Friday, April 02, 2010

Happy 50th, Senegal

This weekend, I will be joining the local Senegalese community, here in Portland, to celebrate its 50 year anniversary as a republic.  As I have mentioned many times on this blog, my wife, Maty, is Senegalese (even though she was born in and lived most of her life in nearby Burkina Faso).  More specifically, Maty is Wolof, which is one of Senegal's many ethnicities. April 4 marks 50 years since the day on which France signed the independence and transfer of power agreement that brought today's republic into being.  So, Senegal and I are roughly the same age.

The land lies to the south of the Senegal River, which is one of the larger rivers of west Africa.  The country has a population of between 12 and 14 million people.  Islam is the dominant faith, having been introduced to the region in the 10th century.

Here in Portland, there will be a big party with lots of food, music, and dancing.  In preparation for the party the women of the local Senegalese community have divided the cooking between themselves and are even this very minute cooking a multitude of Senegalese dishes in their various kitchens.

Maty plays her kitchen like a finely-tuned piano
As I write this, Maty is downstairs dicing beef for the shish kebobs.  The smells are tantalizing, but I'm patient.  Tomorrow will be quite a feast.

In the time since Maty and I "tied the knot" I've come to learn a lot about Senegal and its people.  I know about their love for lively happy music, especially when performed by superstar musician Youssou N'Dour.  I know about their piety and the reverence they have for the institution of family.  I know about their deep sense of duty toward parents and elder relatives.  Senegalese children nearly without exception are well-behaved and very respectful toward their elders.

Kebobs ready for the grill
Senegalese people have a highly refined sense of hospitality.  In the Wolof language, there is a word "terranga" which expresses the responsibility Senegalese feel toward guests.  Senegalese culture, in keeping with Muslim tradition, dictates that Senegalese people strive to make guests feel comfortable and happy in their homes.  It is unheard of to imagine that a guest is not offered food and drink.

Senegalese people love to dance.  One of their many dances, the one that Maty knows, is called mbalax (mm-BALL-ah).  It's a highly energetic dance, with flailing arms and legs, lots of booty shaking, and big smiles.  It's a lot of fun to watch.  The music is very fast, very percussive.  Lots of drums.

One aspect of Senegalese parties that is vastly different from American parties is that there will be little if any alcohol.  Most Senegalese are Muslim, and Muslims are prohibited by their faith from drinking (although I know one or two Muslims that will occasionally drink wine). 

Tearin' up the dance floor at Maty's 30th birthday party
Anyway, that's how I'll be spending my Saturday evening, partying with the Senegalese. I sure am lucky to have come to know this culture and these great people.

1 comment:

Eugene said...

Happy independence day Senagal!