Skip to main content
Select Source:

Senegalese

Senegalese

PRONUNCIATION: sen-uh-guh-LEEZ

LOCATION: Senegal

POPULATION: 9 million

LANGUAGE: French; Wolof; thirty-eight African languages

RELIGION: Islam (Sunni, with traditional aspects); Roman Catholicism

1 INTRODUCTION

Senegal has an important precolonial history. The lands now comprising Senegal once were part of three empires: Ghana, Mali (which brought Islam to the area), and the Songhai. Senegalese culture strongly reflects influences from these Islamic rulers and conquerors.

In 1444, Portuguese sailors became the first Europeans to visit the Senegalese coast. The French later founded the Senegal colony in 1637, making it the oldest and longest-lasting French colony in Africa. The slave trade, which flourished from the 1600s until 1848, devastated this area. Today one sees remnants of this tragic period in the island fortress of Gorée off the coast from the capital, Dakar. Gorée had served as one of West Africa's main slavery depots.

As the French advanced their colonial claims eastward, areas occupied by the Wolof ethnic group resisted them in the 1880s. Eventually, however, they yielded to superior military force. Dakar became an important city when the French made it the capital of their west African territories in 1902. Under Léopold Senghor (b.1906), who was a French parliamentarian, Senegal declared its independence in 1960.

2 LOCATION

Senegal is located at the westernmost point of Africa. It is slightly smaller than the state of South Dakota. Senegal shares borders with Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Gambia. Much of Senegal is very arid with scattered trees and scrub.

The climate varies greatly from north to south, but rains fall throughout the country from December to April. Hot, dry winds blow from the Sahara Desert during the summer. Natural resources include phosphates, iron ore, manganese, salt, and oil. Seasonal flooding, overgrazing, and tree cutting contribute to environmental erosion and desertification.

In 1996, estimates placed Senegal's population at 9 million. Senegalese are members of more than twenty ethnic groups, of which the largest is Wolof (about 40 percent), followed by Fulani (17 percent). Large numbers of Lebanese traders live in the cities, as well.

3 LANGUAGE

French is the official language of Senegal, but most people speak Wolof. Besides French and Wolof, people speak the language of their ethnic group, such as Pulaar, Serer, and thirty-eight other African languages.

4 FOLKLORE

In Senegalese society, there are professional storytellers, known as griots. They are historians, poets, musicians, and entertainers all in one person. Griots use props, flutes, harps, and break into song as they perform. No ceremony or celebration of importance is held without them.

5 RELIGION

The Senegalese are overwhelmingly Muslim. Some 90 percent of the population belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. The remaining 10 percent are Roman Catholic. Marabouts play a unique role in Senegalese society: in orthodox Muslim communities, marabouts are teachers of the faith. In Senegal, marabouts became intermediaries between Allah (God) and the faithful. Under the French, they became leaders of administrative units (cantons), replacing traditional ethnic chiefs. The marabouts' political influence remains strong, particularly in determining the outcomes of elections in remote areas.

6 MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Independence Day is April 4. Muslims celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan by feasting for three days. Catholics celebrate Easter and Christmas.

Each region has its own secular and traditional folk feasts according to its own calendar. In the Casamance region, the town of Oussouye hosts an annual royal feast day. It is held at the end of the agricultural season and before the beginning of the school year. The highlight of the feast is a fight featuring young women. One of these may be chosen by the king to spend the night in the sacred woods in the heart of the forest.

7 RITES OF PASSAGE

Most Senegalese today follow Islamic custom in their rites of passage, including baptism, circumcision, marriage, and death. Each passage marks a part of the cycle that ends in passage to the spirit world. To this end, people and communities constantly celebrate life events. Griots (storytellers) are an integral part of these occasions.

In ancient times, Senegalese celebrated the arrival of puberty with initiation rites. The minority populations in the south still do. The purpose of initiation is to build courage and endurance, communicate traditional and practical knowledge of life, and transfer responsibility to a younger generation.

Some of the knowledge is known only to males. It cannot be shared with females or with the uninitiated. The initiation begins with circumcision, binding the boys by blood. Elders initiate boys of the same age, dividing them into age sets or groups. These sets become "fraternities" for life. Members have both the duty to help each other and the right to reprimand each other for improper behavior. Girls pass through similar processes, and many also are circumcised. However, for girls, this practice is increasingly questioned for reasons of health and sexual fulfillment.

Initiation rites often mark occasions of great community celebration. The Bassari, for example, bring down sacred masks from the mountains that represent supernatural powers. Dancers wearing these masks engage the newly circumcised adolescents in a mock battle, which becomes dance, song, and feasting.

