French is the official language, used regularly by a minority of Senegalese educated in a system styled upon the colonial-era schools of French origin (Koranic schools are even more popular, but Arabic is not widely spoken outside of this context of recitation). Portuguese Creole is a prominent minority language in Ziguinchor, regional capital of the Casamance, where some residents speak Kriol, primarily spoken in Guinea-Bissau. Cape Verdeans speak their native creole, Cape Verdean Creole, and standard Portuguese.
English is mandatory at Junior High School and is widely spoken.
Most people also speak their own ethnic language. Wolof is the lingua franca especially in Dakar. Pulaar is spoken by the Peuls and Toucouleur. Other languages include Jola and Mandinka.
Wolof is the most widely spoken national language.
A few useful Wolof words:
Diama ngma: Hello
Fanane diam: Good night
Mangi deka fi... : I come from...
Balal ma: Excuse me/ par don
Bi niata?: How much does this cost?
Cher na trop: Thats too expen sive
Dieuredieuf: Thank you
Dama rèere: I’m lost
Degouma ouolof: I don’t understand
Asalamu aleikum : Peace be with you
Wa aleikum salam: Peace be with you too
(Arabic words used in Wolof)
Nanga def: How are you?
Nanga tudd: What’s your name?
Man, X la tudd: My name is X
Baal ma: I’m sorry
Dama khiff: I am hungry
Dama mar: I am thirsty
Lii niata: How much is it ?
Fan la: Where is it?
Mangui dem: Good bye
Education and Literacy
Education is compulsory and free up to the age of 16. Articles 21 and 22 of the Constitution adopted in January 2001 guarantee access to education for all children. The Ministry of Labour has indicated that the public school system is unable to cope with the number of children that must enroll each year. Illiteracy is high, particularly among women. The net primary school enrollment rate was 69% in 2005.
Senegal has a wide variety of ethnic groups and, as in most West African countries, several languages are widely spoken. The Wolof are the largest single ethnic group in Senegal at 43%; the Peul and Toucouleur (also known as Halpulaar, Fulbe or Fula or Fulani) are the second biggest group (24%), followed by others that include the Serer (15%), Lebou (10%), Jola or Diola (4%), Mandinka or Mandingo (3%), Maures or Naarkajors, Soninke, Bassari and many smaller communities (9%).
About 50,000 Europeans (mostly French) and Lebanese as well as smaller numbers of Moroccans reside in Senegal, mainly in the cities. These groups make up about 1 percent of the population. The majority of Lebanese work in commerce. Also located primarily in urban settings are small Vietnamese communities as well as a growing number of Chinese immigrant traders, each numbering perhaps a few hundred people. There are also tens of thousands of Mauritanian refugees in Senegal, primarily in the country’s north.
From the time of earliest contact between Europeans and Africans along the coast of Senegal, particularly after the establishment of coastal trading posts during the fifteenth century, communities of mixed African and European (mostly French and Portuguese) origin have thrived. Cape Verdean migrants and their descendants living in urban areas and in the Casamance region represent another recognized community of mixed African and European background.
The religion of Senegal is predominantly Muslim, with up to 90% of the population practising the basic tenets of Islam and belonging to one of four Sufi brotherhoods. The remaining 10% is made up of Christians, which includes Roman Catholics and diverse Protestant denominations. There is also a 1% population who maintain animism in their beliefs, particularly in the southeastern region of the country, with many combining the latter two. Senegal is very tolerant of all religions however, and is essentially a secular country - a legacy of its French colonial past.
Islam came to West Africa from the north and across the Sahara in the early part of the second millennium and quickly became a commanding influence with most of the local populace converting. Islam was brought to the Senegambia region by the Marabouts, religious figures traditionally from the Maghreb area of Northern Africa. In the Islamic religion every believer has a direct relationship with Allah but because the societies of North and West Africa were so rigidly hierarchical it made more sense to have certain religious leaders all ascribed with divine power providing access to the godhead. Brotherhoods would then grow up around certain Marabouts, many of whom would come to be revered as saints. The Qadiriya brotherhood was one of the first to reach Senegal and spread across the country in the 19th century and is still widely followed today, mostly by the Mandinka people. It is true that in many cases the term has lost some of its historical meaning and is now applied to anyone who leads a certain kind of devotedly Islamic life, so you will see Marabouts all over Senegal, clothed in traditional dress robes and leading a spare, ascetic life.
