What I learned in French Class: Part 2

The next class, I learned more about other religious practices, and how they affect daily life.

Animism in Senegalese Life

Animism, defined as “attribution of conscious life to objects in and phenomena of nature or to inanimate objects,” has deep roots in Senegal. It even plays a role in how Muslims practice their faith.

In the Thiédo faith, adherents don’t believe in God, but instead follow animist practices. One common custom is to sprinkle or pour water in on the front patio each morning, to protect against negative spirits. This isn’t limited to Thiédos. Odile, my host mom, (a Christian) does this each morning, and now I know why.

In the Ouakam and Yoff neighborhoods of Dakar, there live many Senegalese of Lébou heritage who also practice animism. Each family has their own spirits, and must protect them in a corner of their home. Every year, they host large communal ceremonies and celebrations, complete with animal sacrifices to the genie who protects Yoff.

These practices spill out into public life, too. During Navetanes (inter-neighborhood soccer matches that occur every August and September), teams would conduct mystic practices so that they’d win the match (click the link to see a video of people sprinkling rice(?) on the pitch before the match started). These practices are forbidden now, because they often ended in fights!

In a different sport – la lutte – these mystical practices can also be seen. Click here to watch a few minutes of what la lutte, a Senegalese original, looks like. The best way I can describe it is that it reminds me of free-for-all wrestling. If you look at the first few minutes of the video, you can see that the participants wear leather straps with small amulets attached. These are called gris-gris, and they give the wearer luck and protection. Often, Senegalese who believe in this will go to special community figures called marabouts who have the power to curse, bless, and generally have deep power within communities to affect change, even in politics.

In la lutte, the fighter who wins the most often becomes le roi de l’arène (The King of the Arena), and he gets paid huge amounts of money by those who wish to fight and challenge him (and, of course, those who want to watch). Successful fighters in Senegal are often quite wealthy, and will go abroad to train and return for a challenge.

Because these animist practices have become such an integral part of life and religion here in Senegal, some more traditional Muslims elsewhere in the world express disapproval of the adaptation of the faith. Not being a Muslim myself, I have no such reservations, and have simply enjoyed learning more about what makes many Senegalese tick!

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