Here is some information about the country and the places and people we’ll be visiting:


 Senegal has a strong reputation as a tolerant, open place for religious practice. While most people are Muslimthere is also a Christian (primarily Roman Catholic) population as well as villages that adhere to what we broadly call animism.

 Religion is a part of daily life in Senegal. There have been separate movements— pioneered predominantly by youth—to add religion and to expel religion from politics. While some groups might argue as to how much religion should impact governance, there are a few religious through lines for most Senegalese, including the holiday Tabaski, or the Feast of the Sacrifice.

  1. IslamPracticed by 96% of the Senegalese population
    1. Many follow the Sufi branch of IslamA mystical sect of IslamClassical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as “a science whose objective is the preparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”
      1. The chief aim of all Sufis is to seek the pleasing of God by working to restore within themselves the primordial state offitra, described in the Qur’an.offitra refers to a Muslim belief that we are all born with an innate feeling of oneness, compassion, and intelligence.
        1. In this state no one defies God and all is undertaken with the single motivation of love of God.
        2. The religious may be led to abandon all notions of dualism or multiplicity, including a conception of an individual self.
      2. Said that the origins of Sufism predate Christianity and Islam
      3. The spread of Islam is largely attributed to SufismSufi poets, intellectuals and philosophers enriched Islamic cultureRumi
        1. “Golden Age” of Islam was largely a Sufi undertakingMosques
          1. Hospices for poor and sick
          2. Libraries
    2. Followers of SufismBelong to different orders, or brotherhoods, centered around one master who is a descendant of the person who originally created the order
      1. This master is integral to a Sufi Muslim’s daily practiceSeekers cannot create their own way of worship for traditional Sufism
        1. The master helps the seeker to find a path and worship that is best for him
      2. There is a strict adherence for many Sufis to the Ramadan fast and prayer five times daily
      3. Recitation and singing are often part of worship
    3. Sufi BrotherhoodsThe Brotherhoods are influential in many facets of Senegalese culture. The Mouride Is easily one of the most important brotherhoods in Senegal.
      1. Seeing the Brotherhoods in actionCar RapidsUnionized and organized these share cars and vans throughout Senegal
        1. Child BeggarsA free school in exchange for collecting money in the streets (you’ll see them begging in Dakar)
        2. Groundnuts (the Mourides)It’s estimated that over half of the groundnuts produced in Senegal(groundnuts are the third largest export after fish and phosphates) are produced by the Mourides
          1. Using agricultural work as a means of serving God, many farmers work for years without pay. After ten years of work the farmer is given his own land but still turns over a share of the groundnuts to the brotherhood.
        3. ToubaFor Mourides, Touba is a sacred place. Forbidden in the holy city are many activities that are considered destructive or unnecessary, like using drugs and alcohol, playing games, music, and dance. TheMourides maintain absolute control over its “capital” to the exclusion of usual state-­‐run civil and administrative services. The city constitutes an administratively autonomous zone with special legal status within Senegal. Every aspect of its city’s life and growth is managed by the order independently of the state, including education, health, a supply of drinking water, public works, administration of markets, land tenure, and real estate development.
          1. Home to one of the largest mosques in Africa
    4. Many follow the Sufi branch of Islam The largest branch of IslamSometimes referred to as the orthodox sect of Islam
      1. Five Pillars of IslamShahadah (Profession of Faith)
        1. Salat (Prayer – usually 5 times per day)
        2. Zakat (Almsgiving)
        3. Sawm (Fasting during Ramadan)
        4. Hajj (Visiting Mecca at least once)
  2. ChristianityApproximately 3% of the population is ChristianSenegalese Christians have a site of pilgrimage at Popenguine
      1. There’s a cathedral in Dakar
      2. Catholicism has been tolerated since it first entered Senegal
      3. Senegal’s first president was a Catholic
  3. AnimismA religion that espouses that animals, plants, weather and sometimes objects have spiritual weight. In animism there is no separation of the spiritual or material world, meaning that along with humans the natural environment is comprised of spirits and/or souls.
    1. Senegal’s unique approach to Islam is rooted in continued adherence to various animist traditions, especially in rural areas of the country

Women’s Rights

The role of women in Senegal is a complicated one. Though illiteracy among women is high, they are essential to the success of the family, crops, and home; they’re also beginning to play a strong role on a national level.

