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ETHNONYMS: Chelofes, Galofes, Guiolof, Gyloffes, Ialofes, Iolof, Jalof, Jolof, Olof, Ouoloff, Valaf, Volof, Wollufs, Yaloffs, Yolof


Identification. The Wolof constitute a large ethnic group inhabiting the West African country of Senegal, a former French colony, and Gambia, a former British colony. "Wolof" is the name by which the people refer to themselves, and it is also the name of their indigenous language. They manifest a highly conscious sense of ethnic identity and ethnic pride.

Location. The great majority of the Wolof are concentrated in northwestern Senegambia, between the Senegal and Gambia rivers (16°10 to 13°30 N); the Atlantic Ocean lies to the west, and Wolof territory extends inland to about 14° 30 W. This entire area has a tropical climate and a fairly flat landscape. Whereas the northern section has a predominantly semidesert environment called the Sahel, to the south, a grassy savanna gradually emerges with increasing numbers of shrubs and trees. This shift in vegetation coincides with an increase in the average annual rainfall, which ranges from 38 centimeters or less in the north to around 100 centimeters in the south. The rainy season lasts from June into October, and the rest of the year is distinctly dry. Because there is very little or no surface water through most of the area, villages generally depend on wells for all of their water needs except agriculture.

Demography. The Wolof are the dominant ethnic group in Senegal, both politically and numerically. Rapid population increase since the early 1960s, in combination with the Wolofization of members of other ethnic groups, resulted in a 1976 census estimate of about 2,000,000 Senegalese Wolof, around 41 percent of the total population. It must be noted, however, that these figures are crude approximations.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Wolof language has been classified within the Northern Branch of the West Atlantic Subfamily of the Niger-Congo Language Family. The most closely related languages are Serer and Fula. The Lébu, a separate ethnic group, speak a distinct Wolof dialect. Although French remains the official language of Senegal, Wolof has become the de facto national vernacular.

History and Cultural Relations

The first substantial documentary information on the Wolof dates from the travels of Ca da Mosto from 1455 to 1457. According to oral traditions, however, it was probably during the preceding century that the Wolof were unified into a loose political federation known as the Dyolof Empire, centered in northwestern Senegal. Around the middle of the sixteenth century, this empire fragmented into its component parts, giving rise to the four major Wolof kingdoms of Baol, Kayor, Dyolof proper, and Walo. The subsequent history of these kingdoms is rife with political intrigue, rebellions, exploitation, and warfare, both against one another and against the Moors. European contacts did not become of major significance, except for the slave trade, until the nineteenth century. Gradually, a few commercial centers were established along the coast, the principal ones being the key slave ports of Saint Louis and Gorée. Peanut growing was introduced into Senegal around 1840, and peanuts soon became the main export. In the 1850s, primarily to protect their economic interests, the French launched their first serious attempts to conquer the Wolof kingdoms. The Wolof put up a bitter resistance, but, by the end of the century, they were completely subjugated; French colonial rule lasted until the independence of Senegal in 1960. During this same period, the Wolof, who had a long and ambivalent (often hostile) involvement with Islam, became rapidly and thoroughly Islamicized. The French stimulated the development of urban centers, which became the major sources of Westernization during the twentieth century.


