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Weddings in Gambia
Culture   Rites of Passage   Relationships - Male/Female   Polygamy 
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 English)!

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 prior.

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.

Further Reading:
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 group.

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.

See also:

Relationships - Male/Female

Polygamy    Religion  



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