Culture & Traditions Religion
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
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
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
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.
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.
Superstitions & Taboos:
There also exists numerous superstitions in Gambia based around
around everyday objects, animals and events which more or less
cuts across all religions.
• Shopkeepers 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