Songs from Baobab Country
Further down along the West Atlantic coast of Africa, beyond the Sahara, the great waterless sea, in a place where sandy winds cloud the mighty the sun, rests the land of Senegal. She lays cuddled in the Sahel strip, a desert piece of land which spans as a bridge between the eternal dunes of the Sahara and the baobabs of the Savannah. In the relentless sands of time, the land of Senegal has witnessed rise and fall of kingdoms, empires and colonies; during the 9th century the country was part of the kingdom of Tarcour, in the 13th century fell under the territories of the Empire of Ghana, and in the 15th century European colonial powers such as Portugal, Netherlands and Great Britain left the bloody fingerprints of the slave trade. Following 3 centuries of French rule, the country gained its long yearned-for independence in 1960. Birth place of the notable poet and statesman Leopold Sedar Sengor, today Senegal may be named as one of the most politically stable countries on the continent.
Bountiful rivers and tidal marshes blossom on the dark brown earth like the tender threads of lace. Flamingos, pelicans and tortoises call themselves the proud ancient rulers of untamed nature spots.
A caleidoscope of colorful French-style houses with blooming verandas slumber sweetly at the midday lullaby of a bright sun, nestled amongst lively markets and buzzing streets that wake up at night, dancing with abandon at the velvet tunes of Havana jazz.
Welcoming, sizzling and hospitable, Senegal is a crossroads of ethnicities such as the tribes of the Wolof, the Pular, the Serer and the Mandinga, whose traditions weave together like golden threads the precious cultural diversity of the country. Whether they walk the dust-swept streets of the 12-million-capital Dakar or the hushed paths of poor villages nestled under timeless baobab trees-women are goddesses in this land. Their feet glide gently but firmly on the red soil, enveloped by the bells of tinkering bracelets and rainbow-tinted dresses.
The people and their story
In the 17th and 18th century on the island of Gore and in the old colonial capital city of St, Louis, emerged a Franco-African creole culture. The so called metisse community was extremely successful in commerce and thrived under the guidance of exceptional women-entrepreneurs called signoras by the Portuguese. They played a significant role in the economic, social, cultural and political life, creating a distinguished urban culture of elegance and exquisite entertainment. The city of St. Louis is a UNESCO heritage site and carries gracefully the fragrant colonial spirit of cities like Havana and New Orleans. When the rains stop and the dry season glides in on the wings of the Harmattan wind, the streets wake up cheerfully under the sensuous rhythm of jazz, made popular here by American soldiers after World War II.
Not far from Dakkar is the Island of Gore’- a small, hushed place with no more than 1,200 inhabitants, with countless baobab trees and not a single car.
Click on the picture above for a gallery of Images of life on Gorée Island.
It is an island of memories, woven in a veil of suffering, tears and great loss. This was one of the most important port in the Trans-Atlantic slave tarde. More than 10 million people were chased, kidnapped and tortured to be thrown in a hostile, unforgiving world of no return. Thanks to the labor of these millions of African souls, the New World built its political, economic and social realities. Taking away the fittest, most capable individuals and the upset of the demographic balance are the main reasons for Africa’s slow progress on the road to development. Visited by people like Pope John Paul II , Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela. It is said that during his visit here, Nelson Mandela found a quiet spot somewhere down in the cellars and spent a few contemplative hours in silence there, bowing to all the sorrow that permeated the walls around him. Today the Island of Gore’ stands as a symbol of human exploitation and a refuge for reconciliation.
Festive aromas of the market
Under the scorching afternoon sun in Dakkar, an army of painted boats called pirogi, color the shores and the tinkling buzz of many voices wakes up the drowsy weather. This is Soumbédioune market where tireless fishermen unload and sell their day’s catch on the shore itself.
Fishing is one of the main vocations here, Senegal being one of the largest fish exporters in the world. Warm tropical waters and the proximity to Mauritius attract countless, glittering schools of fish. Streets here reign as fruit markets, souvenier markets and all the erst that can be sold by the mighty street vendor. Senegal is a color-splashed, boisterous, aromatic fest, nestled under the silence sprinkled by the ageless baobab trees. You let yourself be carried away in the muslin embrace of a lullaby, rustling the branches above your head. You can hear in it the pulse of a dark, warm land and feel the beat of Africa in the mist of lost villages.
Songs and fairy tales
Senegal is well known in Africa for the bountiful richness of its music legacy. Very popular here is Mbalax music tradition, derived from the beat of the sonorous African drums of the Serer tribes. A tradition that the world came to know thanks to the songs of performer Youssou N’Dour. The Sabar drums and the Tama instrument are also extremely popular and their beats soak the air during traditional celebrations and weddings.
Senegal is also known for its well-preserved tradition of storytelling; a traditions that springs from ancient West African roots and carries along the breath of times past. The storytellers are called Griots, and blessed are they for they have kept West African history alive for thousands of years through the magical power of words and music. This sacred tradition is handed down generation to generation, wrapped in a quilt of hopes of remembrance and requires years of service with the honored masters of the words.
Text by Lina Petkova