Naming Ceremonies

The Gambia has a strong sense of culture and rich tradition. The naming ceremony holds an important place in the circle of ceremonies in the Gambia. Each tribe has its own expression for it. Kunliyo is known among the Mandinkas, Pembo with Fulas and Ngente in Wollof tribe.

The Background

Like the name implies, the naming ceremony is a ceremony held in The Gambia to name a newly born baby. In the Gambia, among the Muslims, babies are not named during pregnancy. The name of the baby is given to it eight days after birth. The ceremony follows a similar pattern among all the ethnic groups which is influenced by Islam. The rituals vary according to customary practices of the ethnic group. 

In the traditional Gambia, the newborn is welcomed with joy and happiness into the family. The grandparents are the happiest to receive a new member of the family. The mother and child are confined for a week. This period is known as “Jibabungo” in Mandinka or “NeeguWosin”. It is meant for the woman to recuperate and allow the baby to grow much stronger. It is also to protect the mother and child from evil and witchcraft, which Gambians believe in. A knife and charcoal are put under the child’s pillow to ward off evil spirit and bad dreams. 

The naming processes

In the Gambia, among Muslims, the child’s name is chosen by the father of the child. If he is deceased, his close brothers will take over his role. Wives are also given a chance to choose the name in case they wish to name the child after a dear friend, relative etc.

However, before Islam and Christianity, a typical Gambian society chose the child’s name according to the situation in which the child is given birth to. 

Names according to the situation

When a woman always has a miscarriage or loses a child immediately after birth, the baby who survives is named ˝Baluta˝, ˝Ya Filee˝, ˝Filee Jay˝. Etc

Naming Twins

The most famous names of twins in the Gambia comes from the Bible and the Quran. Names such as ˝Tayo & Taydeh˝ are from the Bible. ˝Ousainou & Assan, Adam & Awa˝ from the Quran. 

In recent day the Gambia, children are mostly named after close relatives and dear friends. The father of the baby can choose to name the child after his parents or his parent inlaw. He could also decide to give the child’s name to his closest friend, male or female, or to someone he admires and look up to. The person who is given the name of the child is called ˝Tomaa˝ (namesake).

Religious influence of naming a child

Some choose names according to convey their religious beliefs. Names like Blessing, Joy, Grace are names of Christians who show their gratitude through their children’s names. 

Rahman, Kalilu are Muslim names. 

After seven days

After the period, the Imam the head of the mosque is informed by the child’s father a day before the naming of the baby. The baby’s father buys cola-nut and takes it to the Imam at the mosque. This is regarded as respect to the Imam. The Imam accepts the cola and informs the mosque members about the name of the baby. Few elders from the mosque and friends of the family would arrive at the house early in the morning after the “FAJR” prayers (Fula’s culture), or some do it in the late afternoon around ten during the period of “Duha or Walaha”.  

Biscuits (called biscuit Bidew in the Gambia) and cola-nut with little money are placed on a mat. In the past, Munko, which is small round balls made from rice or coos flour, will be distributed among the guest. 

An elderly woman holds the baby while the Imam washes the baby’s hair. A tuft of the baby’s hair is removed and kept by the parents. The shaving signifies a new life and a new beginning for the baby. 

The Imam recites verses of the Quran into the baby’s right ear. The father whispers the baby’s name to the Imam and the Imam into the baby’s left ear. After that the name is announced to the people by a griot. 

A hen or sheep is killed on this day as a sacrifice for the baby. Wealthier families like the Sarahulis kill a cow. Whereas the father cannot provide the sacrificial animal known as the Tamiso in Mandinka and Gata in Wollof, families would prepare food with chicken, goat or sheep meat. The naming ceremony is adjourned. Since this is an obligatory act, “Sunna”, the father is required to provide it even in the child’s teens. 

When a child is named after someone, they become thrilled and emotional. Becoming a ˝tomaa˝is seen as a great fortune among locals. The ˝toma˝ buy baby stuff for the baby, clothes, shoes, diapers, baby lotions, sprays, formulas etc. for the baby to show his or her joy and gratitude for the family. Some ˝tomaa˝ take responsibility for the child when they are a little older and love them like their child. 

The Naming Feast

Thou not mandatory is always held to bring the family together to celebrate the newborn. The form varies according to social position. 

After the baby’s hair is shaved, the family offers lunch to the guest. Women of the family, close relatives and friends come together to cook lunch for the more significant celebration. Music, dance and refreshment enlighten the festive day. The mother dresses in beautiful African attires and carries the baby with her. Griots attend the ceremony to sing praises to the family. Parents and families give money to the griots, which is a tradition in the Gambia. Griots are respected cast in society and they are always take part in ceremonies. 

The celebration lasts the whole day till evening, where Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served to the people attending. 


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