The bulk of the Wolof, about 70 to 75 percent, are rural villagers; the remainder constitute an important element in many of the larger urban centers of Senegal and in the Gambian capital of Banjul. The average size of Wolof villages tends to be quite small, with a mean population range of about 50 to 150, but up to 1,000 or 2,000 people inhabit some political centers. Most Wolof villages have one of two types of settlement plan: a village consisting of two or three separate groups of residential compounds with no central focus, or a nucleated village with the residential compounds grouped around a central plaza, where a mosque is usually located. In either type of village, compounds generally consist of square huts (traditionally round, as is still true in Gambia) with walls made of millet stalks or banco (an adobelike material), and conical, thatched roofs. In addition, there are several small cooking huts, storehouses, and animal shelters, all enclosed by a millet-stalk fence. More affluent villagers may have one or more modern, multiroom, rectangular houses constructed of cement blocks with tile or corrugated tin roofs. Many Wolof villages have an attached hamlet or encampment of Fulbe who "belong" to the village and herd their cattle.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The subsistence economy is based on agriculture, which in turn depends on rainfall. Wide annual variations in rainfall may result in poor harvests, causing widespread hunger and deprivation. The basic subsistence crop and staple food is millet (mainly Pennisetum gambicum ); the main cash crop is peanuts (Arachis hypogaea ). The second major foodstuff is rice, but it is not grown by most villagers and must be purchased. Manioc (cassava) is often a cash crop. The main domestic animals that serve as sources of meat are chickens, goats, and sheep. Fish, another important source of protein, is usually purchased in dried or smoked form. In each village a few people own cattle, but these are considered more as a sort of wealth reserve than a food resource. Beef tends to be eaten only when cattle are killed for a ceremonial feast. There are agricultural cooperatives, centered in the larger villages, that help farmers obtain loans and agricultural machinery and coordinate the marketing of the peanut harvest to the government.

Industrial Arts. In addition to agriculture, many villagers engage in a wide variety of specialized crafts, among them metalworking, leatherworking, weaving, the dyeing of cloth, tailoring, pottery and basketry making, hairdressing, house building, and thatching. There are two types of smiths: blacksmiths, who mostly make agricultural tools, and jewelers, who work in gold or silver. Much less weaving is done than formerly because bolts of manufactured cloth are available for purchase. Some village men are employed outside the villages in modern industries such as phosphate mining.

Trade. Regional and urban marketplaces are the principal centers for the sale and purchase of foodstuffs and other types of goods. Some bartering occurs, but most transactions make use of the national currency, the CFA franc.

Division of Labor. Two major factors structure the division of labor: social status and sex. Certain occupationssmith, leatherworker, and praise singer and drummerare the prerogatives of males in several hierarchically ranked, castelike social groups; a separate status group formerly did the weaving, but now it is done by descendants of slaves. The making of mortars, pestles, and the like is done by a specialized Fula-speaking group that wanders from village to village. Other male occupations include clearing fields, harvesting, house building, thatching, fishing, herding, and butchering. Men also fulfill most religious and political roles. Female occupations include caring for children; managing the household; planting, weeding, and harvesting crops; gathering wild plants; drawing water; collecting firewood; engaging in petty trade; and practicing midwifery. Women of the castelike groups also make pottery. Both sexes may make basketry.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, agricultural land has been "owned" by patrilineages. Land is inherited patrilineally within a lineage and controlled by the head of the patrilineage, to whom the users pay a tithe or rent (waref ). This system has been changing since Senegal passed its Domaine Nationale law in 1964This law attempts to do away with the traditional form of land control, which the government viewed as exploitative, by transferring the ownership of all land to the state. The state then grants parcels to the farmers currently working them, thereby eliminating all types of land rents and tribute. The full implementation of this law could have a major effect on Wolof society.


Kin Groups and Descent. The basic social units in a village are the residential groups, which usually occupy a single compound. These groups generally have at their core a patrilocal extended family but may also include unrelated members. Each such corporate group has as its head the senior male of the dominant family unit. Groups of contiguous residential groups usually consist of patrilineages. The larger and more important patrilineages may have segments in several villages. Traditionally, the patrilineages have been the pivotal kin groups at the political-legal level, especially with respect to the control of land and political offices. The senior male of a patrilineage becomes its official head, the laman. The Wolof also recognize the meen, a matrilineal descent line. There is a good deal of controversy in the literature as to whether or not the meen truly constitutes a matrilineage, and thus whether or not the Wolof have a double descent system (cf. Diop 1985 and Irvine 1973 for opposing viewpointspro and con, respectivelyon this issue). In modern times the meen does not constitute a corporate group, nor does it have any politico-jural functions. The meen is important because it is believed to be the main source of one's moral character and because it includes those maternal relatives to whom one turns for help in times of trouble such as illness or economic problems.