8 RELATIONSHIPS

Greeting is an extremely important custom. It can actually last ten to fifteen minutes. It is quite possible that if you do not greet someone properly, he or she will not talk to you. In the village, people do not practice the French custom of kissing three times on the cheeks, as is common in Dakar and in the towns. Handshaking is the preferred way of greeting among traditional people. Men and women, however, do not shake each other's hands.

A common Wolof exchange (with five to ten additional inquiries) would be as follows. Praise for Allah would be interspersed throughout the greetings:

Nanga def? (How does it go?)

Mangi fii rekk. (I am here only.)

Nunga Fe. (They are there.)

Mbaa sa yaram jamm. (I hope your body is at peace.)

Jamm rekk. (Peace only.)

Alhumdullilah. (Praise be to Allah.)

9 LIVING CONDITIONS

The government recently made sweeping reforms in the economy and public sector. These changes were meant to counter threats from environmental damage and high population growth. While Senegalese would be considered poor in comparison to people in industrialized countries, they have a relatively comfortable standard of living for an African people. One indication of this is Senegal's gross domestic product per person of $1,600. This far surpasses that of neighboring Guinea ($600).

In the south, houses are made of mud brick and thatch roofs. In the north, walls are made of millet stalks or reeds, and roofs are typically corrugated tin. Dirt floors are common, but are swept daily. As families acquire the means, they build more durable structures of concrete and galvanized iron. Partially finished houses are a common sight because people build them in stages as they have the money.

10 FAMILY LIFE

Traditional Senegalese live in compounds with their extended families, although individual families live in their own huts. Elders are highly respected. Besides hauling water, women gather firewood and cook the meals. Few women work outside the home, unless it is to cultivate family gardens and fields, or to sell goods at the market. Men increasingly leave their villages and homes during the dry season to look for work in the cities.

11 CLOTHING

In Senegalese society, personal appearance is very important. In the cities, most men and women wear Western-style clothing. Men typically wear shirts and trousers, and suits for dress occasions. Women wear dresses. One rarely sees women in jeans or pants. Shorts are reserved for children, unless they are worn for sports. In more traditional settings, people wear boubous, loose-fitting cotton tunics with large openings under the arms.

With much imagination, women tie matching headscarfs or turbans to complement their boubous. For men, footwear includes open leather sandals or closed, pointed ones, according to the occasion. Women have a greater variety of footwear including colorful, decorated sandals. Depending on the purpose of the boubou, it may be elaborately embroidered and could cost two to three hundred dollars.

12 FOOD

Senegal's staple foods include rice, corn, millet, sorghum, peanuts, and beans. Milk and sugar also form an important part of the diet for some people. The Senegalese generally eat three meals a day. The main meal is at about 1:00 pm. The evening meal is served late. In traditional households, men, women, and children usually eat separately. It is not polite to make eye contact while eating. Senegalese eat from a communal platter or large bowl with the right hand, as is the Muslim custom. Muslim adults, and children aged twelve and older, do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.

Senegal is famous for its national dish, Tiébou Dienn (pronounced CHEB-oo JEN). The dish can be made as simply or as elaborately as desired. Basically, it is a fish stew mixed with squash, sweet potatoes, okra, tamarind, and different kinds of peppers. People eat this on rice, which has been cooked in fish broth.

13 EDUCATION

Senegal faces great challenges in literacy. Only 30 percent of Senegalese can read and write in French. Only 18 percent of females are literate. School is mandatory and is based on the French system. However, attendance is not enforced. The majority of children attend Koranic (Muslim) school in the afternoons or evenings. Technical schools offer training in dyeing, hotel management, secretarial work, and other trades.

14 CULTURAL HERITAGE

Senegal has one of the richest bodies of written literature and film in all of Africa. Léopold Senghor was a leading poet and philosopher, as well as leader of the independence movement. Senegalese filmmakers such as Ousmane Sembene and Safi Faye are internationally famous.

Besides literature and film, the title of Senegal's national anthem offers a clue to Senegalese musical culture: "Pluck your Koras, Strike the Balafons. " The traditional kora, a stringed calabash (gourd) instrument, symbolizes the singing poet tradition in the country. A unique percussion sound is made with a small drum held under the arm. It can be pressed against the body to produce different pitches. The goatskin drumhead is hit by a wooden stick with a curved end.

Senegalese musicians have adapted traditional music to contemporary music by using electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, and a variety of drums. More than a dozen Senegalese rap groups in Dakar have evolved from the special blend of Western and African musical traditions. Griots (storytellers) perform traditional Senegalese rap songs that tell stories about society, much like ancient griots narrated the lives of ancient kings.

