The marriage process among Muslims
in Gambia is a relatively simple affair. If a man is
interested in wedding a woman, after informing his parents,
then male representatives (uncles, brothers, close relatives)
of the groom are then sent to the woman's house. They
present some Kola nuts & express the groom's interest.
If the woman's representatives agree then they set a
date for the wedding & announce this to all relatives.
Usually such weddings are held at a Mosque of Jaka but
could just as well be held in the woman's home.
Usually only men are allowed at the Mosque or Jaka ceremony
and the bride and groom are very often barred from attending
the gathering! At the ceremony more Kola nuts are handed
over as well as some token dowry money maybe between
£50 to £100 though this could be higher as it is set
by the brides family.
Speeches and prayers are then said and that is more
or less it. The process at the Mosque is called "Takka"
which means to tie (much the same as tie the knot in
It should be noted that a wedding can take place even
if the groom and bride are outside the country and living
in different continents for that matter. Furthermore
there is virtually no engagement period as it is simply
announced a week or less before the wedding date, though
arrangements would have taken place one or two weeks
If a Christian
woman and a Muslim
man are to wed then it could be possible to have a ceremony
in the Mosque and a civil ceremony in Banjul
at the registry office.
Should the marriage turn to talk of divorce then it
is up to the man to write to his wife's parents or failing
that her uncle or close elder relations and say in the
letter that he is divorcing his wife giving an explanation
of the reasons why. There then follows a period of talks
when a family delegation from the man's family would
try to talk to the husband asking him to re-consider
his decision. This is something that has to be done
under Muslim tradition.
In Gambia, unions among people of the Moslem faith,
usually follows certain traditional Islamic tradition
with an infusion of ethnic customs and practices. It
is an elaborate ceremonial tradition with its own rules
and forms of etiquette. Although men marry at a somewhat
later age, most women marry between the ages of 14-20
(20-30 in urban areas). The wedding is mainly an arrangement
between two families and not between individuals, especially
when it is a case of a second or third wife, although
today in most of the country the couple to be wed is
consulted and their wishes respected. However, great
importance is still placed on marrying within the social
The courtship begins with the offering of kola nuts
to the parents of the bride-to-be by the suitor's family.
If the father accepts them, a bride price is established
("la dot") and a date for the ceremony at
the mosque is arranged. The origins of "la dot"
probably signify imparting a guarantee of stability
and also a compensation to the bride's family for the
loss of one of its members.
When all the dowry is paid and accounted for, a wedding
date can then be set. Wedding ceremonies should be held
on Thursday evening, but today because of work constraints
the weddings are often held on Sunday. The bride prepares
herself at home as close friends help wash, perfume
and dress her in white clothes with a white veil or
pagne (cloth) covering her face. Her hands are dyed
with henna and her hair is braided with beads or coins.
If she is Fulani or Tukulor she will wear 3 gris-gris
around her neck to protect her against evil spirits.
The day of the "tying of the marriage" the
uncles and fathers of the betrothed (the couple to be
wedded are not present) meet at the mosque. Three witnesses
are present before the Marabout, and kola nuts brought
by the bride's father are distributed to the guests.
The remainder of the dowry is now handed over to the
bride's father by the groom's father or other male relative.
The average dowry now is over D3,000 but among the urban
bourgeoisie it may be a lot more. After the mosque formalities
the groom delivers to the bride's home all the gifts
she asked for and which have previously been agreed
upon: usually a wooden bed, a radio, a watch, shoes,
etc. (Today this may also include a television or VCR.)
Then a goat, a sheep, or a cow is killed and food prepared
for the assembled guests (the bride and groom remain
separately in their own homes.)
After drumming and feasting all night at the bride's
home until about 5 o'clock in the morning, she may go
to the home of her new husband. There a cow or sheep
is killed and more food prepared and the celebration
continues until evening. From this time on the bride
stays with her husband. The next few days involve various
rites and ritual feasting marking the bride's official
membership in the husband's compound. One week later
the "jour de linge" (laundry day) marks the
end of the honeymoon. The wife and her friends gather
up all the laundry from the week and go to the well.
Clothing and linens may be deliberately soiled by the
husband's friends; dancing and celebrating highlighted
by a special feast mark this day.