Kinship Terminology. The Wolof have bifurcate-merging kin terms in the first ascending (parental) generation (i.e., father's brother and mother's sister are called by the same terms as father and mother, respectively, whereas father's sister and mother's brother are called by separate terms). The cousin terminology does not fit any of the standard classifications. Parallel cousins are called by the same terms as one's siblings; cross cousins are differentiated both from parallel cousins and from one another, but they are not called by distinct terms. Rather, they are called "child of the father's sister" and "child of the mother's brother," respectively. There is a joking relationship between cross cousins: one's matrilateral cross cousins are called "master," and one's patrilateral cross cousins are called "slave."

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Social status and kinship are the two factors most influential in regulating marriage. The castelike groups form two pairs of endogamous units: the smiths and leatherworkers constitute one unit, the praise singers and former weavers the other. In addition, the higher-ranking "nobles" and the lower-ranking "slaves" each form endogamous groups. But a "noble" man may marry a "slave" woman under special circumstances. Bilateral cross-cousin marriage is the preferred form, with priority given to marriage between a man and his mother's brother's daughter. Parallel-cousin marriage was once forbidden, but this prohibition is no longer in force. According to Islamic law, a man may have up to four legal wives, and in fact about 45 percent of Wolof men have at least two wives. Sororate and levirate are still practiced. The basic marital residence pattern is patrilocal, although there are some cases of temporary avunculocal residence. Divorce is rather frequent.

Domestic Unit. The main residential group may or may not constitute an integrated household. It is often composed of more than one family unit. Family units that form a single cooking unit and eat together constitute a single domestic unit. Separate domestic units tend to be established within a residential group when there have been disputes between family units or when one of the family units is of a lower social rank and unrelated to the others.

Inheritance. Both inheritance of material goods and succession to important kinship and political roles are determined patrilineally. The Wolof divide these goods and roles into two categories, nombo and alal. The former term is associated with land, wives, and social positions such as the headship of a residential group, of a patrilineage, or of a village, each of which passes first to a man's brother, secondly to his father's brother's sister, and only when none of these are left do they pass to his son (all but the wives). The term "alal" applies to money, cattle, and houses, which are inherited directly by a man's sons. (Formerly, slaves were also "alal.") As for matrilineal inheritance, it is believed that if the mother is a witch, the children will be witches. If only the father is a witch, the children will be able to see into the witches' world but will not actually be witches.

Socialization. Children are weaned at about 1.5 to 2 years of age, and are carried on the mother's back until that time. Boys live in their mother's hut until they are circumcised at about 8 to 12 years of age. Physical punishment of children is strongly disapproved of and rarely inflicted. Some children attend primary schools, which are available in the larger villages.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Wolof society is characterized by a relatively rigid, complex system of social stratification. This system consists of a series of hierarchically ranked social groups in which membership is ascribed by bilateral descent, except when one parent (usually the mother) is of a lower-ranking group, in which case the children are always ranked in the lower group. In the literature, these groups are usually called "castes" or, less frequently, "social classes." The application of these concepts to the Wolof data has created analytical problems rather than increasing understanding of the system; thus, the component groups will be referred to here as status groups. These status groups are organized into three major hierarchical levels. First, there is an upper level that in preconquest times was divided into several status groups including royalty and nobility; the socially prominent commoners (i.e., village and regional chiefs, large landowners, and religious leaders); peasants; and slaves of the Crown, who were ranked equivalent with the prominent commoners, and from whom were drawn the king's warriors. In modern times, these groups have essentially merged into a single status group, the nobility. Second is the level of the occupationally defined status groupssmiths, leatherworkers, and griots (praise singers and musicians), together with the former weavers. The third level is composed of the descendants of slaves. The latter are differentiated into status groups that are named and ranked according to the status groups of their former masters (e.g., slave-praise singer). This stratification system is a crucial aspect of village social life and remains significant in the urban areas.

