Alhaji Bakari Sidibe is one of the pioneers of the study and writing of Gambian National Languages in the 1950s and is also credited with the founding of The Gambia Cultural Archives which was devoted to collecting oral traditions in the Greater Senegambia area around 1971. He served as Secretary to the Monuments and Relics Commission when the relevant Act was passed in 1974, and worked with the ‘Friends of the National Museum’ association to start The Gambia National Museum which opened its door in 1985. During this period he also led a team that inventoried historic and cultural sites in The Gambia (1976), and proclaimed the outstanding ones as National Monuments. He subsequently worked on the setting up of the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) which brought together the hitherto dispersed government cultural agencies under one umbrella in 1989. He was Executive Director of NCAC between 1994 – 1998.
Mr Sidibe was born in Georgetown (Janjanbureh) in 1934, and attended Armitage Primary and High School on the Island. He was lucky to live in a settlement like Georgetown where as early as 1927 the British had constructed a school for the sons of chiefs, which later opened its doors to all Gambian children. He left the Georgetwon Teachers College as a qualified teacher in 1953 and taught at various schools in the country. He also taught at Yundum Teachers College following his two years study at SOAS, London, where he learnt ethnography and field interview techniques. In 1964 he was at the Institute of Education at Birmingham University and between 1969-71, he returned to SOAS to undertake more research work. Soon after his return, he was tasked to prepare Gambia’s delegation to the famous Manding Conference of May 1972 held at SOAS.
Between 1971-1972 he worked with Ms Winifred Galloway, a PhD scholar from Indiana University, on a series of interviews on the political history of pre-colonial Gambia which set the parameters for his subsequent field work.
In 1974, the Cultural Archives became the Oral History and Antiquities Division (OHAD). It became the Oral History Division (OHD) with the founding of the NCAC in 1989, and is now referred to as the Research and Documentation Division (RDD). Its archival holdings are now the subject of collaboration with University of Hamburg and this symposium.
He has written dozens of conference papers and technical reports on various aspects of Gambian history, cultural heritage and languages. In 2002, he published a full length monograph on Kaabu and Fulladu (Harmattan) and Sunjata: the Story of Sunjata Keita, Founder of Mali Empire (Fulladu, 2014).