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
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 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
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
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
• 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
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 identity.
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.