A Taste of Gambian Tradition

14 06 2011

The sacrifice. You were a delicious ram.

The Work Week

To say last week at work was a little slow would be an understatement, besides having a few meeting with the GALDEP (Gambia Lowland Development Project) team, we didn’t do much actual ‘work’. We hoped to go up country and visit a few of their work sites, but,the Ministry of Agriculture relies on funding from organizations to complete their projects and when the funding is slow… so is the work. But, we did get some solid research done at the FAO (food and agriculture organization) library on some of the Gambia’s agricultural challenges, so it wasn’t a complete waste. Our boss at the MoA assures us the work will pick up shortly.

The Naming Ceremony

The highlight of the week came on Saturday when our pal Lamin Sonko invited us to join him at a naming ceremony which was taking place at his family’s compound. A naming ceremony is pretty much what you’d think it is; a big party with family and friends where a newborn baby is given their name. This is a very common and valued tradition in Gambian culture.

We arrived around 11am and were just in time to see the men finish cutting up the celebration’s sacrifice: a ram and a goat. After talking with one of the guys doing the chopping, I was informed that his father had chosen him to be the one to make the first cut. I was a tad bit upset that we didn’t arrive earlier, as he also told me that the animals were walking around only a few hours ago… That would have been something to see.

Porridge with sour milk

Brewin' Attaya

After the meat was all chopped up and sorted, it was passed off to the women to prepare. That about did it for work as the men were concerned, the rest of the day was spent hangin’ out around a pot of attaya for some chit chat. During the initial brew we were presented with the first of the many meals of the day. Two big bowls of rice porridge, one with a creamy groundnut (peanut) sauce and one without, were plopped down right in front of us. With the thought of the days delicious sacrifice still fresh in my head; I tried to restrain myself from eating the entire bowl… It wasn’t easy, that groundnut sauce was out of this world. What did help in slowing my appetite, however, was when Lamin poured some sour milk onto the plain porridge and offered me to try it. He took a mouth full and then delivered me this sales pitch; “Oh this was fresh, delicious cow milk yesterday. Today it’s sour and much better!”. If that comment alone didn’t raise any concerns for me, the curds in his milk moustache should have. But hey, why not give it a taste…so I grabbed a spoon full. Yup, that was for sure sour milk. Not too sure what the appeal of it is, it tasted exactly the way you think milk left out for a day would taste. Not the best.

Over the next few hours us men brewed more attaya while enjoying mangos and man talk. I couldn’t help but notice that the compound was separated like a grade school dance; guys on one side, girls on the other. Yena, who had been summoned to duty shortly after our arrival, was over with the women who were all working tirelessly to prepare the breakfast, lunch, and dinner feasts. From what I’ve seen over here, the roles of a man and a woman are quite scripted and even more so when it comes to a traditional celebration like as this one.

At this point in the day, the men were now invited over to the actual naming ceremony at the father’s compound nearby. To my understanding, the way it works is the father suggests a name for the child, the crowd and the Imam (the community’s Muslim leader) then will discuss and finalize the child’s name. We walked in during this portion and everyone was crowded around a man (good friend of the fathers) who was shouting at the top of his lungs at random members of the crowd. Lamin explained that he was praising the people he was yelling at, trying to get them to donate some money to the family. After the man was done raking the crowd, the name was settled on and we returned to the Sonko compound for dinner.

Dan gettin' his groove on

After putting a nice dent into a massive bowl of goat and ram benachin, we relaxed (over some attaya, of course) for a short while before until we were called into the streets for a little bit of traditional Gambian dancing. This part was only for the women, but for some reason they made an exception and dragged both Dan and I into the middle of it. I was reluctant at first but after being pulled into a pile of 30 dancing women, I wasn’t complaining. We tore up the street for about 5 minutes until both Dan and I were done embarrassing ourselves and left the dancing to the professionals.

When everyone was all danced out, we called it a day and after around 11 hours of celebrations it was about time.  Overall; had lots of great food, met lots of good people, had some laughs (mostly as a result of my boogieing) and had an experience I won’t soon forget.

Ciao for now,
Enjoy game 7 of the cup finals…





2 responses

16 06 2011

Perhaps you could bring some of those recipes home for your mom to make. I’m sure she would love to “carve up” some Northern meat and serve it to the family!

16 06 2011

I bet you wouldn’t eat porridge with ground nut sauce and sour milk at home if I served it up.
Doesn’t look deelish!

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