  1. EducationAs previously mentioned, school is free and compulsory in Senegal until the age of 16
    1. Women over 25 with secondary education are relatively few, though, measuring less than5% of the population
    2. Enforcement of women going to school is virtually non-­‐existent
  2. WorkMicro-­‐loans for women have become more common, affording them the opportunities to grow businesses, gain respect and independence and have bargaining power and voice within their communities
  3. Rural ConditionsHuge responsibilities in agricultureWeeding and harvesting, especially the rice crop
      1. Moving into management positions as men move to urban areas for work
    1. Running the HomeCooking, cleaning, raising children
      1. Making major family decisions – the strongest voice in many families
    2. Responsibilities with HealthcareWomen are becoming increasingly important in the movement for rural healthcare, especially prenatal, postnatal and maternal care
  4. Urban ConditionsBeginning to take jobs in shops, run businesses, do domestic work, work in mills and canning factories as unskilled labor
  5. Female Genital MutilationThe World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-­‐medical reasons”
    1. It was traditionally practiced in Senegal as a way to celebrate and reinforce community values and rights of passage. It was seen as a way to ensure a girl’s honor and attractiveness to her husband
    2. Most women were mutilated before the age of five
    3. Senegal outlawed FGM in its constitution in 2001, though it was still practiced after its ban
    4. Now many villagers are refusing to continue the practice, citing the trauma, pain and permanent damage it does to women
    5. As a result of a national ban, growing respect for women and increased knowledge of the damage done for FGM the number of Senegalese women who are affected first-­‐hand is diminishing to an estimated 5-­‐20% of the population
    6. Senegal ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against womenDescribed as an international bill of rights for women
      1. Treaty was written by the United Nations General Assembly
    7. It’s worth noting that men also undergo ritualistic genital changes that are seen through the lens of tradition



Senegal is a land full of incredibly athletic people! Look around you!

  1. Paris-­‐Dakar RallyFrom 1979-­‐2007Canceled in 2008 because of the dangerous terrain through much of West Africa (but not Senegal)
    1. Off-­‐road endurance race with tough terrain like mud, dunes, camel grass and rocks spanning distances of 500+ miles a day
  2. WrestlingWrestling is a massively popular national sport in Senegal.
    1. Its roots are in the traditional folk wrestling of the Serer people.
    2. Training is both intensive and extensive, as is the ritual surrounding the actual competition.
    3. Many wrestlers from around West Africa go to Dakar to train
    4. Foreigners are now trying to join in because it’s become such a lucrative sport
    5. Throughout Senegal, you’ll see pictures of wrestlers on billboards and in other ad campaigns. They Are major celebrities!
  3. Football (Soccer)Lions of Teranga (Les Lions de la Teranga) are widely cheered for and nearly won the African Cup of Nations in 2002 and 2019First World Cup tournament appearance in 2002Beat France 1-­‐0
        1. Became one of three African nations to reach the quarter-finals at the World Cup
      1. The current national team was the highest-ranked African team in the most recent World Cup.  They were eliminated under a controversial rule that gave Japan the nod due to accrued yellow cards.
    1. Sadio Mane is Senegal’s most famous soccer player and is widely considered one of the best players on the entire planet.  He leads a young, talented core that is likely to make waves at the next World Cup.



Senegal’s rich heritage is infused with music, dance and visual art. The strong rhythms, powerful steps and vibrant colors that pervade these disciplines not only tell stories and celebrate traditions but also epitomize the strength and diversity of West Africa’s people and landscapes. Below is a brief introduction to these art forms, all of which you’ll catch in action.

Music is an integral part of daily life in Senegal. You’ll hear it on the streets of Dakar, in the villages and, of course,at the artists’ retreats we see all across the country, where you might even have the opportunity to take a traditional drumming class.

