Rite of Passage in Gambia
Culture & Traditions Circumcision Funerals Masquerades Naming
A person's life in Gambia is marked by a series of African rites
of passage or traditional rituals. These include the so called
naming ceremonies, male initiation and circumcision, marriages
and funerals. People of both the main faiths and all ethnic groups
more or less go through all the rituals.
An initiatory rite is
a ritual marking the change of social or sexual status of an individual,
most generally puberty but also for other events like the birth
or the menopause.
The rites of passage make it possible to bind the individual to
the group, but also to structure the life of the individual in
precise stages which allow an alleviating perception of the individual
compared to his temporality and to its mortality. This phenomenon
thus has an important stake for the individual, the relation between
the individual and the group, and for the cohesion of the group
as a whole.
There are several ceremonies that are connected to special events
in a Gambian’s life. Naming ceremonies are held exactly 7 days
after a baby is born, when the father announces the name he has
chosen for his new son or daughter. Circumcision ceremonies are
performed when adolescents are circumcised to mark the transition
from childhood to adulthood. Performed in same-sex groups, circumcisions
are customarily accompanied by “bush school,” when the young adults
are taken into the bush and taught about their culture and the
responsibilities they must undertake as adults.
As expected, wedding denotes the joining of husband and wife.
It is fairly common for marriages to be arranged between parents
(especially in rural areas) and it is not necessary for both the
bride and groom to be present at the actual ceremony. The wedding
ceremony, as well as the naming and circumcision ceremonies in
themselves are usually smaller affairs, with close family only.
Larger parties, held afterwards, include a larger group of acquaintances.
The Foni district is inhabited by the Diolas, Mandjaques and Balanta
who perform their initiation ceremonies in their sacred holy woods.
Some of these traditional ceremonies take place every year whilst
others take place once every 30 to 40 years.
In Gambia the rite of passage generally proceeds in three stages:
• Separation (the individual is isolated from the group);
• the margin or liminality (moment when the effectiveness of the
ritual is carried out, with the variation of the group);
• aggregation (return in the group).
The most studied transition is undoubtedly the time of adolescence
which corresponds in the passing biological and social of the
child to the adult through the state-limit or the interval of
penal responsibility / irresponsibility, the reproductive capacity
/ incapacity and autonomy / heteronomy on the plans biological,
legal, psychological and social.
Birth with death, the course of a life is the sum and the chronicle
of a multitude of passages where each passage is the rupture of
an unspecified identity as the birth of a child is the rupture
of a wife who becomes mother, of a "girl of..." who
becomes "mother of..." and of a "mother of..."
who becomes a "grandmother of." for the female kind
as for the male kind. Another illustrative example of passage
in childhood is the rupture between the privative one of the family
and the public of the first days at the nursery.
The passage from primary school to secondary school corresponds
to the preadolescence stage where the child passes through the
school holidays, of the group at "large" at the primary
school with the group of "small" at the secondary school.
This passage is also at the same time the abandonment of the old
identity which of "figure" becomes "bottom",
in Gestalt or "totality figure-bottom" and the acquisition
of a new identity which replaces "figure". The rite
of passage is a ceremony of public recognition and approval of
the abandonment of the old identity and acquisition of the new
It is essentially an accompaniment of training in the abandonment
of the old identity and the acquisition of the new identity.
The rite of passage is also this guide of voyage and training
and an accompaniment of a trade-guild of road in the abandonment
of the old identity and the acquisition of the new identity, a
tended hand of the close relations and distances to cross turbid
water of the life.
Among Gambia's Christians the principal rites are the baptism,
the communion and the marriage.