15 EMPLOYMENT

Senegal may be west Africa's cultural capital, but countries like Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria have more robust economies. With a small industrial sector (less than 10 percent), and limited amounts of land capable of growing crops (27 percent), Senegal depends heavily on its service sector. Some 56 percent of Senegal's work force provide services. Tourism is important in this respect, accounting for about 65 percent of the gross domestic product.

Unlike many African countries, only 35 percent of Senegalese work in growing food for themselves. Many Senegalese work in peanut farming and in the seafood industry, which together account for the bulk of Senegal's export.

16 SPORTS

Soccer, basketball, track and field, and jogging all are popular sports in Senegal. However, an indigenous sport that has existed for centuries is traditional wrestling, called Laamb in Wolof. In ancient times, wrestlers competed before the king and queen in village squares. Singers, dancers, and storytellers embellished the match. Wrestlers wore amulets to ward off evil spirits and black magic from their opponents. Nowadays, the tradition remains strong. As in former times, griots praise the victors in song and dance.

17 RECREATION

Dakar offers a variety of recreation including television, movies, video rentals, discos, and sporting events. Foreign and national films are enjoyed, especially in the towns. Dakar's popular music is enjoyed and danced to throughout the country. Young people enjoy discos, some of which are very elaborate, with moving dance floors, electronically controlled backdrops, and special effects including smoke, mirrors, and sophisticated light shows. M'balax is the Senegalese pop music.

A major pastime is visiting people in their homes. Older men enjoy playing checkers. In many rural areas, religious leaders frown on dancing and sometimes do not allow drumming or dancing in their villages. Griots (storytellers) entertain at ceremonies such as baptisms and marriages. Cultural events such as folk ballets, theater productions, or local dance troupes provide recreational outlets.

18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

Each region of Senegal has its own traditional crafts. Senegal's many tourists have given a boost to the folk art and crafts cottage industry. One finds jewelry, baskets, pottery, handwoven fabrics, glass paintings, and woodcarvings. Handcrafted jewelry includes gold, silver, and bronze. Bead and amber necklaces are also popular. Tourist items such as handbags, clothing, and foot-wear are made from locally printed fabrics and leather. Craftspeople fashion animal skins, such as iguana and crocodile, into belts and shoes.

19 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

There is widespread use of marijuana among young men. There is a separatist struggle in the Casamance River region, which has an ethnic dimension to it. The fighting there has led to allegations by the human rights group Amnesty International of atrocities on both sides.

A stronger, more balanced economy will not solve all of Senegal's social and political problems. However, it will slow urbanization, and the emigration of Senegalese young men to Europe and the United States.

20 BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

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

Vaillant, Janet G. Black, French, and African: A Life of Leopold Sedar Senghor. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.

WEBSITES

Internet Africa Ltd. [Online] Available http://www.africanet.com/africanet/country/senegal/, 1998.

World Travel Guide, Senegal. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/sn/gen.html, 1998.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Senegalese." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Senegalese." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/senegalese

"Senegalese." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/senegalese

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Senegalese

SenegaleseAchinese, Ambonese, appease, Assamese, Balinese, Belize, Beninese, Bernese, bêtise, Bhutanese, breeze, Burmese, Cantonese, Castries, cerise, cheese, chemise, Chinese, Cingalese, Cleese, Congolese, Denise, Dodecanese, ease, éminence grise, expertise, Faroese, freeze, Fries, frieze, Gabonese, Genoese, Goanese, Guyanese, he's, Japanese, Javanese, jeez, journalese, Kanarese, Keys, Lebanese, lees, legalese, Louise, Macanese, Madurese, Maltese, marquise, Milanese, Nepalese, Nipponese, officialese, overseas, pease, Pekinese, Peloponnese, Piedmontese, please, Portuguese, Pyrenees, reprise, Rwandese, seise, seize, Senegalese, she's, Siamese, Sienese, Sikkimese, Sinhalese, sleaze, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees, Sudanese, Sundanese, Surinamese, Tabriz, Taiwanese, tease, Tees, telegraphese, these, Timorese, Togolese, trapeze, valise, Viennese, Vietnamese, vocalese, wheeze •superficies • Héloïse • Averroës •rabies • pubes • Maccabees •headcheese

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Senegalese." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Senegalese." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/senegalese

"Senegalese." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/senegalese

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Senegalese

Senegalese

PRONUNCIATION: sen-uh-guh-LEEZ
LOCATION: Senegal
POPULATION: 12.8 million
LANGUAGE: French; Wolof; 38 African languages
RELIGION: Islam (Sunni, with traditional aspects); Roman Catholicism
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Fulani; Malinke

INTRODUCTION

Senegal has a rich precolonial history with a rare degree of unity. The lands now comprising Senegal once were part of three successive empires: Ghana, of which the Tekrour King was a vassal; Mali, which brought Muslim culture and letters, peace, and trade to the region until AD 1350; and Songhai, which reached its apex nearly 200 years later. In the 11th century, the Fulani and Tukulor ethnic groups converted to Islam and later waged jihads (religious wars) over a period of 225 years. Senegalese culture strongly reflects influences from these Islamic rulers and conquerors.