  1. Traditional MusicTraditional music in West Africa is characterized by strong and complicated rhythms created on a variety of drums and other instruments.In Senegal, these rhythms are important threads of history and culture. They can be heard in villages around the country; they’re used today as they have been for centuries to tell stories, convey emotions and focus on important ceremonies and events.
    1. The time-­‐honored importance of the griot, the storyteller, singer, poet, musician, and historian of the village, is perhaps the best indication of music’s place in Senegal’s folk customs. The highly respected position is passed down from generation to generation through a single-family and is highly valued. A griot is responsible for preserving the village and country’s stories and plays an important role at weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals and in various villages decisions.Music has always been their medium—there were, in fact, certain types of music that only griots could practice. Rhythms and songs are not simply for entertainment; they are and have always been tools.
    2. The popular and traditional instruments used to create the plucky, rhythmic, upbeat music that we’ll hear in Senegal are outlined below.Kora: a 21-­‐string bridged harp made with a halved calabash wrapped with cow skin to create a resonating chamber. It’s a mix of a lute, double harp, bridge harp and sometimes sounds a bit like a guitar.
      1. Balafon: a 21-­‐key percussion idiophone that is played with sticks, a bit like a xylophone.
      2. Djembe: an open-­‐ended drum played by hand, tuned by the ropes on the side. The top of the drum is covered with rawhide. Its name comes from a phrase that translates to “everyone gather together in peace.”
      3. Sabar: a drum played with one hand and one stick, used to communicate between villages.
      4. Dondo (talking drum): a double-­‐headed, hourglass-­‐shaped drum connected by leather tension cords that are manipulated to change the pitch of the sound. They parrot human speech and sound.


Contemporary  Music 

Contemporary and urban Senegal has maintained this rich musical tradition in a number of ways.

  1. Senegalese rapRap has been used for more than just entertainment; it can easily be described as a social movement in Senegal.
    1. Much like griots in the country’s history, rappers now use their craft to illustrate stories, current events and political movements. Some televised news broadcasts in Senegal are done entirely in rap (in Wolof,French and English) and they’re done with overwhelmingly positive results. People pay attention; music is a natural way for people to absorb information.
    2. Many people credit rap for getting young voters out to the polls in 2000. This was a pivotal election inSenegal: the populist Abdoulaye Wade defeated the longtime president Abdou Diouf, ending decades ofSocialist rule.
    3. Akon is a Senegalese American rapper who has found overwhelming success in both West Africa and theU.S. Though born in the U.S. he spent   his formative years in Senegal, where he learned to play traditional Senegalese instruments like djembe. You’ll hear his music and see his music videos everywhere, especially in Dakar.
  2. MbalaxThe Wolof word for “rhythm”is a type of music and dance that fuses traditional and contemporary pop music in West Africa.
    1. It’s seen throughout Senegal everywhere from clubs to naming ceremonies.
    2. Youssou N’DourHe created mbalax as a fusion of traditional West African beats, Latin pop, Congolese rumba,salsa, R&B and jazz, to name a few influences.
      1. His band, Étoile de Dakar, was formed in the 1970’s and became one of Dakar’s most popular bands.They’re largely responsible for African music’s popularity in the west.
      2. He is widely considered the most popular musician in Africa.
      3. Since April 2012, he has served as Senegal’s Minister of Tourism and Culture.



Contemporary dance in Senegal has evolved from a rich tradition of dance used as a celebration during village gatherings. Many of the moves that characterize traditional West African dance are still used today (think: energetic rhythms, jumps, sensuality and large leg and arm movements) with a backdrop of consistently strong drum beats.

