After sharing my experience at Senegalese weddings, I think it’s finally time for a traditional Senegalese baptism, or as we say in wolof nguenté! I have actually attended quite a few baptisms, however, this one is from my cousin Awa’s second-born. Just like Senegalese weddings, Senegalese baptisms actually have different parts, but can be very different. Let’s just get into the ceremony that (usually) comes after weddings!
a new baby!
As I said, Awa is one of my cousins. Actually, Awa got married at the beginning of 2016. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend her wedding due to the fact that I returned home before her big day. Also, her first-born was born at the end of 2016, but literally a week after I left. Therefore, it was so important for me to attend this baptism. However, I was only present due to the fact that I MISSED MY FLIGHT! Thankfully, I was able to get on a flight the next week, AND attend this beautiful ceremony. Let’s get into Senegalese baptism!
In Senegal, we name a child 7 days after birth. During those first seven days, most moms don’t leave the house and tend their baby 24/7. A Senegalese baptism is basically a mix between a religious baptism and a baby shower. I would divide a Senegalese baptism into three parts. One, the Islamic naming ceremony, two, the afternoon and three, the baby shower.
However, before we get into the Senegalese baptism, I want to talk about the preparations of one. Apparently, it is such a responsibility on the woman whenever she gets a child in Senegal. The 9 months of pregnancy are actually where the preparation starts for the mother. When having a child, there are quite some tradional rules. For example, there is the question of a namesake. Who’s name will the baby take on? In most cases, the first baby is named after the husbands eldest cousin. However, the customs may differ from tribe to tribe.
the Islamic naming ceremony
Early in the morning, the men and the father go to the Mosque where the father talks with the Imam about the childs official name. Then there is some prayer and they return home. Somewhere, the men also sacrifice a goat in the name of the child. While the men are visiting the Mosque, discuss with the Imam and do their morning prayers, the women are already preparing the food.
The food that the women prepare in the morning of Senegalese baptisms is Lakh or laax. Lakh is a thick millet porridge accompanied by warm and sweet yoghurt. Almost every Senegalese person enjoys a full plate of lakh with sow (yoghurt) during Senegalese baptisms. Sometimes, the men are sitting in the living room with the baby doing some prayers. Other times mum is sitting there too. Not always though, but usually this is where mum shows at least her first outfit.
After the Islamic naming ceremony, the nguenté continues. Normally, people are already busy preparing the rice for lunch. I call this rice thiebou nguenté, which literally means baby shower/baptism rice. The rice is basically thiebou yapp, which includes the sacrificed goat. Throughout the whole day, there are griots that come and sing for the mum, the child and family. In the afternoon, my cousin Awa wore her second outfit, which was as beautiful as the first one! The new mom usually takes this time to feed the baby, to greet family members and guests that have made it to the ceremony.
the baby shower
Just like a traditional Senegalese wedding, a traditional Senegalese baptism can last up until midnight or even later. In this case, the night was when the baby shower took place. The presents that family members had were presented to mom. This part is also where the lineage of the mother is being celebrated. For example, the griots chant about Awa, who her mom and dad are, what tribe she is and how good she has been as a wife. You can listen to this part in the video from about the 9th minute.
Definitely check out the video I made of this beautiful ceremony of the baptism of Awa’s second child. I thought it was so beautiful from her transformation, her clothing, the colorfullness of everybody’s clothing to the songs we chanted together. If you have any questions regarding the ceremony or Senegalese customs and traditions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.