Traditions and customs of Senegal

What traditions and customs are there in Senegal?

From Africa, the customs and traditions of Senegal.


Food in daily life

The basic food is cooked rice with spicy sauce and vegetables. The national dish is chep-bu-jen, the Wolof word for rice with fish.

Cooked in tomato sauce with boiled fish and some vegetables (carrots, cabbage and green peppers), chep-bu-jen originates from the city of Saint-Louis. Yassa, a Casamance dish is chicken or fish marinated in lemon juice, pepper and onion and then baked. It is accompanied by natural white rice. Other sauces include mafé, domada, and soup kandja (which is made from okra with fish and palm oil).

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

On ceremonial occasions, festive meals are eaten that include grilled or roasted meat with beans or fried potatoes. Couscous (steamed millet) with vegetables, lamb and sauce is a ceremonial dish. At the end of each meal, a strong and sweet tea is drunk. Except in areas where it is prohibited, alcohol is available.


In rural areas, parents often arrange marriages for their children. A young man may want a young woman, but her father decides if she is suitable.

An intermediary is often appointed to investigate the woman’s family history. If the father considers the family satisfactory, he sends the intermediary to deliver kola nuts to the woman’s parents. The parents accept the cola nuts if they approve of the youngster.

In matrilineal ethnic groups such as the Wolof, the mother’s brother is sent on behalf of the groom to ask for the bride’s hand. Along with the kola nuts, he gives himself money.

Gifts such as a television, a sewing machine, jewelry, and fashionable clothes are required of the groom. In Muslim families, most marriages are performed in the mosque by the imam or religious leader. A civil marriage is then held at the town hall or family court.

The bride moves to the groom’s house with a grand ceremony involving family and friends. In rural areas, young women sing raunchy songs to provoke and entertain. Usually many days of festivities follow.


The day begins with greetings. Young men often shake hands, and young women bow and often go down slightly on one knee to greet their elders. Foul language is not tolerated in public, and people often resort to communication or “dialogue” to spread hostility and aggressiveness.

People employ Kal, an institutionalized joking relationship that allows individuals within extended families, caste groups, and ethnic groups to exchange direct comments when they meet, even if they don’t know each other.

Comments often focus on eating habits, cleanliness, and intelligence. A person’s social qualification is often linked to their respect for community values ​​such as Jom (dignity or self-esteem) and Ham-sa-bop (self-knowledge).


Religious beliefs

Ninety percent of people identify as Muslim and are affiliated with one of three main brotherhoods: the Mourides, the Tijaniyya, or the Qadiriyya.

Each brotherhood is distinguished by minor differences in rituals and codes of conduct. Every year, wealthy and middle class people make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Despite the small size of the Catholic community (approximately 5 percent of the population), Senegal has produced one of the few cardinals in black Africa.

Aspects of traditional religion merge with Islam or Christianity. Many urbanized people still regard their ancestors as important spiritual leaders in daily life, although Allah or God is formally worshipped.

Religious professionals

Many Senegalese believe that living beings and spirits can control supernatural forces, and malevolent men are often feared more deeply than evil spirits. The Wolof seek the help of a Jabaran-kat (“healer”), who asks them to sacrifice a chicken to ward off the evil powers of a domain (“witch”).

Death and the afterlife

Death is considered a path by which one joins one’s ancestors. When a person dies, a strong mourning resounds in the house of the bereaved. Others sing and dance to celebrate the dead person and send his spirit to heaven.

Ancestor worship is practiced among many of the ethnic groups. Among the rural Wolof, homemade water jars are rarely cleaned because an ancestor’s spirit might come to drink at that time and find no water.

Secular celebrations

The main holidays are New Years (January 1), Independence Day (April 4) and International Labor Day (May 1). During festivals, people cook ceremonial food and dress in bright traditional costumes.

Religious holidays include Christmas (December 25), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Eid-al-Fitr, Eid-al-Adha, Islamic New Year, and Muhammad’s birthday.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The artists are self-sufficient and are forced to look for markets outside the country.


There is a strong tradition of oral literature that reflects the country’s history, philosophy, morality, and culture. Since the 1930s, writers have produced novels, short stories, short stories, and essays that deal almost exclusively with African themes. The country has also produced successful filmmakers.

Graphic arts

Glass painting, a new popular art, depicts religious and historical scenes and personalities. Goldsmiths, weavers, and tailors produce jewelry, cars, and clothing.

Performing arts

Performance of traditional dances is a popular form of recreation, and children learn to dance at a very young age. Popular sports include soccer and a form of wrestling called Lamb (the Wolof word for “fight”).

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