Whilst some of the Muslim festivals, such as Ramadan, can be ascetic affairs (except for Koriteh which takes place as Ramadan draws to a close and is a festival of great celebration!) the local festivals such as naming ceremonies and weddings are a riot of colour, dancing and music. So keep your ears open and if you can get along to see one of these they are well worth a visit.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar calendar. It begins with the sighting of the new moon after which, from the breaking of dawn to the setting of the sun, all physically mature and healthy Muslims are obliged to abstain from all food, drink, gum chewing and any kind of tobacco use.
The usual practise is to have a pre-fast meal (Suro) before dawn and a post-fast meal (Iftar) after sunset. However, that is merely the physical component of the fast; Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family and friends. The fasting is a way of experiencing hunger and developing sympathy for the less fortunate, and learning to thank and appreciate all of God's bounties.
Koriteh is a public holiday and marks the end of Ramadan. Muslims all over the world start their day with morning prayers after which they come together with family and friends to enjoy the feast and celebrations.
Tabaski is the Wolof word for sacrifice and it is a national holiday that takes place 2 months and 10 days after the end of Ramadam to commemorate the story of Abraham. According to the Qur'an, Allah asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son and although Abraham was deeply troubled by Allah's request, he agreed as a sign of his obedience. Just before Abraham began the sacrifice, Allah told him to offer a sheep instead.
Every family sacrifices a sheep on Tabaski morning and the rest of the day is spent feasting, giving presents and in prayer.
This normally takes place one week after the child is born. The elders of the village gather together in the morning and name the baby whilst slaying either a chicken, goat, sheep or cow depending on the wealth of the family. Then all the villagers friends and family are invited to join the celebration which lasts throughout the day and into the night.
There are displays of dancing and singing and collections for the new baby continue throughout the event - so we recommend that if ever invited you take along plenty of small notes - D5's and D10's!
Read all about Kathy Burrington's visit to the Jola festival on The Gambia Blog.