Here are just a few examples of Florio’s beautiful, formal, portraits of village chiefs and elders, which he took whilst on our 2009 West Africa expedition – ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey‘- using a black backdrop which he has been using for many years – which is actually an old blackout curtain that his grandmother used during the Second World War!
This series of portraits has since become an award-winning body of work, acquired by museums and has been solo exhibited. Florio call’s the series ‘Silafando‘ – a Mandinka word which translates as ‘a gift to you on behalf of my journey‘. Silafando is an age old tradition in Gambian culture – when meeting a village chief for the first time and asking to stay in their village, you present him/her with a handful of *kola nuts: a symbolic gift of friendship, and respect for their cultures and traditions.
‘Protocol dictates that the Alkalo has to welcome travelers and strangers, but only after the correct procedure is followed. This is what is known as ‘Silafando’ – which roughly translates as ‘a gift to you on behalf of my journey’ and involves presenting the village chief with a gift – traditionally, a handful of *kola nuts; bitter, walnut sized nuts. These nuts play an important roll in Gambian traditional culture and social life. Once the gift is given, the Alkalo shares them with his closest village elders. They break the nuts open and chew them. They are valued for their apparent pharmacological properties – acting as a natural stimulant and, allegedly, as an aphrodisiac.
“This is a very important mark of respect to the Alkalo and we must follow this protocol with every chief we wish to stay with…” Samba says, adamantly “…and once the gift is given, the Alkalo will inform all the villagers that we, the strangers, are to be welcomed, with respect.” He added that if any villagers were to disrespect us during our stay, then ‘shame’ would be brought upon that person and the rest of his family.’ from Helen’s forthcoming book ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – minty abanta!‘
L-R: Umbi Salla Touray (Alkalo’s mother) & Kanifana Touray (Alkalo’s sister-in-law), Balanghar Bental ,The Gambia, West Africa – Image © Jason Florio 2009
L-R: Salafo Bah – Holy man/Marbout & farmer and Penda Bah (wife of Salafo), Tuba Dabbo, The Gambia, West Africa – Image ©Jason Florio 2009
L-R: Samba Bah – cattle farmer & Yero Bah – cattle farmer, Tuba Dabbo
The Gambia, West Africa – Image © Jason Florio 2009
Please click on the image below to watch Jason Florio as he explains how you can own one of his fine art photography prints, from a series of images he will take whilst on the River Gambia Expedition 2012: