Once a year, about 70 days after the end of Ramadan, virtually the whole of The Gambia holds a barbecue!
This is the festival of Tobaski (also known as Tabaski or Eid Al Adha) when Muslim families ritually kill a ram in commemoration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son to God, who at the last minute exchanges Abraham’s son for a ram. It coincides with the end of the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, one of the pillars of Islam and very much encompasses another one of the pillars, the giving of alms. It is a great time to visit The Gambia as the excitement is contagious. On the morning of Tobaski when I was there a few years ago I remember there being a noticeable buzz in the air around my hotel (and I had three marriage proposals from the waiters before I’d even finished breakfast – which is a record even for The Gambia!)
The lead up to Tobaski can be a stressful time for some, as the cost of a sheep can typically be twice a manual worker’s monthly salary. The cost raises steeply as Tobaski approaches. Everyone is expected to wear their finest clothes, preferably new. All compounds (family homes) are thoroughly “spring” cleaned.
Every married man or head of the household is expected to buy a sheep (ideally a ram) or other suitable animal such as a cow, goat or even chicken if that’s all they can afford.
Tobaski is a public holiday and one of the major holidays celebrated by Muslims around the world. After open air prayers at the local mosque, families return home, kill their sheep and divide it into three portions, one to be kept aside for the family, one to be given to relatives and friends and one to be given to the needy. Indeed, the idea of sharing is the essence of the feast, bringing unity and harmony among family and neighbours and it is a day to forgive past wrongs.
It is also the custom to offer food to anyone passing by and it would be disrespectful not to eat something, even if only a few mouthfuls. However, it would also be disrespectful to finish all the food as this implies that the host has not prepared enough food.
As the festival approaches everyone starts collecting coins as after the feast excited children visit all their neighbours asking for Salibo (gifts). If you pass down the Kairaba Avenue at this time you’ll find it jam-packed with crowds of children around the ice-cream and cake sellers spending the “gifts” they have collected.
In the evening children are allowed to stay up late, while the adults sing, dance and chat while drinking numerous brews of ataya (green tea) and the celebrations can go on for a few days.
..and so may I wish a ‘Happy Tobaski’ to all my Muslim friends and to all Muslims around the world.
To see more photos of The Gambia visit Travel with Kat on Flickr
For information on holidays from the UK visit The Gambia Experience