Political Organization. Wolof politics have been characterized by authoritarianism, manipulation, exploitation, intrigue, and factionalism. The four traditional kingdoms had basically similar political systems: a complex hierarchy of political officials and territorial commands headed by a ruler whose power depended to an important extent upon his slave warriors. These political structures were destroyed by the French conquest and replaced by the system of French colonial administration. The latter, in turn, was replaced by the current Senegalese national state. Political organization at the village level has retained many traditional features, but there is much local and regional variation. The top political officials in most villages are of noble status. The office of village chief, the borom dekk, is hereditary within the patrilineage of the village founder, but the village notables (who include the patrilineage heads) also have a voice in his selection, and the official appointment must be made by a government official. The chief is officially responsible for administering village affairs, collecting taxes, maintaining order in the village, and acting as an intermediary between villagers and higher-level officials. The chief is usually also a Muslim religious leader, a seriñ (marabout). To assist him, the chief may appoint a council selected from the most important village notables. The chief also appoints the yélimaan (imam) and the saltigé. The imam is the religious leader of the village and leads the prayers in the mosque. The saltigé, whose position is hereditary within a particular patrilineage, was traditionally the leader of the village warriors and of hunting parties. Nowadays he directs the public works in the village and acts as an intermediary between the young men of the village and the chief. The heads of the major patrilineages are politically very influential, especially the ones who are also chefs de quartier (i.e., heads of the sectors into which some villages are divided for particular activities or situations). Finally, there are the heads of the residential compounds.

Social Control. The system of social control is characterized by hierarchy, reciprocity, suppression of overt hostility, and the use of intermediaries to settle disputes. Gossip and ridicule, or fear of them, are effective means of social control because of the importance of maintaining one's status and prestige. Formal controls are exercised by the courts and by political officialsespecially the village chief and regional officials. People readily resort to the courts to settle important differences. Muslim tribunals are headed by a qadi, who judges cases on the basis of Malikite law or traditional customs (ada ), depending on the matter at issue; civil courts administer a legal system derived from French law.

Conflict. In modern times, land, marital disputes, and political factionalism are the major sources of conflict in the villages. Physical violence rarely occurs except in the political arena.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs.

Nearly all Wolof are Muslims; they are mainly organized into two Sufi orders or brotherhoods, the Tijaniyya and the Muridiyya. Men become members of an order upon circumcision, whereas women become members upon marriage, joining the same order as their husbands. The main tenets of Islam are generally adhered to, but the Wolof version of Islam clearly shows an emphasis on social relations rather than on abstract theology. Along with Islam, there is continuing adherence to many traditional (i.e., pre-Islamic) magicoreligious beliefs and practices. This traditional system emphasizes belief in malevolent spirits (jinn) and witches and the need to protect oneself from them.

Religious Practitioners. Among Muslims, the basic complementary religious roles are those of taalibé, a disciple, and marabout (seriñ), a religious leader. There is a hierarchy of marabouts ranging from those who have only an elementary knowledge of the Quran and little influence, up to the powerful heads of the Sufi orders. There is also the mnqaddam, who has authority to induct new members into a order, and the imam (yélimaan). Within the traditional magico-religious system, there are a variety of ritual specialists, including the jabarkat, who is a combination shaman and sorcerer; the lugakat, who magically cures victims of snakebite; the ndëpukat, usually a female, who performs the ndëp ceremony to cure the mentally ill; and the botai mbar, who is in charge of newly circumcised boys.

Ceremonies. The Wolof observe the major Muslim festivals, the most important for them being Korité, the feast at the end of Ramadan, and Tabaski, the feast of the sacrifice of sheep. The principal life-cycle ceremonies include the naming ceremony (nggentée ), and the circumcision ceremony for boys. It is likely that circumcision was a pre-Islamic Wolof custom, given that the key ritual specialists and practices are non-Islamic.

Arts. There is a striking lack of emphasis on art. Most notably, the Wolof do not carve wooden sculptures or masks as many other West African peoples do. Dancing is performed mostly by women of the praise-singer group. Several musical instruments are played, especially drums and a type of guitar called xalam. Wandering actors occasionally perform in the villages at night, singing and dancing satirical skits that become more and more lewd as the night deepens. Smiths make filigree jewelry.