In 1444, Portuguese sailors became the first Europeans to visit the Senegalese coast. The French later founded the Senegal colony in 1637, making it the oldest and longest-lasting French colony in Africa. The slave trade, which flourished from the 1600s until 1848, devastated this area. Today one sees remnants of this tragic epoch in the island fortress of Gorée off the coast from the capital, Dakar. Gorée had served as one of West Africa's main slavery depots.

As the French advanced their territorial claims eastward, Wolof states resisted them in the 1880s, but eventually succumbed to superior military force. In 1889, an agreement with the British created The Gambia, a country along the valley of the navigable Gambia River that is almost entirely surrounded by Senegal. The location of The Gambia has had the negative effect of cutting off the southern Senegalese province of Casamance. Dakar acquired added importance when the French made it the capital of their West African territories in 1902. Under Léopold Senghor, who was a member of the Académie Francaise and a French parliamentarian, Senegal declared its independence in 1960. Senegal formed confederate governments twice, first with Mali (1958–60), and then with Gambia (1982–89).

In 1975 Senegal became one of Africa's first countries to allow a political opposition. For 40 years, however, a de facto government ruling party—the Socialist Party—dominated the competition. Then in 2000 President Abdoulaye Wade was elected, marking one of Africa's first civilian transfers of power to an opposition party. Wade was reelected in February 2007, but 12 opposition parties boycotted the June 2007 legislative polls alleging fraud. The boycott gave 131 of 150 seats in Parliament to the ruling coalition, SOPI, and in the 100-member Senate (a new legislative body), the opposition gained virtually no seats. In May 2008 press reports circulated that Wade (in his second and last term) was considering tampering with the two, five-year term limit rule, something other African leaders have done to prolong their hold on power.

Senegal has had mostly peaceful relations with its neighbors, although a brief border conflict (1989–90) with Mauritania to the north resulted in the expulsion of nationals from both sides. However, the most serious threat to stability has been the low-level insurgency in the southern region of Casamance where rebels have been fighting a secessionist war with the government since 1984.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

Located at the westernmost point of Africa, Senegal has a total area of 196,713 sq km (75,951 sq mi), making it smaller than the US state of South Dakota. Senegal shares borders with Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia. Much of Senegal is very arid with scattered trees and scrub covering low, rolling plains that become foothills in the southeast that reach an altitude of 581 m (1,906 ft). Four main rivers run east to west to the Atlantic Ocean. Three of these—the Saloum, Gambia, and Casamance—form large estuaries inland. The Casamance runs through a marshy basin before reaching the ocean.

The climate varies greatly from north to south, but rains fall throughout the country from December to April. Hot, dry, Harmattan winds blow from the Sahara Desert during the summer. Natural resources include phosphates, iron ore, manganese, salt, and oil. However, seasonal flooding, overgrazing, and deforestation contribute to environmental erosion and desertification.

In 2008, estimates placed Senegal's population at 12.8 million, growing at a rate of 2.6%. Senegalese are members of more than 20 ethnic groups, which for the most part have managed to live harmoniously together. The largest is Wolof (43%), followed by Fulani (24%), Serer (15%), and lesser groups including Toucouleur, Diola, Malinke, and Soninke. Large numbers of Lebanese traders live in the cities.

LANGUAGE

French is the official language of Senegal, but most people speak Wolof. Besides French and Wolof, people speak the language of their ethnic group, such as Pulaar, Serer, and 38 different African languages.

FOLKLORE

In Senegalese society, the most accomplished storytellers are professional African bards, or griots. In a way, they are like the European minstrel of the Middle Ages. They are Africa's renaissance women and men, combining the historian, poet, musician, and entertainer all into one person. They must be familiar with history, know many people, and talk about them diplomatically, but honestly and critically. Griots use props, flutes, harps, and break into song as they perform. No ceremony or celebration of consequence is held without them.

