Senegal is a unique country with many languages, 36 to be exact. Linguists divide the languages into two different families. These families are Atlantic and Mande. The Atlantic family is generally found in the western part of the country. It includes Wolof, Serer, Fula, and Diola. The Mande languages are found in the eastern part and include Bambara, Malinke, and Soninke. French is the official language, because it was inherited from the colonial era when Senegal was under French rule. The most dominant language is Wolof. Wolof is related to Fula, which is also spoken by a large part of the population. The other languages are Bainouk-Gunyaamolo, Balanta-Ganja, Bayot, Crioulo, Upper Guinea, Badyara, Ejamat, French, Fulah, Gusilay, Jalunga, Jola-Fonyi, Bandial, Jola-Kasa, Karon, Hassaniyya, Kerak, Kuwaataay, Laalaa, Mandinka, Kobiana, Maninkakan, Western, Mankanya, Mlomp, Ndut, N’ko, Noon, Oniyan, Palor, Pulaar, Bedik, Saafi, Serer-Sine, Soninke, Wamey, Wolof, Mandjak, Bainouk-Samik, and Xasonga. There are probably many different languages in Senegal because many other part s of Africa have different languages because they were colonized by different groups and when people come into Senegal, they bring their language with them. Education for the deaf uses American Sign Language.
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They also have twenty ethnic groups of varying size, a very high amount for such a small country. One ethnic group is called the Mandé people. These people have been primarily Muslim since the 13th century. Many of the Mandé people believe in initiation groups such as Chiwara and Dwo and they believe in the power of Juju. The Mandé people’s arts are primarily carvings and jewelry. The Mandé produce beautifully woven fabrics, which are very popular in Western Africa. They also make necklaces out of silver and gold, bracelets, armlets, and earrings. The bells that are seen on the necklaces are meant, spiritually, to be a way of contacting spirits, ringing in both worlds so their nonliving ancestors could hear them. Mandé hunters wear a single bell, so that it can be silenced when stealth is vital. Women wear multiple bells, giving a sense of community, because of their harmonious ring. Much of the music of the Mandé people is played on a kora, a stringed instrument with at least 21 strings. It is performed by families of musicians. The Mandé languages are Mandika, Soninke, Bambara, Dioula, Bozo, Mende, Susu, and Vai.
Another Senegalese ethnic group is the Wolof. Wolof is the most dominant group, with 43.3% of the population. They are also mostly Muslim. Next is the Fula, the second most populous ethnic group with 23.8% of the population. They speak the Fula language and were Islamized long ago.
A slightly smaller group, the Serer, encompass 14.7% of the Senegalese population. They speak the Cangin languages.
The other ethnic groups are minor, representing less than 5% of the population. Europeans and descendants of Lebanese migrants are also present in Senegal. They are around 50,000 in number.
The ethnic groups share many commonalities, including, while not the exact same languages, some language similarities. A lot of the words in each language are cognates from a different language. Also, they have no cultural boundaries. For example, it is common for a member of one ethnic group to marry someone from a different ethnic group.
As mentioned earlier, Muslim is one religion found in Senegal. Muslims make up 92% of the population. 2% of the population is Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and the other 6% are indigenous beliefs. The Islamization of Senegal dates back all the way to the eleventh century. The Christian part of Senegal is fairly recent.
Women have high rates of illiteracy. They are responsible for cooking, cleaning, and watching the children. They are also in charge of agricultural work, like weeding and harvesting crops like rice, most commonly. In recent times, cultural change has led women to become office clerks, retail clerks, and unskilled workers in tuna canning factories and textile mills.
There is a large range of housing types in Senegal. Most of the houses in Dakar, the capital city, are European-style. Outside of Dakar, circular mud huts are common in the villages. Professional builders build the houses out of brick and industrial cement. Along the coast of Senegal, there is an interesting mix of European and African architectures, such as in the island of Goree, which is famous for it. Normally, the men build the houses and the women decorate and maintain them. The Office of Moderate-Rent Housing is trying to implement low cost housing in Dakar.
There is an average of 4.9 people in each household. Most Senegalese families have about ten people. Polygamy is common in Senegal. It has caused an extra woman living in a household and more children. Technology in Senegal has come a long way. Now, the African Regional Center for Technology, which has over 30 member states, is located in Dakar. Most research centers in Senegal are focused on agricultural issues. Dakar also has a center for mining and medical research and an institution directed toward African food and nutrition problems.
Most of the Senegalese people’s clothes are made of local cotton. Clothes that are dyed or hand woven are reserved for special occasions. Dying is a special skill that is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter. They use vegetal chemicals, particularly indigo. While dying is passed down through the female side of the family, weaving is transmitted between the males of the family.
Just like in the U.S., the fashion varies depending on the occasion. For women, they wear a Muslim gown called a “bubu” after work. They also have a head tie selected to match the color and design of the “bubu.” They like radiant colors. After work, men wear a shirt over short trousers.
Hair dressing is another thing that is important to them. Girls often have their hair braided with beads and boys have their head shaved according to their family’s style. For special occasions, they wear gold, silver, iron, and copper jewelry.
For the Senegalese, breakfast normally consists of porridge or grits with milk. A traditional lunch is cooked rice with fish and vegetables served in a tomato sauce. For dinner, they can expect meat or fried fish. After they eat, they drink water to quench their thirst, but if they have visitors, they will offer them mango juice, or industrially made pop drinks.
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For almost all of Senegal, an important tradition is lively baby naming festivals. When the baby is about one week old, the older members of the village they are in assemble in the morning and name the baby while killing a goat, sheep chicken, or cow, dependent upon the family’s wealth. After that part of the ceremony, the rest of the village joins and the party continues until late at night. There is a lot of dancing and singing for the baby.
Tabaski is a two day celebration where Muslims slay a ram to honor when, from history, Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God.
Celebrated around the world, including Senegal, by Muslims is Ramadan. It is a 30 day festival for spiritual reflection and prayers where all of the Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. They have to abstain from food, drink, gum, and any tobacco. They are not even supposed to swallow their own saliva. This is also for sympathy for the less fortunate.
One popular form of Senegalese music is drumming. The “tama” is a single faced drum that has strips of leather attached to the outside and the base. The drum is held under one arm and beat with the other. The arm holding it is squeezed to adjust the pitch and tone.
The other popular form of music is folk music. This music is played with the kora. The final type of music is singing where many voices come together to produce a song.
There are also traditional Senegal dances. The most popular of which is the sabar dance. It is performed at weddings, parties, and other celebrations. The dance is unique and also competitive. During the dance, people gather in a large circle, and individuals or pairs go in the center and show off their best moves. The dancers show stomping footwork, outstretched arms, and jumps.
Senegal is a unique country with a diverse culture. They have many ethnic groups, many similar languages, dominantly Muslim religion (with some others), long, decorative dresses, delicious food, beautiful art, interesting festivals and Muslim traditions, and energetic music and dances. They have medium sized families with a few people per household and some unique combinations of architecture.
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