  1. Traditional DanceEach culture has its own rhythms and, in turn, its own series of dance moves. These dances are used at a wide variety of village functions, like naming ceremonies and weddings. Often the moves tell stories;often they exhibit the dancers’ feelings surrounding the events that are celebrated.
    1. Whether it be Jola, Sabar or the countless other dances that color West Africa, the dancers are rooted in strong beats, storytelling, celebration and large, powerful movement.SabarSabar is a popular dance in Senegal that is both fun and competitive; people performit in a circle with two dancers in the center showing off their favorite moves to the beat of a Sabar drum.
        1. The moves are sensual and feminine and make use of the arms, legs, torso andeyes.
        2. It’s highly energetic and lighter than many other West African dance moves.
        3. Sabar is more widely known than many other traditional Senegalese dances because performers like Youssou N’Dour have incorporated it into their concerts.
        4. Sabar has been deemed too sexually explicit by some fundamentalist Muslims and,consequently, banned in some areas of Senegal.
      1. JolaJola is a traditional dance of southern Senegal that is characterized by bodypatting, singing and rhythmic foot pounding.
      2. GombaGomba is a solemn dance originated in Mali (not Senegal) by the Bambara people.
        1. It’s known as the funeral dance. Because of the gravity of its performance those who are taught the dance are taught in private, in the woods, over a seven-­‐year period.
  2. ContemporaryDance is still an integral part of celebration in both the village and the city. While traditional dances are still performed, the evolution of those dances is easily seen on the dance floor in clubs as well as in theaters (both in West Africa and in the United States).
    1. MbalaxWhile the term describes the musical fusion of West African beats with Latin, R&B,etc. influences, it also refers to a strong and popular dance that coincides with the music.
      1. It’s a popular dance in nightclubs as well as at weddings, naming ceremonies and birthdays.
      2. The dance moves are constantly evolving but there are some classic staples that range from imitating a dog (xaj bi) to pelvic and knee movements that perfectly correspond with the strong drum beats (moulaye chigin).
  3. American TranslationMany dances in the U.S. have roots in African dance, including the Charleston,the Twist, the Jitterbug and Lindy Hop.
    1. These dances evolved from the dances slaves brought with them from Africa. Though Slave owners often tried to curb these dances they persevered.


Food, Drink, Cooking and Eating

  1. Family MealsIn homes family meals start with rinsing hands with water because  the meals are almost always served in a communal bowl and eaten with one’s right hand. Eating from the same bowl means that one only eats from the section in front of him/herself. Traditionally there is a mat on the floor everyone sits cross-­‐legged around—try not to let feet touch the mat! Sometimes there will be a small table, sometimes there won’t be; often the communal bowl is just in the center of the mat. If going to someone’s home for a meal it’s common to give a small gift; make sure you give the gift with both hands and not with your left hand!
    1. Tea CeremonyAttaya, the Wolof word for the elaborate process of serving tea, is a tradition used in Senegal to welcome friends and conversation, mostly because the process takes time when done properly; that time is used to catch up or get to know one another!It is a process that yields three cups of tea, the first being the most bitter and the last being the sweetest. The same leaves are used to prepare each glass.
      1. Preparation: green tea leaves and mint are mixed with water in a pot and boiled over a stove. Sugar is added after the tea begins to boil. Then the tea is poured into small glasses, then poured back into the teapot, then poured into the glasses again; this step is repeated until the tea becomes nice and foamy.Then it is served.

2 responses to “Learn More About Senegal”

  1. Rebecca Rich Avatar
    Rebecca Rich

    Thank you for this information, it was very interesting, most of it I had not heard before. I enjoy visiting the world through your trips. I will be praying for all of you.

    On Thu, Nov 14, 2019, 10:32 AM CCS GLOBAL EDUCATION wrote:

    > Aaron posted: “Here is some information about the country and the places > and people we’ll be visiting: Religion Senegal has a strong reputation as > a tolerant, open place for religious practice. While most people are > Muslimthere is also a Christian (primarily Roman Ca” >

  2. JOHN E BYERS Avatar

    This is fascinating information and gives our students and faculty so much to explore and discuss. Interesting that the tea ceremonies you describe match up with the great attention to ritual and hospitality that we have experienced in China. The role of women is reminiscent of our India experiences with the strong, yet culture-bound women of Agora. The ugly fact of ritual female child mutilation is horrific.

    Your description of Sufism give us insights into the differences in the Muslim faith–it’s not all the same. Like Christianity, there are many groups. The culture of education is also something that our students can contrast with their own experiences.

    Safe travels to all! You will come back with new eyes on the world!

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