Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My First Ngenté

I just recently attended my first Senegalese naming ceremony or what's known as "Ngenté" in Wolof. I was fortunately given the cultural play-by-play from my friend and work partner Pape (pronounced 'pop') who invited me to come along. It was actually a pretty low-key affair considering how often these family gatherings evolve into large boisterous dance parties. We arrived to the event around 10AM. The baby's name had not been announced yet. Pape told me it is typical of Senegalese people to wait a week or two before announcing the name to friends and family at a party like this. So around 11:30 the "grands" (important older family members) came to the party to sit down and "waxtan" or discuss about family matters. The  name was announced as Baya Senghor and officially the party was over. But there was still much waxtan to do and food to eat. So the grands sat for another hour and a half to discuss and a dish called laxh was served to the crowd. It is a base of cooked millet balls (a little like grits) and topped with a sour milk and copious sugar mix. When I had this stuff for the first time back in October I was not too happy with it. But now, I love the stuff! I had two large bowls and didn't feel too good afterwards. But luckily I had some time to wait before lunch. 

After the sheep was ceremoniously slaughtered, Pape and I went on a long walk to work up our appetites. We came back to a pleasant smell filling the house and making all the sitting men salivate. Once we had eaten our fill of 'cheb u yapp' or rice and meat we said our goodbyes and made for the walk home. 

I had been to many gatherings before this one. I had even dressed up in a similar fashion and eaten similar foods with friends. But something about this reminded me so much of family celebrations back in America. The atmosphere was almost parallel. I met family from all over the country. And although quite complicated by different men having multiple wives, I just got the sense everyone had their roots in that place. There were crazy uncles, unruly children, hard working mothers, and the usual mixture of love and political disagreements. It made me miss that feeling back home. With Easter approaching I am a little sensitive to pick up on these things. But just like this large family I got to be a part of today, I know my family in he US will be thinking of me. The Ngenté gave me a deep sense of the universal bond families have. We can be across the world but distance and time haven't separated me from that sense of connectedness. 

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