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Easter - The Gambian Way

My Magazine 2023/02
7 min
Although The Gambia is a Muslim country and Christians are a minority, Easter in the Gambia is a much bigger celebration than in some European countries.

This year, things kicked off on Wednesday, February 22, when churchgoers headed to their local congregations to observe Ash Wednesday. On this day, priests and pastors smear ashes from the previous year's Palm Sunday palms on the attendees' foreheads.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Lent comes to a close during Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday.

This year the important dates to remember are -
Palm Sunday-April 2
Holy Wednesday-April 5
Holy Thursday-April 6
Good Friday-April 7
Easter Sunday-April 9 and
Easter Monday-April 10.

A provincial church.

It will come as a massive surprise to many people that in West Africa, specifically in The Gambia, baobab, the fruit of the iconic African tree, has a special association with Easter. 

On Good Friday, it's traditional to make Naan Mburu, a special drink made from milk, sugar, condensed milk, baobab powder, dried fruit, chopped apples, and bananas.

Naan Mburu

Fresh, locally grown rice is washed, dried, and then milled into flour. This flour is then made into rice balls and steamed on the morning of Good Friday. The Baobab drink is poured over these rice balls and mixed well to form a very popular meal. It is made only in The Gambia and parts of Senegal like Dakar and Goree.

This meal is sometimes repeated on Easter Sunday.

Giving and receiving Baobab Naan Mburu at Easter is a practice that has been going on for at least a hundred years and is a firmly established tradition in The Gambia.

On Good Friday, there is also the traditional beating of Judas, the betrayer of Jesus and one of his twelve apostles. An effigy of Judas is prepared from sackcloth stuffed with rags and dressed in some old clothing, an old hat and a pipe sticking out of the mouth. It is displayed all morning, and usually, around noon, Judas is attacked with sticks and clubs and beaten to pieces. This activity is said to punish Judas while also creating an outlet for venting spiritual anger and frustration.

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