Le Sénégal: culture & société
        La pêche
        La cuisine
        Le sport
        La danse
        La musique

L' agriculture

The small scale family unit dominates Sénégal's agriculture. At peak times, villagers help each other. Every adult member has a piece of farm, but participates in the head of the family's farm.
    The tools are simple, from the traditional hoe to the horse drawn engine. Chemical fertilizers, manure and tractors are not used extensively. However, the Serer have invented a very elaborate system where cattle are an integral part. Usually, the farmers burn the wild grass before the rainy season, the ashes being used as fertilizer for a soil often sandy and fragile.
    The length and distribution of rains determine two different production zones, North and South of the river Gambia. The average farming season lasts from 3 to 5 months, diminishing from North to South. In the northern part, sorghum, millet, peas, and peanuts are the main crops. In the South, rice, maize, peanuts, cotton and sorghum are grown. Although all of these products can be found on local markets, peanuts and cotton are commercial crops destined to industrial transformation and export. Near the house, women maintain a garden for their family daily needs in vegetables: tomato, okra, herbs, parsley, etc.
    A wide variety of fruits are also grown and sold on a dynamic domestic market: pineapples, bananas, mangoes, grapefruits, oranges, and palm kernels from Casamance; mangoes, cashew and mandarines from the center-west; baobab fruit from the center and the North, etc. The most remarkable tree is the impressive baobab (adansonia digitata): 40-60 ft. tall and up to 30 ft. large. It plays an important role, especially for the Wolof and the Serer. It offers edible pulp, medicine, rope, soap, fertilizer, canoes, etc. In ancient times, its hollow trunk would offer shelter for the traveler or for the runaway in trouble. Along with the tamarind tree, it was also the favorite spot for the genies andthe spirits.
    The largest trees have a sacred status. Standing alone in the middle of the village, or scattered among smaller trees and shrubs, or else, grouped in dense small clusters, it is one the most common sights in Sénégal.

La pêche

Fish is the main source of protein for Senegalese who are among the biggest fish eaters in the world, perhaps second only to the Japanese. Big and delicate fish is abundant, along with many smaller and lessnoble species. The 250 mile-long busy coastal line is the main source of fish, before rivers and lakes. Fishing is the second most common activity after farming, and is currently the most important source of export revenue, supporting a large processing industry. This traditional activity remains one of the most lucrative businesses. Typically, men make the catch with motorized dugout canoes and trailing nets. the sailors and other helpers receive their pay, part in cash, and part in fish. Once on shore, the fishermensell their catch to wholesalers. The beach also serves as a market for fresh food. It is also a ferrying point for the ocean going cutters and big canoes that could carry as many as 50 people. Female wholesalers target the daily urban markets, while their male counterparts tend to export to Europe and other African countries. But at the market stalls, women are generally the petty retailers. Most of the production is dried, salted, or smoked under the supervision of women. The preserved fish is sold as far as hundred of miles away in the interior or on the coast. Oysters, shells, shrimps and other seafood follow the same process. The Senegalese gourmet taste recognizes the particular flavors of each product and its origins, as elsewhere some do for wines or cheeses.

At the center of every village or town, next to the mosque, it is usual to find an open air market where many of the goods needed for daily use are sold. Along with conducting business, the market is also a place to exchange news and to socialize with other people. For instance, it is common to find clusters of people playing African chess or European checkers under the shade of a big tree. In fact, checkers is one of the very few sports in which Senegalese really excel. Around the market place stand the mosque and the houses. The mosque stands alone facing the East. Mud, straw, thatch, and wood are the common building materials. The Sénégalese combine them to produce adobe structures.

This architectural style is called 'Sudanese'. Mosques are the most visible elements. Rural houses are usually less durable. Men build the houses, women maintain and decorate them. Professional builders in the cities use bricks and industrial cement. Along the coast, the mixture of European and African architectures produces an interesting landscape. The island of Gorée facing Dakar, is a famous example of this combination, since the 17th century.

