Posted by: The Glove | February 16, 2012

What Would You Like to Know About Senegal? (Part 2)

Following up on the post from earlier today, here’s the second part of my responses as part of the World Wide Schools program:

What are some of their holidays/traditions/ideals?

This is a broad question so I’ll answer it in parts. Holidays are typically based off of the Islamic calendar, as over 90% of the population is Muslim. In some areas, Christian holidays are celebrated, but that is unusual. The two largest holidays are Korite (known in the rest of the world as Eid al-Fitr), and Tabaski (Eid al-Adha). Korite celebrates the end of the month of Ramadan, when you can end your daily fasting (from sunup to sundown). People have big parties and get dressed up, spending a substantial portion of their annual income on the festivities. Tabaski celebrates when, in the Islamic tradition, Abraham was to sacrifice his son Ishmael, only to be stopped by God at the last minute. In honor of the ram sacrificed in Ishmael’s place, families will kill and eat an entire sheep (over the course of a few days) if they can afford it. If not, they will kill and eat a goat instead. One of the minor holidays is Tamxarit (pronounced Tam-harit), the Islamic New Year, where kids celebrate by dressing up as the opposite sex and going door-to-door (like Halloween).

For ideals, Senegal is a very different country than America. While Americans value individuality, Senegal is a communal country. Money is shared within families, even when people are living abroad or on the other side of the country. Homes can contain over 100 family members, and meals are always eaten together. The idea of eating out at restaurants is abnormal unless you’re traveling. Moreover, there is a broader sense of community and togetherness as well. Oftentimes when I’m biking around, people I’ve never met will invite me into their homes for lunch or tea, and try to convince me to spend the night to rest. These are people I had never seen before and would never see again, but it’s important for them to welcome me into their home. It is also a polygamist society (among Muslims), and men are allowed to have up to four wives.

What is the percentage of people who speak the various languages in Senegal, and what are the languages spoken?  Is there a unifying language?  Can they understand each other?

It is impossible to know what percentage speak each language, since there is no record available. French is the only official language of Senegal, however, is limited to those who have attended school. While the number of French-speakers is growing, particularly in cities, in villages people lag behind.

The largest ethnic group in Senegal, Wolof, comprises about 43 percent of the population. As the largest group, Wolof is essentially the language of commerce. If you are of a minority group, you will likely use Wolof to communicate with people of other ethnicities. I speak a dialect of a language called Pulaar, an ethnic group that makes up 24 percent of Senegal’s population. In my region, Pulaar is the primary language, and the unifying language of the region. However, there are many other ethnic groups/languages in Senegal, including Jolas, Mandinkas, Soninkes, and many even smaller ethnicities. Some ethnic group will speak languages spoken by less than 5,000 people.

Schoolchildren will usually communicate in the dominant local language of their village/region, but are more likely to communicate in French as they get older. Professionals of different ethnicities will likely speak a mix of French and Wolof to each other.

What sports do they play in Senegal?

Contrary to popular belief, the most popular sport in Senegal is not soccer. Soccer is the runner-up to a local form of wrestling known as “cipporo.” Wrestlers are some of the most popular celebrities in the country, and big matches have months of hype leading up to them. I’ve been told that top wrestlers can make up to half a million dollars for a match.

Soccer is the second most important sport, and people with access to television often watch matches most days of the week from teams all over Europe and Senegal.

What type of government do they have?

Senegal is a republic, featuring a democratically elected President. The current President, Abdoulaye Wade, is the third President in Senegal’s 51 years of independence. He is currently running for a third term, with the election to be held at the end of this month. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off election for the top two candidates in March.

Is there a high crime rate?  Is the country safe?

As far as I know, the crime rate is fairly low in Senegal. I feel very safe here, although I try not to spend too much time out at night alone in big cities. In my village though, it is very safe. People have a lot of trust in each other, and for the most part, that trust is not violated.

What do people do for fun in their free time?

In their free time, people spend a lot of time sitting around with friends talking. They also listen to the radio, or if they have power, watch television. Young boys will spend much of their free time playing soccer.

What types of religion do they have?

The vast majority of people (roughly 94 percent) are Muslim, although there is a small Christian minority of roughly five percent. Most of the Christians are Roman Catholic.

How well educated are the people?  Is education trade-specific?

Education is very dependent on where you live. In cities, it is much easier to get through high school and on to university. At the village level, students have to start traveling to school from a young age, so whether they can continue their studies becomes a question of if their family can afford it, and if they travel to or live in another village to attend school. Primary education is more or less universal, although rates of secondary schooling vary. A 2002 estimate pegged literacy at 39.3 percent, although I imagine that number is much higher at the present time. There is some vocational education, but not a lot.

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