One thing about Gambians and Senegambians, in general, is that they never miss out on a chance to throw an epic event to show out and recognize pivotal points in their lives. Various rites of passage like birthing ceremonies and weddings are huge moments like all cultures, but in the Senegambia region, these events can last for days on end, with music blasting, dancing lifting the sand off the ground and food constantly pouring out of all corners of venues.
For the majority of people in this region, they follow traditional Muslim practices though incorporate this into their own traditional rituals during these ceremonies. Though no event is more important than the other, the one to signify a persons life journey is the “Ngente”.
The naming ceremony is held a week or 8 days after the day the baby is born to welcome the child to the family and the extended community. These events usually happen within the confines of the family compound in the garden of the house or main communal area in the morning. Most people will rent a tent to put in the yard to provide shade if there is none or if there is a lack of space they will create a temporary extension of the house using these tents outside their compound fence.
Before the actual ceremony has begun, a delicious dish of Laakh, a milky sweet yogurt and millet are served to the guests, giving them the energy and stamina to continue until the lunch is served for this full-day event.
The baby begins its first entrance and starts its introductions to the community dressed in its best clothes and a ceremonial blanket. In the yard, usually, there are mats laid out or rented chairs where the men recite the Koran and choose their favorite prayers to bless the new birth. The father of the child, who has thought of the name of the child before the ceremony but not spoken it to anyone, will now tell the name to the main religious leader known as the Imam, who will begin to prepare to cut a lock of the child’s hair (though in some places they will shave the full head.) He will then whisper the baby’s name into its ear. The element of water is added to rinse the child’s head in the form of a ritual cleansing. After this rinsing, the name of the child is announced to the entire family for all to hear and begin the true festivities that will continue past sunset.
For certain groups, they will hand kola nuts around for the guests almost like a party favor while lunch begins to be served which is often in the form of a sacrifice from an animal as small as a chicken to as large as a cow. Lunch is usually a rice dish like cebbu yapp, a rice and meat dish served in a communal bowl for people to share. This event has everything to do with the community and them beginning the journey in raising this child together with the mother and father. Throughout this, the guests hand out their gifts of money to the mother to congratulate her on the birth and also to help cover costs of the naming ceremony which in some cases can sometimes be very steep depending on how lavish the person wants the event to be.
Once the drummers start, the dancing begins while the griots offer up their praises in song form to the mother and the baby while friends and family join in dancing to celebrate the event, welcoming their new member with pomp and circumstance into the family.