Senegal's well-known modern statesman, Léopold Senghor, was also an accomplished poet. He was Senegal's first president and the founder of the negritude movement, a revival of the African cultural past. A poet, academic, and politician of great influence, Senghor left a lasting imprint on Senegal, Africa, and the African diaspora. Someday griots will recount his accomplishments much as they do the deeds of past heroes. Senegal's modern griot is Sembene Ousman, whose stories and films in French, Wolof, and Diola chronicle politics and social life in Senegal and France (see Cultural Heritage).

RELIGION

The Senegalese are overwhelmingly Muslim. More than 90% of the population belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam. Less than 10% is Christian, mainly Roman Catholic. Religious practice is highly tolerant, and clashes between members of different faiths for religious reasons are virtually unknown.

Marabouts play a unique role in Senegalese society. In orthodox Muslim communities, marabouts are teachers of the faith, and where indigenous beliefs mix with Islam, they are also diviners and fetishers. In Senegal, they became intermediaries between Allah and the faithful. Under the French, they assumed leadership of administrative units (cantons), replacing traditional ethnic chiefs. Their political influence remains strong, particularly in determining the outcomes of elections in the hinterlands.

As in many colonized cultures, people overlay their traditional beliefs with the imposed religion, such as Islam. The Wolof typically wear protective amulets or gris-gris to overpower evil spirits. Whereas the small leather pouches once contained herbs and medicines, they now hold verses of the Quran. The Bassari in the east and the Diolas to the south retain their animist beliefs more than the other groups.

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Independence Day is April 4. Muslims celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan by feasting for three days. Catholics celebrate Easter and Christmas. Each region has its own secular and traditional folk feasts according to its own calendar. In Casamance, Oussouye hosts an annual royal feast day, which occurs at the end of the agricultural season and before the beginning of the school year. It is announced in Dakar, and people from the region, as well as others who just want to see the spectacle, come. The highlight of the feast is a fight featuring young women, one of whom may be chosen by the king to spend the night in the sacred woods in the heart of the forest.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Most Senegalese today follow Islamic custom in their rites of passage, including baptism, circumcision, marriage, and death. Each passage marks a part of the cycle culminating in passage to the spirit world. To this end, people and communities constantly celebrate life events. Griots are an integral part of these occasions.

In ancient times, Senegalese peoples celebrated the arrival of puberty with initiation rites. The minority populations in the south still organize rites of initiation, lasting from one to three months during the long school vacations. The purpose of initiation is to build courage and endurance, communicate traditional and practical knowledge of life, and transfer responsibility to a younger generation. Some of the knowledge is known only to males, and therefore cannot be shared with females or with the uninitiated. The initiation begins with circumcision, binding the boys by blood. Elders initiate boys of the same age, dividing them into age sets or groups. These sets become “fraternities” for life. Members have both the duty to help each other and the right to reprimand each other for improper behavior. Girls pass through similar processes, and many also are circumcised. However, for girls, this practice is increasingly questioned for reasons of health and sexual fulfillment.

Initiation rites often mark occasions of great community celebration. The Bassari, for example, bring down sacred masks from the mountains that represent supernatural powers. Dancers wearing these masks engage the newly circumcised adolescents in a mock battle, which becomes dance, song, and feasting.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

Greeting is an extremely important custom and can last for several minutes. Indeed, it is quite possible that if you do not greet someone and inquire after their health, family, and well-being, he or she will not talk to you. The French custom where men and women kiss three times on the cheeks is common in Dakar and in towns but much less so in villages. Friends and strangers typically greet each other by offering a handshake with the right hand, sometimes touching the left hand to the right arm. However, men and women do not shake each other's hands. A common Wolof exchange (with 5–10 additional inquiries) would be as follows, with praise for Allah interspersed throughout the greetings:

“Nanga def?” (How does it go?)
“Mangi fii rekk.” (I am here only.)
“Nunga Fe.” (They are there.)
“Mbaa sa yaram jamm.” (I hope your body is at peace.)
“Jamm rekk.” (Peace only.)
“Alhumdullilah.” (Praise be to Allah.)

As in many African societies, Senegalese give much respect to age and status. It would be impolite to make eye contact with an elder, a person of higher status, or someone of the opposite sex. Traditional girls and women normally would curtsy to elders out of respect. In Muslim society, the right hand is used to pass and to take objects. Pointing is considered rude, but people may point with their tongues.

People are accustomed to visiting each other unannounced. They never consider impromptu visits to be rude or an inconvenience. Senegalese do not permit a visitor to leave without sharing a meal, having tea, or spending the night. The Senegalese refer to this hospitality as Terranga.

LIVING CONDITIONS

The government continues to make reforms to the economy, although jobs are hard to find leaving many young Senegalese to migrate out of Senegal in search of employment and a better life elsewhere. In 2006–07 Dakar experienced regular power outages, and urban centers around the country continued to struggle with inadequate water supply, poor sanitation, and environmental degradation. In general, high population growth outstrips the capacity of the government to provide basic services. Inflation and a high cost of living, especially in Dakar, also made life difficult for the average family.