At some 20 miles from Dakar, the Pink Lake ('Lac Rose' in French, 'Retba' in Wolof) is a major attraction for tourists. The site is in the middle of the 'garden belt' outside Dakar which produces hugequantities flowers and vegetables for domestic consumption and export. Men farm the gardens, but women control the sale at all level, except the export. The lake is particularly spectacular at dawn and dusk.

The unique vibrant pink color is produced by feldspar deposits reflecting the sunlight through the salty waters. The lake is the remains of a fossil sea that once occupied all of Sénégal. For a long time, the local Wolof villagers thought that it was a haunted place at night. However, they never seriously thought about moving, because the salt extracted from the lake is a vital source of income. Women are the salters, men the wholesalers and transporters.

La cuisine

Meals are organized around meals, games and small chores, usually my family's errands. Rice with fish, sorghum porridge, or grits with milk constituted most of our midday meals. For dinner, I usually had stewed meat in a sauce over sorghum couscous, or fried fish. At breakfast, I usually had herbal tea, milk, and butter on French bread.

In the rural areas, breakfast still consists of leftovers from the previous night's dinner, or porridge (or grits) with milk. Villagers tend to eat more locally grown cereals while city dwellers are accustomed to rice imported from Indochina. The most common dish today in the cities, especially at lunchtime, is cooked rice accompanied by fish and vegetables stewed in a tomato sauce. It is considered to be a national dish, along with chicken marinated in lemon juice over steamed rice, and peanut butter sauce over steamed rice. Peanut and palm oils serve widely for the cooking.

After meals, plain water is the main way to quench one's thirst. But for visitors, there are always soft drinks made out of fruits such as mango, the fruit of a rubber tree, the fruit of the baobab tree, etc., or the industrially made pop drinks. The most common local soft drink is extracted from red sorrel leaves: its appearance explains its nickname, 'Senegalese Red Vine'. After meals, the guests often share kola nuts.

Imported from as far as Liberia or Ivory Coast, they have a digestive and stimulant action. Kolas also have some sacred value, as they are usually shared to seal deals, to celebrate weddings or baptisms, to perform divinations, etc.

My preferred time used to be the tea session after most meals. Gathered around a small charcoal burner and a tea pot, the whole family and guests would spend an hour and half to two hours, drinking slowly three small glasses of a sweet hot decoction of Chinese green tea and peppermint leaves, eating salted roasted peanuts, fresh bread, or dried meat. These were precious moments to discuss, to make decisions, to laugh, to share warmth.

Tiébou Dienn (cheb-oo-jen)

Tiébou Dienn is sometimes called the national dish of Sénégal. It can be made as simply, or as elaborately as one wants with the same combinations of vegetables chosen.

Roff (paste): 2 bunches of cilantro 4 scallions 4 cloves of garlic 1 scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and minced 1 cube Maggi 1 tablespoon of oil Purée until smooth
Fish: 3-4 lb whole fish (like blue snapper) 3 onions, finely chopped 3 Maggi cubes 2 cans tomato paste 6 cups of water 2-3 inches of oil.Using a sharp knife, cut deep slits into the fish. Be careful not to slice all the way through. Stuff the slits with the Roff. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet or pot, and brown the fish on both sides. Remove the browned fish and drain on absorbent paper. Drain the pot of all but a few tablespoons of oil. To this, add onions, Maggi cubes, tomato paste, and water. Let simmer.
Stew and Rice : one-half calabaza 5 small sweet potatoes one-half cup of rice, per person 8 okra 3-4 chili peppers 2 goat peppers 2 green peppers quarter pound dried codfish one-half package of tamarind paste . Chop all vegetables, except okra, into large chunks. Okras should be left whole. Add vegetable, Maggi, peppers, codfish, and cook for 30 minutes, or until tender. Add fish for the last few minutes of cooking. When finished, remove all the vegetable and fish with a slotted spoon; and place into a container to keep warm.  Measure the liquid remaining in the pot. Either add water or remove excess liquid, as necessary, for the amount of rice to be cooked. (Use about two cups of water per cup of white rice.) Add rice, and let boil. The liquid from the residue of the fish, vegetables, and spices, will add flavor and color to the rice.
To serve, spread rice in large platters; distribute fish and vegetables evenly. Reserve some sauce from pot to pour over the rice and vegetables. Garnish with lime wedges.
Bon Appetit!

