One of the most important ceremonies in Senegalese culture is the ngente or baptism. 7 days after the birth everyone comes together to bless the baby, eats good food, and party! At the ngente the new baby is named and welcomed into the community.
For this event the mom usually gets a fancy new complet made and gets her hair and make-up done. The baby is less dressed up, but that’s probably because they are only 7 days old! Everyone who comes to the ngente brings a gift of some sort. The typical offering is soap, bar soap, laundry soap, dish soap, or some combination of them all. Some people bring baby clothes, little plastic bathtubs, and other accouterments for the young’un.
And of course there are some special foods for such an occasion! If you are invited in a ngente (or even if you just show up because you hear the music, that’s OK too) you can be pretty sure you won’t have to cook that day! A group of women, some relatives of the mom and others neighbors and good friends, spend the day cooking for the guests.
First comes breakfast – lakh. The individual components of this dish are familiar and often eaten on a daily basis, but this configuration is only made for baptisms. Lakh is a warm millet porridge, quite sticky and thick, covered by a cold, sweet, thin yogurt.
What a huge pot!
The cooks start the night before by pounding the millet and mixing the powder with water to form little balls. Early the morning of they start the fires and heave the giant (really huge!) pots over the coals and start cooking the lakh. Basically the little millet balls are cooking in boiling water until they congeal into a thick, lumpy porridge (it’s better than I make it sound, I promise).
When it’s time to eat it is ladled into flat plastic bowls and topped with a big spoonful of sweet yogurt. For this they buy big buckets of yogurt and add more sugar and other flavorings, such as coconut, orange essence, and vanilla.
When I first ate this in one of my first weeks here I wasn’t a big fan. It was sticky, warm and cold at the same time, and the taste of millet was still new to me. But now I look forward to it! It is somewhat of a comfort food and is wonderfully filling, which is good when lunch at these ceremonies often only arrives at 3pm or later.
Even before all the lakh is served lunch preparations have begun. In one corner of the compound a goat is being butchered, piles of meat and organs here and there. Women are sitting together chopping massive piles of onions, steaming amounts of rice that hardly fit into a laundry bucket – nonchalantly whipping up an impressive feast!
Lunch at a ngente is a typical lunch served at many other ceremonies – rice and meat with onion sauce. Usually at a baptism a goat is slaughtered for the occasion. I just skirt around the chunks of meat and load up on onion sauce!
Throughout the day-long ceremony there are speakers blasting both Senegalese traditional and pop music. Cooks and guests alike dance and sing, cook and eat. At the end of the day everyone’s bellies are full and the baby is named! A good day for all.
Thanks for reading!