Nonetheless, living conditions for the middle- and upper-middle class have reached very comfortable levels in some Dakar neighborhoods. In addition, many affluent Dakarois have beach houses on the petite cote (outside Dakar), and a mix of Senegalese and foreigners—mostly French—are buying condominiums in resort areas on the coast. Their lifestyles, however, are not reflective of average living conditions. Most people in urban and peri-urban areas live in small, cramped cinder-block housing, which may have indoor plumbing, but might also depend on outdoor kitchens, standpipes, and latrines. In rural areas, many houses are made of local materials such as mud brick, millet stalks, or reeds, and roofs of thatch. Dirt floors are common, but are swept daily. As families acquire the means, they build more durable structures of concrete and galvanized iron. Partially finished houses are a common sight because people build them in stages as money comes in.

In arid rural areas, women and girls do the washing at wells. Few people have access to streams and rivers and still fewer to plumbing. A daily chore for women and girls is going to the well, which is traditionally hand-dug, to fetch water for the family. The well is often at the center of the village and serves as a social gathering place. The huge plastic tubs are filled with water and carried on top of the head to some sort of holding tank (or old oil drum) in the family compound. In the cities, people have access to indoor plumbing or may share a communal faucet.

Senegal has one of the best paved road networks in Africa, but it still only has four miles of expressway (in Dakar), and about 2,500 miles of paved roads overall. The most common form of transportation is by bush taxi—French Peugeot 504s—which take up to seven passengers just about anywhere in the country. Colorful pickup trucks painted with designs and inscriptions, outfitted with truck caps and wooden plank benches, are also available. These carry as many as 14 to 24 passengers. Their roof racks hold suitcases, packages, and small livestock.

FAMILY LIFE

Traditional Senegalese live in compounds with their extended families. Nuclear families live in their own huts. The elders are highly respected. Besides hauling water, women gather firewood and cook the meals. Few women work outside the home, unless it is to cultivate family gardens and fields, or to sell goods at the market. Men increasingly leave their villages and homes during the dry season to look for work in the cities.

Western ideas take root more easily where traditional family influences are absent or less prevalent. This is noticeable in Dakar where more girls and women speak French, and where women hold political offices, practice law or medicine, and teach. As society changes, so also must laws. Senegal permits a couple to adopt an optional prenuptial agreement limiting the number of wives a husband will take during his marriage either to one or two. Divorce is consensual. Women have the right to initiate a divorce process, though in practice they seldom do.

CLOTHING

In Senegalese society, personal appearance is very important. Most urban men and women wear Western-style clothing. Men typically wear shirts and trousers and wear suits for dress occasions. Women wear dresses. One rarely sees women in jeans or pants. Similarly, shorts are reserved for children, unless they are worn for sports. In more traditional settings, people wear boubous, loose-fitting cotton tunics with large openings under the arm. Men wear cotton trousers underneath, while women wear sarongs. With much imagination, women tie matching headscarves or turbans to complement their boubous. For men, footwear includes open or closed and pointed leather sandals, according to the occasion. Women have a greater variety of footwear including colorful, decorated sandals. Depending on the purpose of the boubou, it may be elaborately embroidered and could cost $200 to $300.

FOOD

Senegal's staple foods include rice, corn, millet, sorghum, peanuts, and beans. These foods are typically found throughout Africa at this latitude. Milk and sugar also form an important part of the diet for some people and certain ethnic groups. The Senegalese generally eat three meals a day, with the main meal at about 1:00 pm, and the evening meal served late. In traditional households, men, women, and children usually eat separately. It is not polite to make eye contact while eating. Senegalese eat from a communal platter or large bowl with the right hand, as is the Muslim custom. Muslim adults, and children aged 12 and older, do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.

Senegal is famous for its national dish, Tiébou Dienn (pronounced “Cheb-oo Jen”). The dish can be made as simply or as elaborately as desired. Basically, it is a fish stew cooked in cilantro, scallions, garlic, pepper, onions, tomato paste, bouillon cubes, and oil. The stew is mixed with squash, sweet potatoes, okra, tamarind, and different kinds of peppers. People eat this on rice, which has been cooked in the fish broth. The Wolof people are also known for their Mbaxal-u-Saloum, a spicy tomato, peanut, and dried fish sauce with rice. Another popular dish is Menue, cornmeal mush, served with baloumbum, a peanut sauce.