Islamic communities are generally organised around one of several Islamic Sufi orders or brotherhoods, headed by a khalif (xaliifa in Wolof, from Arabic khalīfa), who is usually a direct descendant of the group’s founder. The two largest and most prominent Sufi orders in Senegal are the Tijaniyya, whose largest sub-groups are based in the cities of Tivaouane and Kaolack, and the Murīdiyya (Murid), based in the city of Touba. The Halpulaar, a widespread ethnic group found along the Sahel from Chad to Senegal, representing 20 percent of the Senegalese population, were the first to convert to Islam. The Islamization of the country dates back to the eleventh century, the period when the north of the Senegal, was conquered by the Almoradives. Many of the Toucouleurs, or sedentary Halpulaar of the Senegal River Valley in the north, converted to Islam around a millennium ago and later contributed to Islam’s propagation throughout Senegal. Most communities south of the Senegal River Valley, however, were not thoroughly Islamized until the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During the mid-19th century, Islam became a banner of resistance against the traditional aristocracies and French colonialism. Tijānī leaders Al-Hajj Umar Tall and Màbba Jaxu Ba established short-lived but influential Islamic states but were both killed in battle and their territories then annexed by the French. The spread of formal Quranic school (called “daara” in Wolof) during the colonial period increased largely through the effort of the Tijaniyya. In Murid communities, which place more emphasis on work ethic than on literary Quranic studies, the term “daara” often applies to work groups devoted to working for a religious leader. Other Islamic groups include the much older Qādiriyya order and the Senegalese Laayeen order, which is prominent among the coastal Lebu. Today, most Senegalese children study at daaras for several years, memorizing as much of the Qur’an as they can. Some of them continue their religious studies at informal Arabic schools (majlis) or at the growing number of private Arabic schools and publicly funded Franco-Arabic schools. A modern messianic sect in Islam, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is also present in the country.
Europeans missionaries introduced Christianity to the Sine and Casamance in the 19th century. About 10% of the population of Senegal adheres to Christianity. Small Roman Catholic communities are mainly found in coastal Serer, Jola, Mankanya and Balant populations, and in eastern Senegal among the Bassari and Coniagui. The Protestant churches are mainly attended by immigrants but during the second half of the twentieth century Protestant churches led by Senegalese leaders from different ethnic groups have evolved. In Dakar, Catholic and Protestant rites are practiced by the Lebanese, Cape Verdean, European, and American immigrant populations, and among certain Africans of other countries as well as by the Senegalese themselves. Although Islam is Senegal’s majority religion, Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a Catholic Serer.
There are many hundreds of localised religions in West Africa and these are generally centred around an idea of animism, or that any animal, plant or object has a soul or spirit and should be treated as such. This can mean that certain areas or places are considered sacred and possessed of spirits – or indeed by the souls of ancestors - and it is common to see offerings to these spirits (sometimes even called deities) left in the form of incense or flowers. Animism, once widely practiced, has declined in Senegal in recent decades, though some Muslims and Christians incorporate elements of animism in their worship.
There are small numbers of adherents of The Bahá’í Faith, Judaism and Buddhism. Judaism is followed by members of several ethnic groups, while Buddhism is followed by a number of Vietnamese.
Senagalese Teranga is renowned, all religions (Islam and Catholicism and other religions) live in a spirit of tolerance, however it is a generally conservative society. It is advisable to dress and behave modestly in public outside the main tourist areas. Bars and restaurants usually serve alcoholic drinks but drunkenness is considered offensive. Kissing as a greeting is acceptable but kissing romantically in public is not. There is no gay scene in Senegal and article 319 of the penal code states that “an indecent or unnatural act with an individual of the same sex is punishable by 1-5 years imprisonment”.
Places of Worship
Mosques are numerous. The Great Mosque is the largest, built in 1964 in Moroccan style. At 14:00 on Fridays, hundreds of worshippers fill the mosque, the grounds and the adjoining streets. You can witness this remarkable display of devotion at Allee Pape Gueye Fall, +221 33 821 53 61. (no shorts, correct attire required). There main Catholic Church is Cathedrale du Souvenir Africain. Bd. de la Republique, +221 33 821 43 64. Note the African angels on the facade. The Protestant Church which holds services in French, English and Korean is situated on rue Carnot
Taken from Relocation Africa's African Relocation Guide to Senegal.
To place an order or for more info on this guide or other guides please click here: African Relocation Guides.