Gambiana

Culture | The rituals of baby naming ceremony in our culture — Xam saa chosanii ngenteh

Ngenteh marks the 7th day of the birth of a baby (naming ceremony/ christening.)  The day is mark with attendance from family and friends of the parents and love ones. 

The day starts with food distribution and sacrifice in most cases a ram or two. The “Bajean” (paternal Aunty in Wolof) plays a key role and the gelwel.

The Bajean brings a woven traditional wrapper (cherr) “malani denke” to wrap the baby with while a name is given by either the imam or in traditional communities this is done by the community head.

The baby’s hair is sometimes completely shave off. A bowl of water with certain grains such as rice, corn, millet or coos and cola nuts are put in the bowl, salt is added and a bar of soap, cotton and razor next to it. 

The bowl traditionally represents the skull, the water is the level of wisdom anticipated hence the need to fill the bowl to the top. The cotton represents clothing, the salt is said to mean love for the baby and soap for cleaning, the grains signify food for the child and cola nut represents “ormaa”.

The shaved hair is weight and whatever the weight, is spend on silver (gal) and given out as charity for the baby. Azan (the Muslim call to prayer) is recited on the right ear and on the left ear and the name is whispered on the baby’s ears too.

The imam or community head speaks in low voice and this is echoed by the family’s gewel (praise singer). They will explain how the baby’s name is chosen by the family and what it all represents. 

Today many do not understand how ngenteh (naming ceremony) is done and what each of the items represents. We have seen in the recent years many getting the silver bangle and engraving the baby’s name and putting it on for the baby.

The water from the bowl is use 7 days after the ngenteh to bath the baby with and grains scattered around the house.

The cola nuts are distributed to the elders to offer their prayers. 

The gewel, the bajean and women folks would “jaai” (“sell”) the baby to its mum. The baby mother is offered the baby 7 times before they finally accept the baby and breastfeed him/her.

If the mother is “yaradaal” (having lost previous babies in the past due to infant mortality), funny names like Yadicon, Saku Mallo, Yahii Lalo and others are given to the baby. Then the baby is paraded round the community and all sorts thrown to the baby.

By Ebrima Jawo 

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