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Culture in The Gambia
 
 
 

General

Different ethnic groups do have variations in the way they conduct marriage weddings and funerals. However, it is Islam which is the over-riding guide to such ceremonies. Indeed, those that introduced the religion itself back in the 1800's, just like Christianity, recognised that some cultural practices had to be tolerated as long as the principle of the one God was upheld. Furthermore Christians have different local customs regarding births, deaths and marriages. So from the above it would be difficult to try to summarise what Gambian culture and tradition actually is. It is more of a mosaic of cultures that very often overlap and sometimes even merge or absorb other traditional practices such as the some of the Tukulor in the distant past. Furthermore, historically small breakaway groups of a particular tribe has been known to be absorbed by another due to war or voluntarily. The biggest noticeable difference between people today is class.

Visual Arts

Gambian society has laid great emphasis on the art of storytelling and music but has shied away from the visual arts of paintings whether in water colours, oil paintings or offset lithography. However, the past few decades has seen the growing emergence of a handful of prominent, talented and renowned local Gambian artists as well as some who are based internationally.

Famous Gambian artists include people who have created some original contemporary works on canvasses, sketches, drawings and lithographs from the likes of Momodou Ceesay, Baboucarr Etu Ndow, Njogu Touray, Malick Ceesay, Edrisa Jobe, Alhajie Bubacarr Badgie, Toyimbo, Moulaye Sarr, Papa Alassane Gaye as well as lesser known talents.

Some of them represent the Avant-garde of the current art movement in the Gambia who use there own individual, innovative techniques and styles. For example, Etu prefers to use on his canvases objects he finds in his natural surroundings, Modou Ceesay prefers to work in the abstract using synthetic acrylics and water-colours and Malick conveys stylised African figures on canvass.

Among the lesser know creative talent you can find paintings which choose to portray and focus on subjects from local society or international issues. However, many are aimed directly at the tourist market which can have a unoriginal and formulaic feel but can be bought at bargain prices. Keep an eye out for up-and-coming talents such as Mustapha Jassey, Abdoulie Colley, Lamin Dibba.

Performing Arts

The Gambia is a West African country closely linked musically with its neighbour, Senegal. Griots, (also known as jelis), a kind of hereditary praise-singer, are common throughout the region, a legacy of the ancient Mande Empire. Gambian griots often play the kora, a 21-string harp. The kora, a lute-like instrument, accompanies much singing and dancing. There are many collections of these performances on audio and videotape.

The region of Brikama has produced some very famous musicians, including Amadou Bansang Jobarteh and Foday Musa Suso. The latter founded the Mandingo Griot Society in New York City in the 1970s, bringing Mande music to the New York avant-garde scene and collaborating with Bill Laswell, Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet.

Dynamic and rhythmic dances in Senegal, the most popular of which is called sabar or mballax, are performed at any of the celebrations. Additionally, there are other special dances performed during the bore (wrestling matches) on national holidays, and other special occasions.

Rites of passage in Gambia are marked among other things with music and song. The tunes have adapted styles from nearby countries such as Guinea, Senegal and Mali.


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