Medicine. The Wolof make use of most available medication and medical practitionersmodern, Muslim, or traditional. Nearly all Wolof wear numerous amulets that are believed to have the power to protect the wearer from illness, evil spirits, witchcraft, or other harm. The most common function of marabouts at the village level is to make these amulets, which consist of passages from the Quran written on slips of paper encased in leather packets. The shaman (jabarkat) may also be hired to make amulets, in which case the leather casings contain pieces of magical roots or leaves.

Death and Afterlife. After the death of a person, the usual Muslim funeral ceremonies are followed. Burial is within a few hours unless the death occurs at night. Formerly, members of the praise-singer group were "buried" in hollow baobab trees, so as not to contaminate the earth. Suicide is rare, and it is believed that the soul of a suicide goes straight to hell.


Diop, Abdoulaye-Bara (1981). La société wolof: Tradition et changement. Paris: Éditions Karthala.

Diop, Abdoulaye-Bara (1985). La famille wolof: Tradition et changement. Paris: Éditions Karthala.

Gamble, David P. (1957). The Wolof of Senegambia. Ethnographic Survey of Africa, Western Africa, Part 14. London: International African Institute.

Irvine, Judith T. (1973). "Caste and Communication in a Wolof Village." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Lagacé, Robert O. (1963-1964). "Ethnographic Fieldnotes." Manuscript.


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POPULATION: About 3 million


RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim); Roman Catholicism; Protestantism


The Wolof are the major ethnic group in Senegal. They are very influential culturally and politically. The earliest Portuguese explorers in the fifteenth century observed that the Wolof and Sereer groups were well established along the Senegalese coast at that time. The Wolof had probably occupied that area for centuries.

From the 1600s to the mid-1800s, slave trading caused much dislocation. It did not deplete the Wolof to the same degree as other west Africans, however.

Since the first political reforms in 1946, the Wolof have played a leading role politically, culturally, and economically in Senegal. Despite the country's weak economy, the Wolof have built a reputation for international commerce and trading. Wolof businesspeople are found throughout Africa, Europe, and even on the streets of New York City and Washington, D.C.


The Wolof presently occupy the western-most point of Africa. From the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Wolof extend to the Ferlo Desert, some 185 miles (300 kilometers) east. The Wolof make up about 40 percent of the 9 million Senegalese.


Wolof is Senegal's dominant language, although French is the country's official language. Most Senegalese radio and television broadcasts are in French, but some are in Wolof. About 2.5 million Senegalese speak Wolof, and native Wolof speakers account for a third of the population. Besides Senegal, Wolof is also spoken in other West African countries. There are significant numbers of speakers in Mauritania and Mali. Including second-language speakers, some 7 million people worldwide speak Wolof. About 40 percent of Wolof speakers are literate (can read and write).


In Wolof and Senegalese society, there are professional storytellers, known as griots. They are historians, poets, musicians, and entertainers.


The overwhelming majority of Wolof are Muslim, belonging to the Malikite branch of the Sunni group. The remaining 10 percent are Roman Catholic. Less than 1 percent are Protestant.


The Wolof observe Senegal's secular (non-religious) holidays such as Independence Day on April 4. They also celebrate Christmas, although it has no religious significance for them. The most important holiday for the Wolof is Tabaski, or the "feast of the lamb." This feast commemorates Allah's (God's) provision of a lamb for Abraham to sacrifice in the wilderness instead of his son. In the morning, prayers are offered at the mosque, and then a lamb is slaughtered. People get together with family to eat, and then visit their friends later in the day. Typically, children receive new clothing and money. Families often go into debt for the occasion.


The most important Wolof rites of passage are naming ceremonies, circumcisions, and funerals. Much significance is attached to names. Parents carefully choose a name for their children, usually the name of a family member or friend who has influenced them and who will provide a model for their child. The decision may take up to a year.

At age seven to eight, boys are taken from their homes and circumcised in the bush, where they wear white gowns and caps. When they return, they are looked after by a big brother, or Selbe, until they are fully healed. The Selbe educates them about Wolof heroes and legends. After this rite, the community regards them as men.


