It’s August 15th and Catholics all over the world are celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (known as Sang Marie in The Gambia). In Gambia, it’s a public holiday as usual. I woke up, wished my mum and grandma a happy feast and set about doing my chores( which consist of cleaning and sometimes helping out with the cooking). I realised I was craving for ebbeh that early in the morning, so I sent my cousins to the market and then busied myself with the preparations. My mom had gone to the 7a.m Mass and did not plan to go to the evening procession, so she was gonna be home all day.
Now, all my life, I’ve been lucky (or maybe blessed) to celebrate ALL the religious feasts( Islamic and Catholic). In my early years though, I was pretty much inclined to the Catholic faith. I knew VERY little about Islam. Growing up in a predominantly Catholic home, I spent every Sunday morning in Church with my cousins. We would sing along with the choir and listen to the Priest’s homily. After Church, we would run off to A-Z Supermarket and buy biscuits and candy from the little money we had. This money was actually meant for offertory, but we hardly ever gave it up. Sometimes my cousins would decide to skip church, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I would dress up in the cutest of my dresses and hop off to look for an adult en route to church. This earned my sister and I the name ‘ Serigne jigoja’ , meaning Muslims that attended Church service. With this experience, I grew up to be very tolerant from a religious point of view. I had a special admiration for all Catholics, especially those that were steadfast to the teachings of the Church.
In my home, the Blessed Virgin is admired, respected and adored. My mum is called Maria, which happens to be one of the derivatives of the name Mary. Every evening, she would get her prayer books out and count her rosary beads. My grandma does the same. Then my mom would offer special supplications through Mary to God. We grew up seeing her as the purest of all women, a role model and a woman without sin. Sometimes I found myself kneeling before her portrait surrounded by lit candles, and praying. The trust in the Blessed Virgin was like a family heirloom, passed on from my grandma to my mom and finally to my kid sister and me. I still find myself saying the Hail Mary sometimes and it kinda brings me closer to my mother. On each Sang Marie day, we would be singing songs for Mary and my favourite went something like, ‘Nuyu negne la, hol bu sela, hol bu set, hol bu labb bi…’ .These are happy memories and I am glad to have lived them. From the age of 12, however, I did some soul-searching and decided I wanted to know more about Islam and become a better Muslim. I am still learning and I am sure that, with time, I shall know a lot more than when I started out.
One thing that puzzled me about the whole Sang Marie thing, however, was the Catholics’ fervent prayers for rain on the day. I am not a very big fan of heavy rains. I can handle the light showers but when it gets to a whole new level of thunder and lightening, I lose my cool. Each year, it seemed the rains diminished in intensity on August 15th. We would come home from the procession in Banjul and I would hear the elders say ‘ Teye mom kontan nugne, taww bi tawwut bubakh’. They were not happy because the rains had either not fallen or had not been very heavy. Fascinated, I asked my grandma what the whole need for rain was. After all, it was going to ruin people’s sanseh, make their make-up run down their faces and mess up their hairstyles. I couldn’t imagine the discomfort during the procession, with the heavens opening up on people. She looked at me and said ‘ Mariama dafa wara sangu’ , meaning the Virgin Mary needs to take a shower. I was not satisfied and went on to ask if she only took a shower once. She explained that the statue of the Blessed Virgin at the Cathedral in Banjul was normally brought out once a year for the procession. They believed it was a blessing when the rains fell on the statue, washing it clean. I was still not satisfied with that answer but I let it go, telling myself I might be too young to understand the whole ‘bathing’ theory on this day. Now I’m 21 and I still don’t know the answer to this question. It rained heavily today and when it started, I heard my mom say ‘Halleluyah’. My grandma smiled and my cousin’s wife said ‘ Teye mom kontan negne. Mariama dina sangu beh set’,meaning they were glad it rained and the Blessed Virgin will have a clean bath. I smiled at the memory of my childhood and my curiosity. I smiled, knowing home will always be the same.
Just as the Maghreb was drawing near, my cousin asked if I was set for Iftar. I nodded and smiled deep down. I smiled because I knew I was born into a great family. I smiled because my Christian family were supporting me during Ramadan. I smiled because they were tolerant of all religions. I thanked God for the religious tolerance, which is very typical of the Gambian society. On a final note, I ‘m glad it rained today and the Virgin Mary could have her shower for the year. Happy Sang Marie to all Catholics.
Linguerites and Linguerians, I was wolfing down some ebbeh while writing this so I’ll have to ask for one thing. Please excuse the Palm-oil stains. Lol. Y’all stay blessed! 🙂