Behind the scenes in Wollof marriageWollof Marriage: narratives and interpretation of motives by Tijaan Kamara, Daaraji Publishers, 2017, 62 pages

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Review by Hassoum Ceesay

This monograph of 63 pages deals with an essential aspect of the life cycle of the Wollof people who live in Senegambia-marriage rites and rituals. It is short by pagination but is a power dynamo by ideas, precepts and explanation given as regards this very essential aspect of the life of a community, namely marriages. The author about whom I shall talk about later, has assiduously and meticulously excised through the very complex rituals, ceremonies, and rites which envelop the alpha and omega of marriage amongst the Wollof.

But what are the credentials of the author to write such a ground breaking and seminal book? First, he is an excellent speaker of the language and has even taught it in schools before, so he is deeply embedded into the culture of the people he is writing about. In fewer words, he has got the immersion needed to properly and adequately understand the nuances of the practices and precepts of the Wollof. Mr. Kamar is also a veteran cultural enthusiast and practitioner and administrator, having worked in the NCAC many years ago, and served until very recently a memorable tenure as Chairman of the NCAC Board. As actor, dramatist, art teacher, artist and cultural writer, he has also garnered and carved for himself a worthy niche in The Gambian cultural scene. This book is therefore dependable as far as the credentials and abilities of the author are concerned.

Generally, what the author has done is to explain the reasons or reason d’etre of certain rituals and rites, rights and wrongs, the Islamic and the cultural aspects of Wollof marriages. Why should there be a pre-marriage or courtship before even the suitors formally expresses interest in the lady? Why should a marriage get a public proclamation for it to be acceptable in Wollof Muslim culture? It is these kind of questions that the author tries to address in this book. In essence, the author is concerned more with interpreting why certain rites and rituals tale place within the process of Wollof marriage and not about the ‘procedures and narratives of the occasion’ (p.61).

Reading the book gives the right impression that among the Wollof marriage is the beginning of a very long series of protocols, processes and procedures. These include courtship or nobaan; tying of the marriage and its proclamation at the mosque or taka; the marriage protocols or ngoro; the bachekor’s eve or ngomarr; the wedding day and the consummation of the marriage and its aftermath.

At the same time, the author reflects on the pre-courtship issues such as caste of the bride or groom; the need to resort to a fortune teller before any move is made towards the marriage. One page 6 the author explains that even though most Wollof marriages today are done in Muslim style, the fortune teller’s help and advice is always followed or keenly kept in mind through offer of sacrifice and charity, which have an animist element. He ascribes this tendency to be with the hare and the hounds to our triple heritage of Islamic, Western and African influences, p.7-8.

The role of Islam in Wollof marriage is underscored in this book. On page 15 for example, the author relates how a marriage is sealed upon recitation of relevant Suras from the Holy Koran; and in page 17, he describes how marriage should be proclaimed in Islam. But in his conclusion, he says that the ‘discourse on Wollof marriage cannot be exhausted….’ But was able to bring out the contrast between Islamic and the Wollof cultural practices in the entire marriage process. Certain rites in the Wollof marriage process are adapted from Islam; others remain strictly cultural while some are a mélange of the Islamic and the cultural.

We historians have for so long depended on the pioneer work of Western scholars like Prof. David Gamble on our secondary information on the Wollof. Now we have our own scholars writing about our own people. This is a development worthy of celebration.
To end, allow me to commend the author for bringing together this very useful and informative book. It is another addition to the growing corpus of works by Gambians on various subject. This book is recommended for each and every Gambian pupil, and for every book shelf.