Ceremony such as marriage is a revered traditional and cultural event believed to be sacred and blissful. Marriage in general is an institution established by religion and powered by social, cultural and traditional norms. While modern marriage ceremony can take different forms, traditional marriage ceremony remains an intrinsic value in the African society – in particular in the Gambia.
With Gambian people, three forms of marriages are observed and practiced. The traditional marriage is performed in a mosque by Imams and elders of a particular community with parents and relatives of both couples attending. The traditional marriage ceremony concludes with the breaking of the kola nut, but the most interesting part is its beginning. If a man desires to find a wife, he first selects an acceptable family and sends them a kola nut as greetings and declaration of his proposal. Upon acceptance of the kola nut, representative of the man’s family meets with the girl’s family to decide on the dowry. This is followed by a date for the breaking of the kola nut (marriage).
Traditional African society calls this practice “breaking the kola nut” and it best describes the marriage as a juncture, after which the kola nut is distributed in the mosque among the elders and relatives.
‘Breaking the kola nut’ is a solemn ritual, a piece of drama during which a society lights up, reflecting the spiritual, traditional, cultural and social realities of the people, their customs and relationships.
Kola nut offering marks a significant cultural symbol in traditional Africa, having an important cultural value and socio-religious function. ‘Breaking the kola nut’ is a solemn ritual, a piece of drama during which a society lights up, reflecting the spiritual, traditional, cultural and social realities of the people, their customs and relationships.
In traditional marriage, the bride wears a traditional African attire, full of colors and designs showcasing the African culture, while the bridegroom wears “gran-buba” or “haftan”. As part of the fanfare, the women prepare traditional musical exhibition using calabash soaked into water together with drums – this composition creates excitement among the women on the day of the marriage ceremony. This day also marks an honorable moment in the life of both, parents and young women.
The other form of marriage ceremony takes place in a Christian church. This ceremony is performed by a pastor. They exchange their vows and wedding rings, after which a reception is organized to celebrate the new couple . This is accompanied by music and at this time friends and families give their wedding presents to the couple. During the reception, food and refreshments are served, usually including “benachin” or “domodah”, ebbeh, chicken, chips, and baobab juice and soft drinks.
The third form of marriage ceremony is not common among native Gambians, but its relevance is the same as other marriage ceremonies in the Gambia. The civil marriage is performed in Attorney General’s chambers by the Attorney General or competent judge. Here, the couple exchanges wedding vows and partnership responsibilities, as required by law. In this form of marriage, the man is not allowed to have another wife, except if the married couple divorces.
In general, marriage in the Gambia is either polygamous (more than one wife) or monogamous (one wife).
Author: Lamin Njie