Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Gambian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Mozambican funeral traditions and Maltese funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Islam is Gambia’s most common religion with 90% of the population identifying as Muslim. Smaller percentages of Gambian people also practice Christianity and traditional religions. Some Muslims and Catholics also may incorporate traditional religious beliefs into their customs.
Death Beliefs and Taboos
There are differing beliefs about the afterlife and death since many people have different combinations of religious beliefs.
Additionally, there are several death taboos, including:
- Seeing a shooting star means that someone important will die.
- Believing activities done on Saturdays will be repeated at some point in the future, so avoiding visiting ill people or giving condolences on this day.
- Believing owls can turn into wizards or witches and their call means there’s an upcoming death.
Preparation of the Body
When someone dies, there’s a ritual washing and perfuming of the body. This is done by someone of the same sex as the deceased unless the deceased was under eight years old. Then, they wrap the body in a white shroud, cross their hands over their chest, and pray.
Gambian Funeral and Burial Customs
A Gambian funeral is both a sad occasion and a celebration of life that the entire community participates in. There is a funeral procession to the cemetery for the burial in a wooden casket.
If the deceased was Muslim, they’re buried facing Mecca within 24 hours of the death, if possible. Before the burial, mourners may pray together at a mosque. At the burial, mourners say prayers for the soul to have a peaceful eternal rest. The grave marker also is usually simple rather than elaborately designed.
The traditional mourning period lasts 40 days, with the fortieth day being when the soul goes to heaven and everyone prays together. A Muslim widow mourns her husband for four months and 10 days and stays in her home during this time.
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