Archive: the Muslim celebration of Tobaski, The Gambia, West Africa

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‘Dinner’ – goat getting fattened up for the ritual slaughter, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

We’re researching our archives for our forthcoming book about the River Gambia Expedition and came across this, from a blog post early on into the journey – in fact, it was taken not long after we arrived in West Africa, pre-planning for the expedition.
It was taken during on the day of the annual Muslim celebration, Tobaski (or Eid al Adha)- a huge celebration, whereby thousands of goats, sheep (and cows, if the family/community can afford it) are ritually slaughtered.

For an update about the journey (as of today) please check out our blog post here

More personal thanks from West Africa to those who made the River Gambia Expedition possible

Julie Grahame_DSF1946


Our way of saying thanks to all those who made the River Gambia Expedition possible – with your participation in ‘An Exchange’ and the Kickstarter campaign. For that, we have been immensely humbled by your support and unprecedented generosity.

Thank you’s – all the way from West Africa!

BIG thanks – (see more here)

The Florios (H & Flo)

To those who don’t see their names on the ‘rolling page of HUGE thanks’, please bear with us as we sort through three months of images!

Jason Florio gets ready to photograph the Tolleh Kaafo – the ‘Silly Group’ – Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa

Florio – in the thick of the Tolleh Kaafo – the ‘Silly Group’ – Kartong, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

We met the local Tolleh Kaafo women – the Silly Group – the other day, in Kartong village. Most villages will have such a group and, basically, their purpose is to lighten up situations, laughing and joking around, when things get too serious. But, on that serious note, these women – past child-bearing age and/or can’t bear children – help out those in need. Such as when a woman loses her child or her husband, they will come along and help her to cope with the grief – whether it be planting the rice crop or sweeping her compound – and, whilst they are at it, they will lift her spirits with their goofy antics…singing, dancing, banging on plastic water containers with sticks, chasing each other around with wicker brooms, wearing over-sized glasses, without lenses, and painting their lips and faces with vivid fucshia lipstick.

Florio the Brave – getting in the van with the Tolleh Kaafo!! Kartong, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

We spent a cacophonous, hectic, afternoon in the presence of these formidable women, once we managed to get them all together that is – ‘like corralling cats’ is the phrase that springs to mind – these women do not stand still for a moment! During our time with them, they graciously allowed us to film and photograph them at work, play and pray – they pray for those who are in need and also give thanks for their own good fortune.

We’ll be posting more on this impressive group of women soon – perhaps with a taster of the film we made – so please stop by again soon.

The Florios (H & Flo)

‘The Twins’ are out! The ’811 Ally’ canoes are going on the Alahein river this morning, Kartong, The Gambia/Senegal

Florio re-assembling one of ‘The Twins’ – Sandele Eco Retreat, Kartong, The Gambia. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

We broke our own world-record yesterday – Florio and I put together the Ally 811 canoe in 28 minutes!! Considering it took us almost 5 hours (with tea-breaks) the first time, we ain’t doing too badly.

Today, we are taking ‘The Twins’ (yet to have their naming ceremony – Gambia style) out on their maiden voyage on the Alahein River, up in the village of Kartong, which borders Senegal. In fact, passports in hand, we may well pop over the watery border and have lunch in Senegal.

In training for the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source to sea African odyssey’

More later on how we get on.

Thanks for stopping by

Helen & Florio

Tobaski – Islamic celebrations in The Gambia – a day of sacrificial feasting, West Africa

Last time we were here, in The Gambia, in 2009, we spent the lead up to Tobaski in a tiny village, called Tuba Dabbo, whilst we were on ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush’. We were guests of the rather wonderful Mr Bah and his wife, Penda and made to feel extremely welcome.

‘The public holiday is also known as Tabaski or Eid Al Adha when families throughout the Gambia ritually slaughter mostly sheep in ritual sacrifice. The occasion of Tabaski is in commemoration of Abrahams willingness to sacrifice his own son, Ismail, in the name of Allah. It coincides with the end of the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.Access Gambia

The Bah family – the village of Tuba Dabbo, The Gambia, West Africa, 2009. Image © Jason Florio

And this year, Friday 26th October, we were equally welcomed as guests of Abby and her family, here in the village of Kartong.

Tobaski hosts: Abby (2nd right, in green) and her family, Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa, 2012. Image © Jason Florio

L-R: Helen, Geri (sitting behind), Mr Badji (with Fatou on his lap), Abby’s sister (with Binta on her lap), Alpha Sanney (with ‘Shadow’ the dog), Abby, Tony (check shirt-volunteer at Sandele Eco Retreat), and ‘Pa’

The prayer ground was situated on the outer edges of the village of Kartong – not in the mosque, where prayers are usually held – due of the volume of villagers who participate in the ritual prayers. An estimated 500 people attended this years Tobaski prayers, held by the village Imam. Traditionally, in Kartong, the Imam, elders and other men from the village parade through the main street, in all their colourful finery, towards the prayer ground.

The Imam and village elders arriving for Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio, 2012

Village elder, Mr Jarju (in green), prepares for Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

Fatou Geri and Binta, dressed for Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2012

Mr Badji and Fatou, waiting to go to Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

Islam dictates that all females have to cover their head with a scarf, during prayers, and they also have to sit at the back of the prayer ground, behind the men.

Helen, Geri, Fartou & Binta, ready for Tobaski prayers, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio, 2012

Everyone comes out in their finest new clothes…the girls, in particular, all trying to out-do each other. This years colour was most definitely a vibrant cerise.