Meat is a sign of wealth, as is oil. Special occasions usually require a meat dish, but one might also serve Yassa chicken. The chicken is marinated in a sauce of red vinegar, lemon juice, red chili peppers, bouillon cubes, and soy sauce, and then grilled over charcoal. It is served with heaps of sliced browned onions over cooked rice, on a platter placed on a cloth spread on the ground. Guests sit or squat around the tray, after having washed their hands and removed their shoes. Using their right hands, they gather a morsel of chicken, sauce, and rice from the part of the tray in front of them, squeeze it gently into a compact ball, and eat.

EDUCATION

Senegalese place a high value on education, but the cost of living, school fees, and the need for children to help with family income deter most children from attending beyond the primary level. Literacy is about 40%, and only about 29% of women and girls can read and write in French. Many girls leave school to wed. Parents of means send their children away to live with relatives in a town where schools are better organized and commuting is easier. In addition to formal schooling, the majority of children attend Quranic (Muslim) schools in the afternoons or evenings where they learn Arabic and memorize portions of the Quran. Technical schools offer training in dyeing, hotel management, secretarial work, and other trades.

In the mandatory formal system, primary school begins with a two-year initiation class called Ceci. At the end of four more years, pupils take a high-school qualifying exam. In the French system, classes begin with Class Six, counting down to Class One. A final year follows, which prepares the student for the state baccalaureate exam. But few students reach this level, and an even smaller percentage of high school graduates continues at the University of Dakar, which in Africa is quite prestigious. Before independence, Africans from all over French West Africa came to study public administration at the famous William Ponty school.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

Senegal has one of the richest bodies of written and film literature in all of Africa. Leopold Senghor was a leading poet and philosopher and the author of the négritude movement. Similar to the Harlem Renaissance school in the United States, négritude aimed to restore dignity and pride to African peoples through a revival of their cultural past. Senegalese filmmakers such as Sembene Ousman and SafiFaye are internationally famous.

Literature and film notwithstanding, the title of Senegal's national anthem offers a clue to Senegalese musical culture: “Pluck your Koras, Strike the Balafons.” The traditional kora, a stringed calabash (gourd) instrument, symbolizes the bard tradition in the country. A unique percussion sound is made with a small drum held under the arm, which can be pressed against the body to produce different pitches. The goatskin drumhead is hit by a wooden stick with a curved end.

Senegalese musicians have adapted traditional music by using electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, and a variety of drums. Several Senegalese rap groups in Dakar have evolved from the special blend of Western and African musical traditions. In particular, griots (bards) perform traditional Senegalese rap songs to tell stories about society, much like ancient griots narrated the lives of ancient kings.

One of the best known Senegalese performers is Youssou N'Dour. N'Dour is a leader in popular world music, and sings in English, French, Fulani, and Serer, besides his native Wolof. He has collaborated with Paul Simon (Graceland), Peter Gabriel (So), Neneh Cherry, and Branford Marsalis.

WORK

Rural Senegalese typically work in subsistence agriculture or grow cash crops for export such as peanuts and cotton. Senegal is well known for its peanut production in the Kaolack region. Senegal has a small industrial sector (less than 10%), and because of its long dry season, limited amounts of arable land (27%). About one in four people works in the service sector, but half of the workforce is un- or underemployed. Tourism is important, accounting for about 60% of the gross domestic product. Most urban dwellers work in the informal sector as petty traders and small service providers. They peddle clothing, watches, and electronic goods; polish and repair shoes, tailor shirts, cut hair, and sell goods at market. In downtown areas, it is typical to be approached constantly by peddlers. Motorists caught in traffic can buy anything from apples to brooms from roadside hawkers.

SPORTS

Soccer, basketball, track and field, and jogging all are popular sports in Senegal. The national soccer team, the Lions, has produced some world-class players, reaching the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002. Senegal is also known for its traditional wrestling—Laamb in Wolof. It is renowned especially among the Serer people. In ancient times, wrestlers competed before the king and queen in village squares. Singers, dancers, and storytellers embellished the match. Wrestlers wore amulets to ward off evil spirits and black magic from their opponents. Nowadays, the tradition remains strong. As in former times, griots (bards) praise the victors in song and dance. Drumming, dancing, singing, and a marabout's juju (religious leader's fetish magic) are vital to the competition.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

Dakar offers a variety of recreation from television to movies, to DVD rentals, night clubs, and sporting events. Foreign and national films are enjoyed, especially in the towns where technology is more advanced. Dakar popular music is enjoyed and danced to widely throughout the country by teenagers, and adults, too. Some 20 FM stations have emerged since the 1990s, with several Dakar stations playing hip-hop music. The Internet also has blossomed, and Internet cafés are now popular meeting spots in every town around the country.

