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Tabaski: The New Year!

In a country full of festive days, Tabaski stands out as one of the most cherished celebrations across Burkina Faso, as it is seen as the Muslim New Year. This year Tabaski falls on July 20th in Burkina Faso. Tabaski marks the last of the four days of Eid al-Adha. It is the most important religious holiday in the Muslim religion. In general, most businesses and all schools close as communities embrace in recognition of the holy day. The holiday honors the story of Ibrahim being willing to sacrifice Ismail as an act of obedience to Allah. Allah showed mercy by sending a Ram to Ibrahim to be sacrificed instead.

In Karfiguela, the morning of Tabaski starts with a prayer as the sun rises. Seemingly the entire community gathers on the soccer field, which is also the center of the village festivities. Worshippers lay out all of their beautifully woven prayer mats from end to end, and sit on their mats. Men sit in the front, women in the back, and the Imam faces the crowd on his mat. The Imam and mosque leaders lead the prayer. After prayer is finished, the Imam blesses the group and then sacrifices a ram in front of the crowd which will be prepared and distributed. This personal sacrifice of the ram benefits the greater community by distributing limited resources (healthy livestock) and sharing this sustenance with less fortunate members of the community. Learn more about this ritual here.

After the prayer is completed and the ram is sacrificed, everyone on the soccer field picks up their mats and returns to their respective homes. Each family has prepared for days leading up to the festivities, and the men have bought either a ram, goat, or poultry to cook. They each bless the animals they plan to eat and slaughter them. The women immediately start cooking the feast while the men sit under the shade of a mango tree and prepare small cups of tea that they share with family and guests.In Burkina Faso, having this quality time with your neighbors and family is the most highly valued part of the days of celebration. As a culture in general, Burkinabé prioritize time with family higher than anything else in life; more important than any work, money, or material item. It is absolutely unheard of in a Muslim community to work on Tabaski as the entire community stops running to spend time with the people they are closest with.

The feast is typically eaten in the early afternoon and after eating until they are full, the children wash and get dressed in newly sewn and colorful clothes. The children go out to find their friends, and then visit each house in the village, announcing “Sambe Sambe!” which is a greeting of blessings during holidays or “bonne année” which is “Happy New Year” in French. Generally, each house the kids visit will offer small coins to buy treats. The kids spend most of the afternoon into the evening visiting as many houses as they can. During this time, adults will be preparing for the night’s festivities, getting dressed in their new outfits, or relaxing and drinking tea with family and friends. The women are adorned in their best and most colorful clothes and they often have henna, that they had spent up to two days before Tabaski, on their feet in intricate and beautiful patterns.

Just before dark, there will be a second prayer led by the Imam on the soccer field much like the one in the morning. There is also a big presence at the mosque throughout the day for continued prayers. In the Islamic faith, it is typical to pray five times a day. The first prayer of the day at sunrise for the community on Tabaski is generally everyone’s first prayer of the day. They will continue to pray at their homes or at the mosque throughout the day, and then the fifth prayer of the day is the prayer the Imam holds on the soccer field at sunset. This prayer is the closing prayer of the day.

When the children are finished visiting around the village and everyone is finished with their last prayer and their last cup of tea, adults and children alike congregate at the small restaurant just off of the soccer field in the center of the Karfiguela. There is a loud sound system and the owner of the village restaurant, Sibiri, usually is selling different types of juice and beer for those that drink alcohol. There are women with snacks and treats that the children run to, to spend the last of their coins. Sibiri’s brothers often serve as DJ’s for the large sound system and they play popular Burkinabe music along with traditional Balafon music into the night. Balafons are a wooden xylophone held together with string and goat hide commonly found all over Burkina Faso. The night often ends when all of the electricity that Sibiri saved up in his generator runs out and the music stops playing abruptly. This is generally around the early morning hours and the whole village slowly walks back to their homes and into their beds immediately, exhausted and full of food after a fun day of festive celebration.

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