Tobaski Party 2012
Published in GUSEventsMonday, 02 September 2013 10:20
This year, in London, as my mother-in-law and her Children and Grandchildren sat around the living room all dressed up with nowhere to go, I remembered my first Tobaski experience in London when I concluded- “this is boring”; acknowledging, at some point in the day that I have to keep with the flow. After we ate, we were all huddled around the living room, wrapped up in our coats and scarves to keep warm....Then the phone rang. On the other end of the line was the GUS secretary general confirming that the hall booking has been upheld for the planned GUS Tobaski Party.
This was a great relief to learn that the Gambia United Society has organised this event to at least recreate the family atmosphere that exists around this time back home in The Gambia.
Here in the London, November brings with it, a chill in the air, an earlier and prolonged evening, and the last of the leaves to fall from the trees. Back home in the Gambia, however, it’s still hot, there’s been no time change, and the leaves on the few trees that are scattered about are as green as ever despite the fact that everything around them is dry and brown. One thing that does feel the same about this time of year, though, is the holiday spirit. Two months and 10 days after Koriteh which this year happened to fall on October 26th, Muslims around the world celebrate, Eid el-Kebir, the Feast of Sacrifice, known in The Gambia as Tobaski. This holiday recognizes Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of submission to God. At the last minute, however, the Archangel Gabriel made a little switch and replaced his son with a ram. Lucky for the ever obedient Ishmael, apparently it was just the thought that counted.
In celebration of this miraculous event, Gambians save up their money and purchase one (or many) rams, goats, or cows (depending on their wealth) and slaughter them in the name of Allah. Families travel great distances and spend more money than they actually have to be together for this celebration. Even my grumpy uncle, Kebba, opens his doors to welcome his neighbour with a family of 30 who live next door even though the rest of the year he prefers they stay behind the wall that divides the two households.
Holiday preparations start several weeks in advance; a particular busy time for tailors and textile sellers in towns and villages. The Albert and Serrekunda Markets in particular are fully packed with people buying and selling clothes, shoes, hair-extensions and other items for the tobaski celebrations.
The night before women sit in the courtyard and peeled and chopped onions and. The next day, they continued with the food preparations: cooking, peeling, and mashing a sack of potatoes, pounding pepper, and making marinade with mostly local ingredients.
The mutton (meat from sheep) is marinated in a blend of mustard, onion juice, vinegar, and pepper (both black and red); the onions are pulled out of the marinade and cooked to make a sauce. After tossing the meat in the marinade, it is placed in a large cauldron to stew over a wood fire before grilling each piece over charcoal. The meal is served on platters artfully arranged with a big heaping pile of meat in the centre, surrounded by onion sauce and dollops of mashed potatoes, and then peppered with sliced boiled egg.
The dining is done in segregated groups of men, women, and children and used hands and pieces of bread to feed themselves. At any platter, it was not uncommon to see two people tugging at either side of a big piece of meat to free it from its bone.
After lunch and I mean immediately after lunch, some other pieces that had been stewing all day is made into gravy for the evening meal mostly, couscous. It was a veritable meat-fest all day long.
Throughout the day, most people were wearing and showing off the new clothes they’d had made for the occasion and almost all of the women were sport their new hair extensions and the boys show off their latest jeans and ‘top ten’ shoes. In the late afternoon/early evening, people change into party attire, ready for the ‘ baal poussier’ ( open air disco). Neighbours came calling and little kids went house-to-house requesting small treats and money.
Tobaski is a religious holiday, but aside from the brief prayer said before the sacrifice, this didn’t feel very religious either. No doubt, the weekend Tobaski party in London gathered together families and friends to spend quality time with one another, love was expressed through the sharing of food, and we all put on our fancy clothes to remind ourselves that we can enjoy every once in a while.