The more traditional pastimes such as socializing and visiting people in their homes remain popular as well. Older men enjoy playing checkers. Griots (bards) entertain at ceremonies such as baptisms and marriages. Cultural events such as folk ballets, theater productions, or local dance troupes also provide recreational outlets. However, in many rural areas, marabouts (religious leaders) frown upon dancing and sometimes do not allow drumming or dancing in their villages.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

Each region of Senegal has its own traditional crafts. Senegal's many tourists have given a boost to folk art and crafts cottage industry. One finds jewelry, baskets, pottery, handwoven fabrics, glass paintings, and woodcarvings. Handcrafted jewelry includes gold, silver, and bronze. Bead and amber necklaces, which Fulani women traditionally wore, are also popular. Tourist items such as handbags, clothing, and footwear are made from locally printed fabrics and leather. Craftspeople fashion animal skins, such as iguana and crocodile, into belts and shoes.

Although tourists are attracted to the decorative quality of the kora (traditional gourd instrument), Senegalese artisans build professional instruments to meet local demand. Their exquisite koras are made from huge calabashes (gourds), through which a 1.5-m (5-ft) wooden pole is set. The strings are stretched from the calabash (the sound chamber) to the pole on which they are tied. The musician faces the instrument, grasps two wooden pegs that serve as handles, and plucks the strings mainly with the thumbs. The calabashes have eye-catching decorations of brass and silver buttons and traditional designs. A hole about 12 cm (5 in) across in the side of the calabash serves to project the sound, and also makes a convenient “hat” into which tips can be placed.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Senegal's most basic social problems are related to its economic constraints. The widespread use of marijuana among young men and migration to Europe are indications of the severity of the problem. Some villages are populated only by women, children, and old men. Another indication is the never-ending secessionist struggle in Casamance. On the one hand, Casamance has been the country's most distant and neglected province, but on the other is unable to develop as long as rebels and splinter groups kill civilians, commit robberies and harass local populations Government forces now fight not only against rebels of the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC), but also with the Movement of the Liberation of the People of the Casamance and with Atika, another separatist movement led by Salif Sadio.

Senegal does not incarcerate as many of its citizens as does the United States, but its jails hold twice the number of prisoners they were designed to hold. Because of corruption and weak law enforcement, traders administer mob justice on thieves, and there are reports of domestic violence, child abuse, child marriage, child trafficking, abusive child labor and male and female infanticide. While these practices may get reported to the authorities, the police often do nothing and the courts fail to prosecute perpetrators.

GENDER ISSUES

Women face discrimination, especially in rural areas where traditional customs and polygynous relationships are the norm. Indeed, one in two marriages in the hinterlands are polygynous, and unless agreed to beforehand, husbands do not need to notify or seek consent of their wives to enter into subsequent marriages. Even though the law proscribes marriages for girls under 16, it is not uncommon in rural areas for girls 13–15 years old to be married as they represent a means of income via the brideprice. Female genital mutilation (FMG) is also widespread, despite efforts by government officially to eradicate it. Programs implemented by NGOs such as TO-STAN to create more awareness of the health risks associated with it, have reduced the incidence of FMG, but the practice remains deeply ingrained in the culture. Since the man is the head of the household, women cannot take legal responsibility for children, and women have difficulty inheriting and purchasing property. In addition to running the household, they also do 85% of the agricultural work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Colvin, Lucie Gallistel, ed. Historical Dictionary of Senegal. African Historical Dictionaries, no. 23. Metuchen, NJ and London: Scarecrow Press, 1981.

Delcourt, Jean. Naissance et Croissance de Dakar. Dakar: Editions Clairafrique, 1985.

Dilly, Roy, and Jerry Eades, ed. Senegal. World Bibliographical Series, vol. 166. Oxford: Clio Press, 1994.

Diop, Abdoulaye-Bara. La Société Wolof: Tradition et Changement. Paris: Editions Karthala, 1981.

Faye, Louis Diene. Mort et Naissance: Le Monde Sereer. Dakar: Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines, 1983.

Gellar, Sheldon. Democracy in Senegal: Tocquevillian Analytics in Africa. Melbourne: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Gritzner, Janet H. and Charles F. Gritzner. Senegal. London: Chelsea House Publications, 2005.

Kane, Katherine. The Gambia and Senegal. Footscray: Lonely Planet Publications, 2006.

“Senegal.” In Africa South of the Sahara 2007, London: Europa Publishers, 2008.

—by R. Groelsema

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Senegalese." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Senegalese." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/senegalese

"Senegalese." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/senegalese

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.