the UK.
In Sierra Leone, Aku’s are known as Creole. After meeting a Mandinka friend I came across the term Aku as described in my introduction. Akus prided themselves as elites and were supported by the colonialist in The Gambia.
Akus were one of the first educated Africans in western form of education. Even though the first University originated from Timbuktu they were regarded as the first educated Africans in The Gambia and were often obsessed with cleanliness, hence the phrase ‘Aku a ye seneya‘ which has stuck ever since.
The Mandingo language is descriptive in usage parlance, hence many tribes in West Africa are named by Mandingos. The Aku ‘wash it’ became a name depicting the characters of the Gambian Akus. Hope to dig a bit deeper in the hunt for my own heritage.