Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Celebrating Senegal's Independence Day

Jour d'indépendance du Sénégal!
As I have mentioned many times on this blog, my wife, Maty, is an immigrant from Burkina Faso, which is a former French colony in sub-Saharan Africa. Maty was born in Burkina's capital city, Ouagadougou, and much of her family lives there today.

However, if you were to ask her, Maty would tell you she is from Senegal. Her parents and her older siblings were all born in Senegal, and ethnically, they are Senegalese. Therefore, although Maty has only been to Senegal twice in her life, she refers to it as her home country.

(I find that Americans --and by that I mean Americans in the larger, New World sense --identify themselves as belonging to the country in which they were born. Most people in the Old World identify themselves by ethnicity.)

Anyway, April 4 marked the 49th anniversary of Senegal's independence from France. And last weekend I had the honor to attend a celebration to mark the occasion.

Maty is involved with a social group of Senegalese immigrants here in Portland who rented out a local public house (Costello's Travel Caffé) for the evening, there to eat copious amounts of traditional Senegalese food, listen to infectious Senegalese drumming, and watch hypnotic Senegalese dancing.

Besides the 50 or so Senegalese people in attendance, there were plenty of Americans who came to partake. For Maty and I, being a mixed-race couple, there is always an unspoken kinship with other interracial couples, and there were probably a dozen other such couples at the event. (Interestingly, we were the only couple in which the woman was Senegalese. All the other couples were Senegalese men with American wives.)

Senegalese noshes
Having been married to a Senegalese woman for over three years now, I've developed quite an appetite for Senegalese food, and there was plenty to be had at this event. Grilled lamb (dibi), peanut sauce, Yassa chicken, and other dishes which I cannot name were all served with couscous or rice. Lots of spicy food. (Before I met Maty, I was convinced that there was no food that was too piquant for my tastes. Maty disabused me of that notion very soon after we were married.)

The drumming was loud and joyous, and seemed to resonate with some inner vibe. Much like the drum tower at the Oregon Country Fair. I found it impossible to stand still while the various rhythms pounded.

I tried to shoot some video of the dancing, but the lighting was poor and none of it came out. Senegalese dance is fascinating to watch. It's frantic, almost spastic, with lots of flailing limbs, jumping, and hip gyrations. All performed with joyous smiles.

It was a great cultural experience, even though I was often left out of the conversations which were conducted in the primary Senegalese language of Wolof. Most Senegalese people also speak French, which is the country's administrative language.

I had a good time, of course. These past few years I have come to know a few of these Senegalese folks and they're a nice bunch. More formal in their interactions than most Americans; more aware of and respectful toward tradition. Generally, restrained in their behavior: not loud, and certainly not boorish. In a sense, they are very conservative.

Maty and friends in Senegalese garb
Coming to know them, as I continue to do, is a very rewarding experience. Next year, I plan to be at the 50th anniversary. That'll be one big party.

1 comment:

Shus li said...

Thanks for sharing this slice of delicious life, Dade!

I like how Maty says she's from Senegal and keeps the ways of her culture there. It is food for thought.