Senegal culture is reflected in its ethnic roots where 35% of the population are Wolofs, the Pulaar (20%), the Sereres (17%), the Diolas (10%) along with the smaller ethnic groups such as the Mandingues, the Soninkes and the Bassari. Despite these different ethnic groups, Senegal's national motto is "One people, one aim, one faith". The vast majority of those living in Senegal are Muslims, making up 92% of the population, with indigenous beliefs accounting for a further 6% and Roman Catholics the remaining 2%. Although predominantly Muslim as noted, Senegal has no official religion and is very much a tolerant, secular state where the people adhere to the traditional values of Kersa (respect for others) and Tegin (good manners).
Senegal has rich traditions and the importance of greeting in a Senegal village cannot be over emphasised, although the ritual can seem strange to people living in the hurly burly of the west. 'Salaamalekum' is an almost requirement before further interaction can take place. If not said, you'll probably be told "s/he went to learn how to greet" in other words, you're rude!
The values of Senegal are represented in the colours of the national flag. The yellow represents the savannah, the green symbolising forest and hope whilst the red reflects the blood spilt in the fight for liberty. Senegal's national motto is "One people, one aim, one faith" and its national identity is deeply rooted in 'Thiossane', a word used by the Wolof as well as the Serer (Fulani) ethnic groups, that means "history, tradition, and culture." The Wolof people, who live mainly in the north of the country, live traditional lifestyles built around goat herding and, if you ever meet a tribesman, the following expression "Degouma ouolof" will be handy as it means "I don't understand Wolof"! Along the coastline Serere fishermen take to the sea in their wooden pirogues returning in the afternoon to sell their catch at market, whilst the Pulaar occupy the Senegal river valley and Ferlo region, engaged mainly in farming.
Festivals and celebrations in Senegal culture are a common occurrence. The birth of each child is marked with the naming of the baby by the elders accompanied by the slaying of an animal in line with the family's wealth, ranging from a chicken to a cow. A party follows during which a collection is made for the newborn and this often continues long into the night. Other festivals in Senegal include the National Holiday celebrating independence day, the day of Association celebrating wider African culture, Tamkharit ~ the Muslim new year, Maouloud ~ the birth of the prophet Mohammed and Tabaski as well as Ramadan, Eid and Leylatoul Khadre. Sengal culture also recognises Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Assumption and All Saint's Day as well as Christmas.
The sabar, the most common instrument in Senegal, is a feature of most of these occasions with sabar drumming accompanied by dancing and is in use in virtually every music performed, particularly at special occasions, such as births, weddings and baby naming ceremonies. Other musical instruments within Senegal culture include the Xalam, a popular stringed instrument played throughout Senegal; the Kora, a harp like lute; the Tabala, wooden kettle drums and the Tama, a drum placed under the arm and hit with a curved stick. The video (below) explores Senegal culture and traditions in more depth.
Senegal Culture: Volunteer in Senegal
Senegal Culture: Life in Senegal
Senegal Culture: Child Sponsor Senegal
Senegal Culture: Senegal Country Profile
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