There are a number of festivals that take place each year in The Gambia and most of these are based around annual Islamic festivals. Yet there are also a number of local and traditional religious festivals that are worth observing if you can.
Whilst some of the Muslim festivals, such as Ramadan, can be ascetic affairs (except for Koriteh which takes place as Ramadan draws to a close and is a festival of great celebration!) the local festivals such as naming ceremonies and weddings are a riot of colour, dancing and music. So keep your ears open and if you can get along to see one of these they are well worth a visit.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar calendar. It begins with the sighting of the new moon after which, from the breaking of dawn to the setting of the sun, all physically mature and healthy Muslims are obliged to abstain from all food, drink, gum chewing and any kind of tobacco use.
The usual practice is to have a pre-fast meal (Suro) before dawn and a post-fast meal (Iftar) after sunset. However, that is merely the physical component of the fast; Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family and friends. The fasting is a way of experiencing hunger and developing sympathy for the less fortunate, and learning to thank and appreciate all of God's bounties.
Koriteh is a public holiday and marks the end of Ramadan. Muslims all over the world start their day with morning prayers after which they come together with family and friends to enjoy the feast and celebrations.
Tabaski is the Wolof word for sacrifice and it is a national holiday that takes place 2 months and 10 days after the end of Ramadam to commemorate the story of Abraham. According to the Qur'an, Allah asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son and although Abraham was deeply troubled by Allah's request, he agreed as a sign of his obedience. Just before Abraham began the sacrifice, Allah told him to offer a sheep instead.
Every family sacrifices a sheep on Tabaski morning and the rest of the day is spent feasting, giving presents and in prayer.
This normally takes place one week after the child is born. The elders of the village gather together in the morning and name the baby whilst slaying either a chicken, goat, sheep or cow depending on the wealth of the family. Then all the villagers friends and family are invited to join the celebration which lasts throughout the day and into the night.
There are displays of dancing and singing and collections for the new baby continue throughout the event - so we recommend that if ever invited you take along plenty of small notes - D5's and D10's!
Language And Culture
The Gambia is a former British Colony and the official language is English but there are also several tribal languages including Mandinka and Wolof.
Educated in English, most Gambians are at least bilingual.
The people of The Gambia are friendly and hospitable and life is taken at a very relaxed pace. To accept this is essential, after all you will be on holiday. Whilst the various tribal languages are used by the Gambians to converse between themselves, the official language and language of instruction in most schools is English (The Gambia is a former British colony).
It is common to receive an invitation to a Gambian 'compound' and this will give you a remarkable insight into the local way of life. If you accept it is polite to take a small gift, for example a bag of rice or bars of soap for laundry. You may also be invited to try one of the local Gambian dishes such as Benachin (rice and vegetables) or Domoda, (meat, stewed in groundnut puree and served with rice).
There are many tribes but the main ones are Mandinka, Wolof, Fula and Jola, each having its own language and traditions. Dress is varied but always bright and colourful and some of the complicated plaited hairstyles are a work of art, often taking up to two days to complete.
Below are a few common phrases:
||A Salamu Alikum
|How are you?
||Heraba / I be di?
||Na Nga Def?
||Fo Waati Koteng
||Ci Gudi Gii
|What is your name?
||I Ton Ndii?
||Na Ka Nga Tudda?