Wolof respect both age and status. It is considered impolite for a woman to look a man directly in the eye. Women and girls traditionally curtsy to their elders. As in other Muslim societies, only the right hand is used to shake hands.

Wolof are accustomed to visiting each other unannounced, even as late as midnight. Impromptu visits are not considered rude or inconvenient. A visitor must share a meal, have tea, or spend the night. This traditional hospitality is called Terranga.

Greetings among the Wolof are the same as those practiced by all Senegalese people. See the article on "Senegalese" in this volume.


Living conditions vary greatly from the city to the countryside. In the cities of Dakar, Saint Louis, and Diourbel, homes have electricity and indoor plumbing, although the water supply is unpredictable. Houses are made of concrete with tin roofs. People who can afford it cook with bottled gas. However, most people use charcoal.

Health care is available from the government for a small fee, though people must pay for their medicine. Many Wolof prefer to consult traditional healers first. While their spells have no known scientific basis, their other treatments involve the use of local herbs, bark, and roots that have medicinal properties.

Outside the cities, life is rustic. People live in huts made of millet stalks and thatched roofs. They sleep on traditional beds of wooden sticks with one end raised, and draw water from wells or rivers. With no electricity, the only modern appliance to be found in some villages is a radio.


The nuclear family (father, mother, and children) is the pillar of Wolof life. Whatever misfortune may befall them, family members are there to support each other. The man of the family may officially make the decisions, but the wife and mother runs the household. She takes care of the children, does the marketing and cooking, draws water, and finds firewood.

A Wolof father blames the mother if the children make mistakes ("Look what your son did!"), but enjoys taking credit for a child's accomplishments. A typical family has as many as ten or eleven children. Polygamy (the taking of several spouses) is still practiced in the countryside.

Traditionally, when a child comes of age, the mother looks for an appropriate spouse of equal or higher social status. For example, members of the Guer (noble) caste, generally do not marry into the Griot (artist) caste. Similarly, members of the Griot caste do not marry Jam (serfs), whose ancestors were servants. The father waits for the mother's selection of a prospective spouse for their child and then usually approves it.


Wolof dress is the same as all people of Senegal. See the article on "Senegalese" in this volume.


Wolof usually eat three meals a day. Towns-people with money drink cacao and eat French bread with butter or mayonnaise, jam, and processed cheese imported from France. The traditional breakfast consists of a paste-like dough made of millet with milk poured over it (lakh), or sombee (boiled rice covered with curdled milk, sugar, and raisins).

The Wolof people also are known for their Mbaxal-u-Saloum, a spicy tomato, peanut, and dried-fish sauce with rice. Another popular dish, Mafé, is made with peanut sauce, meat, and potatoes, sweet potatoes, or cassava, with a bit of dried fish to flavor it. The favorite drink of the Wolof is bissap. It is red and tastes somewhat like cranberry juice. It is considered a purgative, or a drink to help digestion.

People eat together on a large floor mat. They kneel on one knee and eat the food directly in front of them, using only the right hand. After finishing their portions, they wait for their neighbors to push some food their way. The goal is to get to the center of the food tray.


As with other Senegalese, only about 30 percent of Wolof can read and write in French. Only about 20 percent of women are literate (can read and write). School is mandatory, but attendance is not enforced. At the age of four or five, the majority of children attend Koranic (Muslim) schools.

A small percentage of high school graduates continue at the University of Dakar. Those who can afford it prefer studying abroad in France or in other French-speaking countries like Belgium, Switzerland, and Morocco.


An internationally known filmmaker from Senegal, Djibril Mambeti Diop, is Wolof. Another Wolof, writer Alioune Diop, founded Presence Africaine, a prominent African publishing house in Europe.

Wolof are accomplished musicians and have pioneered modern forms of traditional griot music. Modern griot "rap" performed in the Wolof language tells stories about society, much like ancient griots narrated the lives of ancient kings.

The internationally acclaimed singer Youssou N'Dour performs and records in his native Wolof and in several other languages, including English. He has collaborated with Western musicians including Paul Simon (Graceland), Peter Gabriel (So), and Branford Marsalis.

