From The Hippo’s Ears: Senegal
Contributions by Khary.
Facts you may not have know about Senegal:
Senegal, officially the Republic of Senegal, is a country in West Africa. Senegal is bordered by Mauritania in the north, Mali to the east, Guinea to the southeast, and Guinea-Bissau to the southwest. The country gained independence from France in 1960, and has a population of over 15 million people.
Senegal’s economic and political capital is Dakar, and the country’s name comes from the Wolof language’s “Sunuu Gaal”, which means “Our Boat”.
French is the official language, although many native languages are spoken and recognized. Senegal has been a member of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie since 1970.
1. When you first meet someone, how do you greet them?
When meeting someone, common greetings are “Good morning/afternoon/evening”, and shaking hands is also common.
2. What languages are spoken in the country?
French is the official language, spoken at least by all those who enjoyed several years in the educational system that is of French origin. Most people also speak their own ethnic language while, especially in Dakar, Wolof is the lingua franca.
Several of the Senegalese languages have the legal status of “national languages”: Balanta-Ganja, Hassaniya Arabic, Jola-Fonyi, Mandinka, Mandjak, Mankanya, Noon (Serer-Noon), Pulaar, Serer, Soninke, and Wolof.
3. Do you use a twelve hour clock, or a twenty-four hour clock?
We use a 24-hour clock.
4. What side of the road do people drive on? What do we need to know about driving in the country?
We drive on the right side of the road. The system of roads in Senegal is extensive by West African standards, with paved roads reaching each corner of the country and all major towns. While it is expected that everyone respects the rules of the road, including traffic signs and traffic officer instructions, many drivers are not disciplined in doing so.
5. How important is punctuality?
Punctuality is quite important, although being a few minutes late is generally alright.
6. Which types of music are popular? Who are some of the most popular musicians?
Senegal’s music is best known abroad due to the popularity of mbalax, a development of Serer sabar drumming popularized by Youssou N’Dour. Acoustic folk music has also left its mark on Senegal’s music culture. Artists that have contributed to this genre include TAMA from Rufisque, Pape Armand Boye, les Freres Guisse, Pape et Cheikh, and Cheikh Lo.
The biggest trend in 1990s Senegal, however, was hip hop. Traditional culture includes rapping traditions, such as the formal tassou, performed by women of the Laobe woodworking class the morning after marriages. Modern Senegalese hip hop is mostly in Wolof, alongside some English and French. Positive Black Soul is the best-known group in the country
For a taste of Senegalese music, listen to Pape Armand Boye’s Wadji, and Positive Black Soul’s L’Afrique.
7. Are there any Traditional Dances?
Mbalax Dancing is popular in nightclubs and social gatherings as well as religious and life cycle events such as: weddings, birthdays, and naming ceremonies. New Mbalax dance movements are constantly emerging, this often occurs with the increasing popularity of a particular song.
The dance of Ndawrabine was invented by the women of the Lébou community, a Wolof ethnic group, and can be seen here.
8. What traditional Festivals are celebrated in the country?
The annual Blues du Fleuve festival in Podor, founded by musician Baaba Maal, attracts thousands. Maal’s festival has run since 2006 and usually takes place in Podor, the northernmost town in Senegal. He hopes the event will one day become Senegal’s Glastonbury.
Since 1996, the Biennale has celebrated contemporary African art with exhibitions every other year. African contemporary artists apply to display paintings, sculptures, and other masterpieces across Dakar during the month-long Dak’Art Biennale event.
Saint Louis Jazz Festival: As the former capital of Senegal and West Africa during colonial times, Saint Louis has always been a cultural and economic center. The city welcomes jazz enthusiasts from around the world every spring since 1992. Festival goers can also check out the nearby Langue de Barbarie, Lompoul Desert, Djoudj National Park, Pont Faitherbe and old colonial buildings.
The first ever International Afro-Latino Dance Festival took place in Dakar between April 2nd and 8th. Dance enthusiasts were able to learn or practice kizomba, salsa, and mbalax with teachers and DJs from around the world.
9. What are the seasons like?
Senegal has a tropical climate with pleasant heat throughout the year with well-defined dry and humid seasons that result from northeast winter winds and southwest summer winds. The dry season (December to April) is dominated by hot, dry, harmattan wind.
The northernmost part of the country has a near hot desert climate, the central part has a hot semi-arid climate and the southernmost part has a tropical wet and dry climate. Senegal is mainly a sunny and dry country.
