Based on the African ideology that natural objects such as animals, trees, sacred pools, and man-made symbols such as fetishes idols & deities are imbued with supernatural powers. It is also believed that Marabouts, witch doctors, diviners, and herbalists have control over these powers or can create some of them, which may take the form of Jujus. It’s believed that It may require the sacrifice of animals such as chicken, goat, or sheep to effect and enact the power. Sometimes holy water, called Saffara in the Gambia, is used, it’s created by taking a paper with Islamic scriptures on it and mixing it with water. This water tends to be used after bathing to afford some sort of protection or good luck, depending on the perpetrator’s desires.
Animism has died out except in some areas of Casamance in southeastern Senegal and parts of Foni in The Gambia, as a formal and principal belief system. However, there’s still a residual group that often lives on among Muslims and some Christian groups. Alongside the foreign religions, when modern medicine, prayer, and the semi-religious solutions of the Marabouts fail to cure an illness, they turn back to the old ways.
Taking the people of Lébou of Cape Verde as an example, there’s a ritual known as Ndeup, it’s still held from occasionally, though not on fixed dates, it’s always held anyways. The Ndeup is a mystical therapy aiming to extract the evil spirit out of a patient. It is held in an open space, the public. It’s often conducted by women and involves dancing and drumming. The so-called pagan belief system surprisingly blends well with the newer and foreign religions that are considered ultimate. Christian or Muslim saints may become identified with older deities, allowing the two to be worshipped simultaneously, polytheism in play.
You always hear about the African juju; jujus are sacred amulets that can either be created with traditional methods or Islamic scriptures. They can be bound in leather or metal or take the form of goats horns, wood, feathers, padlocks, string, and other objects. Most are worn on the body to afford protection from illness, bullets, exams, stabbing knives, verbal abuse, etc., etc. However, some of these jujus can be placed on the grounds of a new house you intend to move into to ward off evil spirits known as Rapp. Some are used to get your promotion at work or to cause someone else to be demoted. Some can be placed in an enemy’s or business competitor’s premises to have a desired negative effect on them. It is said that some can even be used to kill someone! Indeed, there is any number of reasons they are used as they can be tailor-made to ‘fix’ a particular individual or family problem.
History has it that the clinging to these traditions by Muslims triggered the Soninke-Marabout wars from the 1850s waged by the Jihadists against the Mandinka kings, many of whom still drank alcohol.
Whether you believe in these things, it is a fact that many highly educated people in The Gambia and the rest of West Africa. Who has traveled to the West and is well-versed in its modern values still practice one or more of the aforementioned traditional approaches.