Traditional Wolof instruments include a small drum held under the arm, which can be pressed against the body to produce different pitches. The goatskin drum head is hit by a wooden stick with a curved end. The Wolof have skillfully adapted such instruments for pop music.


Many Wolof farm and keep herds. Although Wolof generally do not fish, a Wolof-speaking people, the Lebu, are fisherfolk on the coast of Senegal. If the Wolof have an international reputation, it is mainly for their tailoring, woodcarving, and business ability. They have traded with Arabs for centuries, and specialize in import-export trading. According to a popular Wolof joke, when U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon, a Wolof tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "Gorgui (sir), would you like to buy this product?"


The Wolof participate in soccer, basketball, track and field, and jogging. Their traditional sport, however, is an ancient form of wrestling. Called Laamb, it has been played for centuries. Each year, champions are crowned and praised in traditional songs.


City residents have access to videos, video games, radio, and television. It is cheaper, however, and more enjoyable for many people to create their own fun. For example, in Dakar, as the day cools late in the afternoon, griots play drums in the streets, often accompanied by dancing. The griot can speed up the beat to dizzying levels.

Older people find enjoyment in quieter pursuits, such as socializing at mosques or playing checkers. For excitement, they go to wrestling matches, traditional dugout canoe racing, and horse racing on weekends. However, betting is frowned on.


The Wolof are known for their woodcarvings. They fashion statues, figurines, and masks, mainly for the tourist market. Wolof are also fine tailors. Men prefer silver bracelets and rings, while women wear gold necklaces, chains, and rings. Some Wolof are traditional weavers. For hobbies, children enjoy soccer and storytelling. Checkers are a popular pastime.


Wolof society is undergoing rapid change from a rural to an urban style of living. This places stress on social structures, family relationships, and traditional values. Many Wolof migrate to the cities hoping to find white-collar jobs. Children and young people often find it difficult to adjust. This is a factor in the rising abuse of alcohol and drugs by the Wolof.

Unemployment is also a major problem. Poverty and idleness have led to an increase in burglary, prostitution, and mugging. Pickpockets are common in downtown Dakar. Beggars frequently knock on doors for food, and people often cook extra food, in preparation for these visits. Nevertheless, serious crimes such as murder and armed robbery are still very rare.


Africa South of the Sahara. "Senegal." London: Europa Publishers, 1997.

Clark, Andrew Francis. Historical Dictionary of Senegal. 2d ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.

Gellar, Sheldon. Senegal: An African Nation between Islam and the West. London: Gower, 1983.

Senegal in Pictures. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1988.


Internet Africa Ltd. [Online] Available, 1998.

NiiCanada Ltd. The Wolof (Djolof) People. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide, Senegal. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Wolof (wōl´əf), black African ethnic group numbering over 3 million, along the Atlantic coast of W Africa; most live in Senegal, but there is a significant minority in Gambia. Traditional Wolof society was distinguished for its rigid social classes. There were nobles and farmers among the free born; below them were lower classes of artisans and minstrels; slaves were the lowest class. Chiefs were elected by the nobles. By the 14th cent. the Wolof had established a separate state. They were converted to Islam in the 18th cent.

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Wolof People of Senegal who speak a language belonging to the Niger-Congo family. In the 15th century, a Wolof Empire dominated West Africa and traded in slaves with the Portuguese. They converted to Islam in the 18th century.

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"Wolof." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from


Wolofboff, cough, doff, far-off, off, quaff, roll-on roll-off, scoff, telling-off, toff, trough •lay-off, payoff, playoff •show-off • Khrushchev • Gorbachev •stand-off • Meyerhof • Cracow •Schwarzkopf • Chekhov • Cherenkov •take-off • kick-off • Kalashnikov •Baryshnikov • Rimsky-Korsakov •Kirchhoff • Karloff • Wolof • spin-off •Rachmaninov • Ustinov • Godunov •Stroganoff • Romanov • rip-off •eavestrough • Sakharov • cut-off •Molotov

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"Wolof." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 30 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Wolof." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (April 30, 2017).

"Wolof." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from