Yassa  Poulet au citron): Recette pour 5 personnes

* 1 Kg d'Oignon decoupés en fines tranches * 1 Poulet entier découpés en petits morceaux * 6 à 8 citrons pressés * quelques olives (6) * 2 gousses d'ail
Mettre le tout dans un récipient suffisament grand et assaisonner (sel, poivre, laurier, petit piment , un peu d'huile d'olive). Laisser le tout macérer pendant 24 Heures ou plus...

D'abord faire frire les morceaux de poulet isolément dans de l'huile trés chaude (Une version sophistiquée consister à griller les morceaux du viande). Ensuite, mettre la marinade dans une casserole, y ajouter les morceaux de poulet et 2 cubes MAGGI et porter à ébullition pendant 1/4 d'heure. En suite laisser mijoter à feu doux pendant deux heures. Gouter et ejuster les épices (sel, poivre, citron) selon son gout et au besoin ajouter de l'eau pour compenser l'éventuelle évaporation de la sauce. Arrêter le feu quand la fermeté de la viande arrive à souhait.

Il est préférable d'avoir du riz parfumé chinois. Selon l'appétit ambient, porter à ébullition une quantité X d'eau, y ajouter une quantité X/2 de riz et mettre le feu au strict minimum. De temps en temps contrôler le degré d'absorbtion de l'eau , gouter le riz pour apprécier lsa cuisson et si besoin, rajouter de l'eau. En principe quand il n'y en a plus, le riz est cuit et on peut éteindre le feu.

Servir le riz dans des assiettes, y poser délicatement des morceaux de viande, arroser le tout , de manière raffinées, de la délicieuse sauce, se saisir d'une fourchette t d'un couteau ayant fait leur preuves et , par petites fourchettées mélangées de maximum d'ingédients, offrir le tout à vos papilles gustatives qui n'en peuvent plus d'attendre... depuis que la paison entière est envahie par la délicieuse odeur du YASSA. Cette étape est primordiale.

Cette exercice fort agréable peut s'accompagner d'une bonne bouteille de votre choix.LE YASSA EST EXCELLENT RECHAUFFE. ON PEUT MÊME LE CONGELER POUR LE RESSORTIR EN CAS DE COUP DUR.                                Bon Appétit

YASSA (Pollo al limone): Ricetta per cinque persone

* 1 kg di cipolle * 1 pollo tagliato in pezzi piccoli * Da 6 a 8 limoni spremuti * Circa 6 olive verdi * 2 spicchi d’aglio

Mettere tutto in un recipiente abbastanza grande e condire (sale, pepe, peperencino, un poco d’olio d’oliva).Lasciar macerare per almeno 24 ore.

Far friggere separatamente i pezzi di pollo nell’olio molto caldo. (una versione più sofisticata permette di far cuocere i pezzi di pollo alla griglia). Mettere la marinata in una pentola aggiungere il pollo e due dadi, far bollire per ¼ d’ora, lasciar cuocere a fuoco basso per due ore. Provare e rettificare il condimento, aggiungere eventualmente dell’acqua se il sugo è troppo spesso. Interrompere la cottura quando il pollo ha la consistenza voluta.

E meglio utilizzare del riso profumato cinese. In funzione dell’ appetito, far bollire una quantità X di acqua, aggiungere una quantità X/2 di riso, far cuocere a fuoco bassissimo. Verificare il livello dell’acqua, provare il riso e se necessario aggiungere un poco d’acqua. Teoricamente il riso è cotto quando tutta l’acqua è assorbita.

Mettere il riso nei piatti, posarci sopra delicatamente qualche pezzo di pollo, aspergere con il sugo e con una forchetta ed un coltello ben rodati mangiare un boccone composto da ciascun elemento, offrire tutto cio alle vostre papille gustative che non ce la fanno più di aspettare ... visto il profumo di Yassa che aleggia per casa. Questa tappa è fondamentale.

