1% of people in this country are sole believers in traditional
indigenous religion & its practices often referred
to by the West as Voodoo. (In 1963, 29% of people claimed
to be followers!). Despite the arrival and impact of
Islam and Christianity people belonging to both groups
still engage in one way or another in this very old
belief system which pre-dates the arrival of the two
religions. Many Muslims blend or syncretise a mixture
of Islam along with fetishist and animistic practices
which comes in various forms.
All ethnic groups
have their own objects, beliefs and local practices.
There is a tendency not to talk about the subject except
with close family and friends where advice is sought
or on a need-to-know basis only.
Animism in Gambia:
is based on the idea that natural objects such as animals,
trees which may have a Jine, sacred pools such as the
one in Kachikally and Folonko in Kartong, as well as
man-made symbols such as fetishes idols & deities
(Jalang & Gerem) are imbued with supernatural
powers. It is also believed that Marabouts, witch doctors,
diviners and herbalists have control over these powers
or can create some of them which may take the form of
Jujus. It may require the sacrifice of an animal such
as a chicken, goat or sheep. Sometimes holy water, called
Saffara, is used which is created by taking paper with
Islamic scriptures on it and mixing it with water. This
water tends to be used after bathing to afford some
sort of protection or good luck.
Strictly speaking, animism as a formal and principal
belief system has died out except in some areas of Casamance
in south eastern Senegal and parts of Foni in The Gambia.
However, a residual group often lives on among Muslims
and some Christian groups, alongside the newer religions.
When modern medicine, prayer, and the semi-religious
solutions of the Marabouts fail to cure an illness,
people may turn to the old ways.
For example among the Lébou of Cape Verde, the ritual
know as Ndeup is still held from occasionally, though
not on fixed dates. The Ndeup is a mystical therapy
aiming to extract the evil spirit from a patient. It
is held in public in the open. Often conducted by women,
and involves dancing and drumming. In fact, it has always
been the case that older, so-called pagan belief system
mesh surprisingly well with the newer religions. Christian
or Muslim saints may become identified with older deities,
allowing the two to be worshipped simultaneously.
Jujus are sacred amulets that can either be created
with traditional methods or using Islamic scriptures.
They can be bound in leather or metal or can take the
form of goats horns, wood, feathers, padlocks, string
and other objects. Most are worn on the body to afford
protection from illness, bullets, exams, stabbing knives,
verbal abuse etc., etc. However, some can be placed
in the grounds of a new house you intend to move into
to ward off evil spirits known as Rapp. Some are used
for get you promotion at work or to cause someone else
to be demoted. Some can be placed in an enemy's or business
competitor's premises to have a desired negative effect
on them. It is said that some can even be used to kill
someone! Indeed, there are any number of reasons they
are used as they can be tailor-made to 'fix' a particular
individual or family problem.
Historically it was the clinging onto of these traditions
by Muslims that triggered the Soninke-Marabout wars
from the 1850s waged by the Jihadists against the Mandinka
kings many of whom still drank alcohol.
Whether you believe in such things or not it is a fact
that many highly educated people in Gambia and the rest
of West Africa who have travelled to the West and are
well versed in its modern values do practice one or
more of the aforementioned traditional approaches.
There also exists numerous superstitions in Gambia based
around around everyday objects, animals and events which
more or less cuts across all religions.
won't sell you razors at night (bad luck)
• Never answer the door to someone late at night (evil)
• Pour water outside your door wards off bad luck
• Dreaming of a snake means impending pregnancy
• Never visit someone who is bereaved on a Saturday