Tobaski: A Gambia experience

Updated on Sep 24, 2019 by Matt Smith

Blog > Tobaski: A Gambia experience

We've made many Gambian friends and a few years ago we were there at the time when the festival of Tobaski was celebrated. This festival commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son.

With the feast of Tobaski a few short days away we today featuring a guest post from Joy Riley who attended a Tobaski ceremony with some Gambian friends back in 2008. 

The Tobaski goat
Above: The Tobaski goat

My husband and I first visited The Gambia in 1982 when we stayed at the Wadner Beach hotel which is now derelict. A few years later we revisited and this time stayed at the Bungalow Beach hotel or BB as it is better known. We have returned there many, many times since.

I particularly like BB because I find I can ‘live’ there rather than just ‘stay’. There are two rooms to each apartment – a bedroom and a living room/kitchenette – so you have plenty of space. There are two electric rings, a sink and fridge so we can make a drink at any time. Breakfast ingredients are provided weekly and fresh baguettes left every day so you can breakfast exactly when you want. Extra items can be purchased from the nearby mini-markets.

We have made many Gambian friends and a few years ago we were there at the time when the festival of Tobaski was celebrated. This festival is to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son in the name of Allah. 

Jariatu preparing spices for the Tobaski feast
Above: Jariatu preparing spices for the Tobaski feast

One of our friends, Lamin, invited us to his compound to join in the celebrations and we were happy to accept. He picked us up at 8am and we took a bush taxi into Serekunda and then walked to the compound. We had been there before and knew his wife and family well.

Several families lived in the compound and each had their own sacrificial ram. After meeting everyone (including the rams) the men put on their new clothes and went to the mosque while we caught up with all the news of the rest of the family. When the men returned, Lamin’s wife, Jariatou, made us breakfast of a large omelette.

While we were eating inside the room the men slaughtered the rams in the compound. We could have watched if we wanted but decided not to. They dug a hole in the sand to collect the blood and the rams’ throats were cut over this. By then we had finished our breakfast. They then commenced to skin and butcher the rams. The ‘table’ was an old door laid on the ground. The fleece was carefully removed, scraped and laid out to dry. This was to be used as prayer mat. The carcase was then butchered (this is the only word to describe it as every sort of cutting instrument was employed - a cleaver, a machete and various knives.) There were no recognisable joints, they just cut the carcasses into pieces and put them into buckets and the women then came and picked out the chunks of meat and bone they wanted and started to cook them. The offal was treated separately. The entrails were emptied by the children and put out to dry but I cannot remember what they were going to be used for. Every part of the animal was used apart from the horns. I asked what they were going to do with them and was told nothing but I could have one if I wanted. I politely declined!

The men in their finery

Above: The men in their finery

Every family tries very hard to save enough money to be able to afford a ram but those who are too poor come to the compound gate and are given some of the meat as a present. While the meal was being cooked we visited a couple of nearby compounds where other friends lived and were made most welcome by being offered cups of tea. I find that I cannot drink this as it is so sweet – I think as much sugar is put into one pot as I use all year – but it is fascinating to watch the tea-making ritual.

We then returned to Lamin’s compound and to the meal. This consisted of a large platter of rice with the meat and vegetables piled on top. It is normal to eat with your hands but we were given a spoon. We had to eat very carefully as there were many splinters of bone but the meal was really very good and very tasty even if we had been stroking the poor ram a few hours earlier. After lunch and further chat we returned to the hotel very much the wiser for our experience.

Posted in Matt Smith | Tagged Culture, Food & drink


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