Accompagnate questo esercizio con una buona bottiglia. Lo Yassa è buonissimo riscaldato, si puo congelare per un momento di crisi.       Buon appetito


The elements of culture are so common among the different ethnic groups, that one can hardly distinguish them by their clothing. The basic fabric is local cotton. The printed fabric is worn usually for everydaylife. Clothes in dyed or hand woven fabrics are reserved for special occasions. Dyeing is a highly valued skill passed from mother to daughter. The various processes use vegetal chemicals, especially indigo.
    Weaving skills are transmitted between males within the family. The dress varies depending on the occasion. But the long Muslim gown ('bubu') is usually worn after work. Under the 'bubu,' men wear a short blouse or a shirt over short trousers. They can complete it with a red Fez hat, a grass hat, or a decorated woven cotton one, and leather loafers. Women usually have a head-tie assorted to the design and color of their 'bubu' and a sarong-type wrapper around the waist. They like radiant colors and complicated ties. Sandals or leather loafers complete the apparel. The variety of combinations, the sophistication of designs, and the delicacy of patterns are combined, in such a way as to put the Sénégalese men and women at the fore front of fashion in Black Africa.

Hair dressing is another area of importance. As young as few months old, girls often have braids ornamented with beads and other small objects. A young boy has his head shaved, more or less accordingly to his family's style, however, Muslims generally prefer to keep it bare. Among some groups in the South, even boys have braids. Hair styles vary with age, and with ethnic identity. Another important element of the dress is jewelry in gold, silver, iron, and copper, particularly for big occasions. In fact, the Senegalese tailor, hair dresser, and jeweler are among the most exported talents to Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Le sport

Sénégalese fans enjoy some universal sports such as soccer (named 'football' here!), basket ball, checkers, etc. But they still enjoy more two sports considered indigenous or 'national,' canoe racing and wrestling. Canoe racing is among the most colorful events one could watch on various Senegalese shores. The specially designed dugout canoes are painted in bright colors and named after a patron, usually a saint, a local hero, or a notability. In return, the patron provides spiritual protection or money. The races are organized by the size of the rowing team, from 6 to 36 men. They oppose villages or suburbs, and draw large over excited crowds. Regularly, the rowdy fishermen would fight at the end of the event.

My favorite distraction was wrestling. It transcends all ethnic groups and enjoys the status of national sport. It is one of the most common games for children, and any sandy area, often the courtyard, would suffice. It is also the main distraction during the dry season. Usually, villages or suburbs invite each other for tournaments. I used to attend wrestling events at an open air arena near our house.

Hours before the actual event, the inviting beat of the drum and the mellow voice of the singers would alert everyone. In the late afternoon, a crowd would gather forming a circle around a sandy arena. Kids sit in the inner circle while grown-ups stand at the outer. The adults dress in their finest apparel. Betting is common among the crowd. Several bouts take place before the last one pitting two champions against each other. They always represent two different teams fighting for prizes, supremacy and prestige. They usually wear around their waist rich wrappers provided by fiancees or female relatives, the rest of the body remaining naked.

The rules are simple: the winner must make his opponent's knees, shoulder, or back touch the sand. In today's professional money-making business version, blows and slaps are allowed and the prize is big money, while modern stadiums are used to accommodate huge crowds, while significant matches are telecasted. Female singers continue to excite the masculine pride and set the tone for a brutal but loyal confrontation.

Each team occupies a particular place in the circle. A key element is the charmer or magic maker, a blend of a traditional medicine man and magician. His role is to ensure his favorite's victory by protecting him against magic curses, weakening the adversary, and thus, giving him a decisive advantage. Finally, after many prayers and protecting ablutions, medicine water or milk dripping all over their bodies, wearing a hoist of charms, and still under the spell of the band, the two wrestlers face each other under the scrutiny of a referee.

The match begins with the balancing of arms, each of them trying to reach a decisive grasp while moving slowly around the other. After the fight, the victorious side will party all night long and the victor's name will be celebrated by songs.