Dakar’s annual rainfall of about 600 mm (24 in) occurs between June and October when maximum temperatures average 30 °C (86.0 °F) and minimums 24.2 °C (75.6 °F); December to February maximum temperatures average 25.7 °C (78.3 °F) and minimums 18 °C (64.4 °F).
10. What are some interesting facts about the President?
Macky Sall has been Senegal’s President since 2012. Under President Abdoulaye Wade, Sall was Prime Minister of Senegal from April 2004 to June 2007 and President of the National Assembly from June 2007 to November 2008. He was the Mayor of Fatick from 2002 to 2008 and held that post again from 2009 to 2012.
Sall was trained as a geological engineer at the Institute of Earth Sciences (IST) of the University of Dakar and then at the French Institute of Petroleum (IFP)’s National College of Petrol and Engines (ENSPM) in Paris. He is a member of multiple national and international associations of geologists and geological engineers.
In January 2016, Sall supported proposed constitutional reforms, which passed in March that year, that limit any president to two consecutive terms in office, and reduced the term of office from seven years to five, in accordance with his promise at the 2012 election.
11. What are the country’s major industries?
The main industries include food processing, mining, cement, artificial fertilizer, chemicals, textiles, refining imported petroleum, and tourism. Exports include fish, chemicals, cotton, fabrics, groundnuts, and calcium phosphate. The principal foreign market is India with 26.7% of exports (as of 1998). Other foreign markets include the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom.
As a member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Senegal is working toward greater regional integration with a unified external tariff. Senegal is also a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa.
12. How do people spend their free time?
Many Senegalese enjoy spending time with family and friends by playing sport, dancing, and going to the beach.
13. What do people drink?
Popular fresh juices are made from bissap, ginger, buy (pronounced ‘buoy’, which is the fruit of the baobab tree, also known as “monkey bread fruit”), mango, or other fruit or wild trees (most famously soursop, which is called corossol in French). Desserts are traditionally followed by coffee or tea.
14. What is a popular local dish?
The cuisine of Senegal is a West African cuisine influenced by North African, French, and Portuguese cuisine, and derives from the nation’s many ethnic groups, the largest being the Wolof.
Thieboudienne or ceebu jën (among other names): The literal English translation of the dish is “The Rice of Fish”. Dubbed as the national dish of Senegal, it consists of flavoursome fish that has been marinated with parsley, lemon, garlic, onions (and other herbs), and then later cooked with tomato paste and a variety of vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, and carrots. Rice is later added to the mix giving it a reddish look. It is said to resemble the Spanish dish paella, from the region of Valencia.
Maafe, seasoned fish, chicken, lamb, or beef cooked with vegetables in a tomato and peanut butter sauce, is also popular.
Yassa: now popular with other West African countries, Yassa is either chicken or fish that is first marinated with spices, and then simmered in a pan with onion, garlic, mustard, and lemon juice. This creates a chicken and onion sauce side-dish that is served with plain white rice.
15. What do you pay, on average, for the following? (1 USD = approx. CFA 556)
Milk (1 liter): CFA 1,000
Coca cola (330 ml): CFA 400
Cup of coffee: CFA 1,000
3 Course meal: CFA 7,500
Domestic beer: CFA 420
Loaf of bread: CFA 200
Apples (1 kg): CFA 1,100
16. Any general safety tips?
The Senegalese are very proud of their reputation for “teranga” — hospitality. Locals are extremely friendly and helpful; but as anywhere else, watch out for scams and pickpockets. Petty crime here is relatively high, be cautious. Senegal is one of the most politically stable countries in Africa. Try to avoid walking alone at night.
17. In conclusion, famous (and sometimes infamous) people from the country include:
Abdala Faye is a Senegalese mixed media artist, and member of the Serer noble Faye family. He is the grandson of former Senegalese king, Mbaye Ndiay Djaly. At the age of 12 he had his first showing in Paris, France and sold all of his paintings. Faye began traveling the continent of Africa and Europe at the age of 15. Abdala’s art has been featured in exhibits around the world including Senegal, Brasil, France, Belgium, Germany and the United States. Faye opened Akebuland in Iowa City, IA USA. In 2008 he moved to Cincinnati, OH where he opened The Faye Gallery.
Ousmane Sembène, often credited in the French style as Sembène Ousmane, was a Senegalese film director, producer and writer. The Los Angeles Times considered him one of the greatest authors of Africa and he has often been called the “father of African film”. At the 11th Moscow International Film Festival in 1979, he was awarded with the Honorable Prize for the contribution to cinema. He is the subject of the 2015 documentary film, Sembene!
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