Gambians, like all people, love to celebrate life events and will find any reason to dance and sing all night long. Here’s a run down of the big ceremonies or “programs” that happen almost every week in village:
1. Ngente – or “Naming Ceremony” is a day long party that happens 7 days after the birth of the child. As per Gambian tradition, babies are not named during the first week of life for fear of the child’s death. Over the years, this maternal and child mortality rate has decreased significantly, but the tradition stays the same. The whole village will gather to cook, eat, dance, and celebrate the baby and family. In the morning, the child is blessed by the Imam (village religious leader) and the name is given. Usually the person speaking will “forget” the name until the crowd gives him or her some money. Then it’s a day of eating, chatting, and more cooking! Everyone will come and greet the family and hold the baby and often there’s a dance party that lasts all night long. The first week we were in The Gambia, we had a mock naming ceremony to celebrate our new Gambian names and to introduce us to the community.
2. Chet – Wedding celebrations usually last a few days. The cooking will start on Thursday night and the fun will continue until at least Saturday afternoon. The interesting thing about weddings is that different tribes have different traditions and therefore different ways of doing weddings. Weddings in my village, a Wolof community, involve a lot of drumming and dancing through the streets and a LOT of bennachin (golden rice). But if you go 2K down the road to a Fula community, you won’t hear any drums. Weddings give specific gender roles to the bride and the groom as well as the guests. If I go to a wedding with my host sister, I usually don’t see her again until we’re ready to go home. Due to culture and religion, men can marry up to 4 wives.
3. Funeral – (Not really a celebration, but I thought I would mention this program as well) These must happen within a day of the death and the body must be immediately buried. Each member of the community should come to greet the family and show their respect. Usually they give 5 or 10 Dhalasi (10 cents) to the family for the burial costs.
4. Gamoo – This is an all day and all night religious ceremony. There is a recitation of the Quran as well as a discussion between local religious leaders and other Islamic scholars. These are usually annual, and people will travel far distances to attend. There are vendors and markets that set up and sell food and other goods because the program usually lasts until 7 or 8 in the morning.
5. School programs – If there is ever a competition or contest at the school, like an Inter House track and field competition or a dancing competition, this is usually followed by a night program. There will be a DJ and lights and the dancing and singing will continue until the early morning. Since the school in my village also has a soccer field, it sometimes holds other programs – like when the President came to visit!
6. Lamba – Wrestling competitions are a big part of Gambian culture. We host a few lambas in my village, and wrestlers from Senegal come to compete. The competition won’t usually start until 2 AM and will go until dawn.
If Gambians love one thing, it’s their programs and celebrations. Which is great because who doesn’t love dancing and singing all night?