Culture & Traditions Rites
of Passage Relationships
- Male/Female Polygamy
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
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
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
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.
Relationships - Male/Female