A person's life in Gambia is marked by a series of African rites of passage or
traditional rituals. These include the so called
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
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
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.