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The Rain-making Festival

My Magazine 2023/07
5 min
Africa has a rich history of spiritual and cultural beliefs, with a central focus on the elements of nature. One of the most intriguing practices is that of the Rain-making Festival, which is still prevalent in many African communities, including The Gambia, with specific regions and ethnic groups having their unique approaches.

Rain-making is based on the belief that specific individuals possess the ability to communicate with the spirits and the elements of nature. These individuals are known as Rain Makers - persons able to connect with the spirits who control the weather and bring forth rain in times of drought. 

‍Rainmakers represent the people's link with the blessings of time and eternity, a connection between humans and the Divine. The rainmakers do not rely exclusively on their spiritual powers; they are well-versed in weather and environmental matters and may spend long periods of apprenticeship acquiring their knowledge.

Even though rain-making methods vary from one community to the next, they often involve a series of rituals and ceremonies. These rituals can include animal sacrifices, offerings of food and drink, chanting, drumming, and dancing. The ceremonies are often accompanied by prayers which are said to carry the requests of the people to the spirits.

In The Gambia and other African countries, when there is little or no rain at the peak of the rainy season, it becomes a great worry to the farmers who rely on the crops to carry them through the year. When this happens, the people, regardless of religion,  will come together and pray for rain. 

The women who work in the rice fields or cultivate other crops and vegetables during the season perform the rain-making rituals and lead the rain festival. The women of the village, together with the kanyaleng kafo,  dress in male clothing and gather on a specific day to perform the ritual at a spiritual site. A woman called the Ngansingba (who performs girls' circumcision) leads the women to this site. This is bare land without any cultivation, and the ritual is usually performed under a massive tree. This site can be found in a small village called Salikene in the North Bank Region. 

The rain-making rituals involve traditional and cultural beliefs. It takes place amidst drumming, dancing and singing praises of the Almighty Allah. Seeds are carried in pots symbolizing fertility. A lot of food is prepared, which is presented to the spirits first and then consumed by the women. 

Jiiyoo jiibaa jii!
Jiiyoo Ndanku.
Jiiyoo jiibaa jii
M’maariyo ndanku
Allah n yaamari ko jaatoo
mindo be la jong o la.

Oh, mighty rain fall!
Rainfall heed our call,
Oh, great rain fall.
Almighty Allah, answer to our call,
Bless us like bitter tomato,
Your servant is hungry.

Ali jenke jiiyoo ye
Kuumaa kuumaa,
Ali jenke jiiyoo ye
Kuumaa kuumaa (repeated)

Give way to the pouring rain
‘Kuumaa kuumaa’
Give way to the pouring rain
‘Kuumaa kuumaa’

Once the ritual is over, the women march to the village drumming, dancing and singing repeatedly -

Soobee soobee, soobii soorontoo,
Soobee soobee, soobii soorontoo,

Get into the rain,
Go under the drips of pouring rain.

Many villages report that it starts to rain whenever this ritual is carried out. No one has ever reported an instance where the rain-making practices didn't bring the much-needed rain.

The reasons for rain-making are varied and complex. In many African communities, agriculture is the backbone of the economy, and a successful harvest depends on the timely arrival of rain. When the rains fail, crops wither and die, leading to famine and hardship. Rain-making is therefore seen as a way to ensure the prosperity of the community and to protect it against the devastating effects of drought.

In addition to its practical benefits, rain-making also has important spiritual and cultural significance. Many African communities view the elements and the spirits that govern them as a vital part of their world, and rain-making is seen as a way to honour and appease these spirits. The rituals and ceremonies associated with rain-making are often accompanied by music, dance, and other forms of celebration, which strengthen the community's social bonds and cultural traditions.

However, rain-making has its controversies. Some have criticized the practice as superstitious or unscientific, arguing that the elements are beyond human control and that rain-making is a futile endeavour. Others have accused rainmakers of fraud and deception, suggesting that their supposed abilities are nothing more than a clever ploy to extort money or gain power. 

Conclusively, rain-making is an ancient practice passed down from generation to generation in many African communities. Despite the advancement of technology and science, many African cultures still practice rain-making today, believing it to be an integral part of their traditions and way of life. The techniques and rituals may differ from one community to another, but the underlying principles remain the same. Rain-making is seen as a spiritual act that requires the intervention of the divine, the ancestors, and the elements. 

While no scientific evidence proves the effectiveness of rain-making, it remains a significant part of African culture, history and a source of community pride.

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