Kartong village girls covering their heads, ready for Tobaski prayers, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio, 2012

Kartong village menfolk at Tobaski prayer ground, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

After Tobaski prayers, the loud speaker used by the Iman is wheeled away from the prayer ground, to be stored for the next village gathering. Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2012

Aside from the ritual prayers, Tobaski is all about eating – and plenty of it. Therefore a huge volume of rams and goats are ritually sacrificed, after the mass prayers – in the halal way: throats cut with a sharp knife and the blood left to drain from the incision, until the twitching body stills.

“Lunch and dinner…” Sarjo, our friend tells us. He is, of course, referring to the ram. Make the most of that last meal! Kartong Village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

Sarjo, as head of his household, leads the non-too-happy-ram to it’s Tobaski ritual slaughter, Kartong village, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2012

And so, the ritual slaughter of ram (#1 – there were 3 in this particular compound) – Sarjo, his father and brothers get to work, Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2012

I filmed the above scene until I could watch no more – because I was crying by that point – and Florio had to take over. Even though I understand the nuances of the Tobaski tradition of ritual sacrifice, and I am a meat eater (though, not an avid consumer), watching the ram’s pathetic bleating and struggling – and knowing that no one was going to come along and save it at the 11th hour – was just a little too much for my Westernised sensibilities. I decide then and there that I’ll stick to my meat coming neatly packaged, from the deli counter at our local store!

The deed is done…ram #1 is almost ready for the cooking pot. Yum, yum…Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio, 2012

Once the ritual is completed, and the carcass is stripped of everything – not an inch of it goes to waste – portions of meat have to be shared with those in the community who are unable to afford to buy a ram or goat. This means that no one misses out on the mass feasting and celebrations which ensue. Within a very short time, after the ritual slaughter, the aroma of barbequed ram and goats (and cows, for those who can afford it and/or who club together in a compound to be able to buy one) permeates the air – and will carry on doing so for the next couple of days.

As guests of honor at Abby’s compound, we were given the freshest of fried liver and kidneys (served with onions and warm tapalapa – local bread) from her very recently slaughtered goat – which we also witnessed – and, I have to say, it was deliciously tasty and tender. Perhaps, I need to rethink the neatly packaged deli theory…

H & Geri – Abby’s house for Tobaski lunch, Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

We felt very honoured to have been included in this very traditional Muslim celebration – and accepted without question – and thankful for everyone we came across being open to having their photographs taken.

The day after Tobaski, our good friend Geri tells us that they nicknamed the day ‘the silence of the rams’…and there was not a bleat to be heard as we made our way through the village of Kartong on Saturday.

More updates coming soon on our departure date for Guinea – to begin the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source to sea African odyssey’

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Helen & Florio

For more of Jason Florio’s work, please visit his website:

Building the 811 Ally 16.5′ canoe for the first time with our Gambian team – Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa

And so it begins – H, Ebu & Abdou get ready to unpack and rebuild. Image © Jason Florio

We got the whole River Gambia Expedition team together the other day, here in at Sandele Eco Retreat, near the village of Kartong – which is right on the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. – where we are staying as guests of old friends, Geri and Maurice. We wanted to show our Gambian team mates, Abdou and Ebu, how to build one of the 811 Ally canoes.

Everything in it’s place and a place for everything, Sandele, The Gambia West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

With only a little instruction from Florio and myself, the guys got the hang of building the Ally canoe straightaway.

Flo and the boys putting the Ally together – Sandele, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Helen Jones-florio

The Ally canoe is taking shape! Image © Jason Florio

Almost there! Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Success! The 811 Ally canoe is ready to roll! © Helen Jones-Florio

The Ally canoe on it’s way to it’s maiden voyage in West Africa. Still image © Jason Florio

Abdou and Ebu take the Ally canoe into the Atlantic Ocean (please don’t try this at home!) whilst Flo films. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Despite the fact that our Gambian team mates were slightly bemused with the finished product (very different from their usual, heavy, wooden dug out canoe – ‘pirogue’), they took to the water as if the 811 Ally had been made for them. Florio went in after this with Ebu, whilst I filmed (coming soon!) – they made the ‘Hawaii 5 0′ boys look tame!! Not that we are advocating using the Ally canoes in the ocean but the guys did insist!

We’re looking forward to getting onto the River Gambia soon, with both of the Allys – ‘The Twins’ as we’re calling them for now. Although, Abdou insists that we have a naming ceremony for them and he thinks ‘Awa’ (after his wife) for one and ‘Helen (after guess who!) for the second canoe would be ‘very fine‘. Hmmm…we think a Mandinka name might be more fitting. We’ll see.

We hope to leave for Guinea on the 1st November – if not before. We’ll keep you updated.

Thanks as always for stopping by.

The Florios

A quick shout out, from The Gambia, West Africa, to our River Gambia Expedition product sponsors.

There is ‘Lemon Tea’ in that there Nuun hydration bottle! The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

SteriPen Adventurer Opti – with solar charging case. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Love Yourself Project, SteriPEN, Nuun hydration and a Florio (as in Jason), in the Sandele house, Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

It’s with great thanks to all of our product sponsors, from the River Gambia Expedition team. We’ll posting photo’s of all the products in use, but by bit, throughout the journey, whilst here in West Africa – whether we are trekking in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea, paddling in the canooes through the hippos in Niokolo Koba National Park, Senegal, and back into The Gambia, towards the River Gambias end at the Atlantic Ocean.

Thanks to ALL of our product sponsors

Updates and more coming shortly.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

The Florios

A message from Helen & Florio (and introducing the Sandele cat) – Sandele Eco Retreat, The Gambia, West Africa – Oct 17th 2012