La danse

Many occasions are pretexts for a dance party: after a wrestling victory, after the harvest, at a baptism, etc. Dance and wrestling parties offer a magnificent opportunity for singles, lovers and friends to meet in their best presentation. Usually, every suburb, village or age group has some kind of organizing committee. The most important things are the date, the band, and the invited patrons. The date, because some days are not allowed, for instance there are no dances during the farming season. The band is a group of at least 3 professional drummers, ordinarily between 5 and 7. Sometimes, another instrument, African or European joins them. The venue is a sandy area in the middle of the village or at some crossroads in the town. The youngest sit on the sand in the inner circle. Behind them, the women sit on chairs and benches, or stand up. Finally, on the outer circle, men stand up. Boys and females do the clapping, sometimes using wood or metal clappers. The band plays at a corner of the inner circle, facing the most distinguished patrons dressed in their best clothes, and who will give money to them and to the best dancers.

The dancers relay each other almost continuously, in a jubilant disorder. Normally, only women, girls and young boys dance, but men usually dance in the Wolof country. Elsewhere, in the South and the East, religious and age related ceremonies, such as initiations, will offer the opportunity for men and boys in their teens.

Initiation evolves around the circumcision of young males. It is disappearing in the cities where the medical procedure is performed on babies or just before school age. But it is still accomplished in rural areas, particularly in the Southern Joola and Bassari societies. There, it marks the passage of teenagers to adulthood.

The day before the operation, the candidates receive their choice of meal, shave their heads, and are celebrated by the close family. The next day, at dawn, the operation is performed, mostly by the local blacksmith, although more and more, the local nurse or physician is involved. The boys have to suffer without showing their pain as a proof of maturity.

After the ceremony, amid the dancing crowd that celebrates them, the circumcised retreat in the nearby bush or forest for three or four weeks, under the close supervision of older guardians. Their families feed them but close contacts are forbidden. The guardians will teach them how to fight, to hunt, to be patient, to talk, to be a good member of the community, etc. They will inculculate them with local story, the necessary survival tips, self esteem and a strong sense of pride, both as an individual and a member of a society. A strong emphasis is put on how to deal with women and elders. During the seclusion, they suffer abuses from older men and are not allowed to be in contact with a woman.

At the end of the seclusion, the young adults come out, dancing, dressed in their best. They receive gifts and new clothes during an itinerant dance party, visiting each other's family. The feast will last for a few more days. The candidates have become young adults whose next step is to start a family of their own. As a sign, they now participate in the village's elders meetings. Now, they concern themselves only with the activities and affairs of men.

La Musique

"The base of all music in Sénégal is traditional," says Baaba Maal, one of the finest contemporary musical artists in Africa; and, traditional Sénégalese music may be the foundation for much of the music of the Western world. Aficionados of country blues, calypso, reggae, beguine, and rap, whether or not they recognise it, hear echoes of the musical rhythms of the land of Teranga, the gateway to Africa.

Existing traditional Sénégalese rhythms, such as the Yela, which come from the old Empire and predate all colonialization of Sénégal, still resound thanks to musicians such as Baaba Maal. Sénégalese kings used Yela to call the people of the Empire together so that they could listen to important events.

Yela is the music of women, as it mimics the sound they made when pounding grain. When performing the Yela, some women would hit the stressed third beat on their calabashes, while others carried the weaker first beat by clapping their hands. It is the Yela Jimmy Cliff heard when he visited Dakar; and it is reputed to be the primary influence for the development of reggae in the Caribbean.

Some of the traditional musical instruments still being used to make music in Sénégal are the twenty-one stringed kora, the violin-like riti, the hoddu and the seven-stringed African guitar.

Asly Fouta, a group of seventy musicians, is, according to Baaba Maal, "a university for the traditional African music" being central to the education of many great music makers. It is with this group that many have learnt to play most or all of the traditional instruments.

Today, the Pekan songs of the northern fisherman, the Gumbala chants of ancient warriors, the Dilere ditties of weavers plaiting their threads, and Yela sung by women, can still be heard, beautifully integrated with the modern musical rhythms. Music in Sénégal carries the country's art, history, and dance all wrapped up in one. To know Sénégal, and to understand some of it's impact on the rest of the world, listen to its beautiful music.

La référence musicale du Sénégal est sans conteste Youssou N'DOUR