Traditional Greetings Etiquette
Gambians attach great importance to
traditional greetings and etiquette as it serves to
re-enforce existing social bonds or to familiarise and create new
social ties. Such formalities are influenced by
Islam and much of it
has its roots in the ancient empires
of the Mandinka, Wolof,
Serahule and other
tribes of West Africa. Indeed, such formalities
are an essential social ingredient
for successfully interacting with local Gambian people and leaves them
more pre-deposed towards you.
Always avoid immediately getting down to
the subject matter and spend at least 15 seconds (30 seconds or more for people
in authority) saying hello and how is the
family? Anything less is
perceived as disrespectful or that you are looking down on them.
If you do not follow the above advice your life will be made very
Remember that handshaking with
your right-hand is a compulsory form of greeting except where you are visiting somebody
who has recently been bereaved in which case it is the cultural norm that
you do not shake hands with them. However, when you are travelling out of the country or going
up-river for more than a day it is customary to shake hands using your left-hand. If someone is busy working
or with their hands & are tied-up they may offer you their lower arm instead and you
would hold it as if it were their hand. Though it sounds obvious, never
greet anyone who is praying as they will not answer back.
Furthermore, do not give anything to people using your
left-hand as this is seen as an insult as it is the hand used for
toilet purposes and other actions deemed unhygienic.
think that such traditional greetings are a waste of valuable time but the
is different and it is the essential key to successful interaction in
the community. On a point of note women are not expected to shake
hands (though they usually can) particularly in the rural areas.
If you are saying hello to
someone from a distance then hold both your hands together, raise and
shake them to the person involved. When a Gambian is angry at another
person then they usually do not greet each other and just walk by
feigning "I didn't see you".
Hugging is normal
between the same and opposite sexes but they must be either related
or well acquainted friends and is usually done after a long absence
of meeting each other during their daily lives. As for kissing on
the cheeks it is not unusual between women or between a man and a
woman but again they should be related on well acquainted.
matter how busy you are always greet people and be prepared to stop
what you are doing no matter how important it is to you. Business
always comes second! Is it any wonder that the Gambia is renowned to
be one of Africa's most peaceful countries.
Local people greet each other
with an Arabic ritual phrase that
Alaykum’ meaning "peace be
upon you" and in reply you would say "Maleikum asalaam’
‘peace be with you". If you learn a few simple greetings the locals
will be delighted.
You can start with trying "Naka
nga def?" which means "how are you?" and in
reply one would say "Mang Fi rek"
which basically means "I'm just fine" the above phrases are from the
Wolof language which is the country's lingua franca. If you are
then a simple "hello" and "how are you"
will suffice as most people in
the urban areas understand the phrase and understand that as a foreigner
may not be tuned in with local traditions.
and in particular the Mandinkas, greetings
can be very extensive especially among the older generations which
involves asking about the well being of the individual's
members then moving down to more mundane matters such as the weather or some other sort
of local gripe. In fact such greetings can go on for over a minute before one gets
down to the subject of the discussion.
When entering someone's
house take your shoes off. Your hosts
may tell you that you don't need to bother but you should insist and
leave your shoes at the door. This action shows them that you respect
their house no matter how poor.
Although most people
will understand much of western customs, do respect their
cultural norms & customs if you want to avoid offending anyone. For example, only use
your right-hand to give or receive food, money or any other item.
It is not uncommon to see two friends holding hands—whether they are
two girls or two guys. Handholding in public between two members of
the opposite sex is far less common!
When 'knocking' on someone's door you can just say "Kunk kunk".