Located in West Africa, Senegal is a cultural hub for the continent of Africa. Senegal is a mecca with robust arts, rich traditions, historic landmarks, and remarkable natural landscapes. Home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and six national parks, Senegal is a country full of one-of-a-kind experiences. The beautiful and rich Senegal culture may feel much different from Western society, so it’s important to consider the roots and traditions of the country before visiting.
Elements of Senegal Culture
While Senegal has some colonial influences, much of the country still embraces indigenous traditions and practices of the land. The official language is French although the native languages of Wolof, Pullar, Diola, and Mandigo are spoken as well. Senegalese people are most commonly Muslim, although roughly 6 percent of the population practices indigenous religions as well. The country boasts many ethnic groups with the Wolof, Fula, and Serer being the most predominant.
The Senegalese people wear vibrantly colored clothing, and fashion is considered an important component of an individual’s identity. Dressing up for the day is the norm, so it’s common for locals to wear their creativity. Senegal is also home to a robust artistic community famous for jewelry made of gold, silver, and bronze.
Food, like many cultures, plays an important role in the lives of Senegalese people. Culinary inspiration comes from French and North African cuisines as well as local indigenous traditions.
Popular dishes include Thieboudienne, Chicken Yassa, Caldou, Bassi Salte, and Mafe. Common foods used include chicken, lamb, beef, couscous, lentils, white rice, sweet potatoes, and a variety of vegetables. Traditionally, pork is not eaten in Senegal due to the large population of Muslims. While there is no legal drinking age, drinking is not a large part of the culture here. It’s considered offensive to be publicly intoxicated in Senegal.
Religion is important to Senegalese people, and it’s common for people to be suspicious of those who do not practice religion at all. At the same time, many people in Senegal believe in spiritual guides, herbalists, and diviners, and the power of these supernatural forces.
Senegal boasts six national parks with a diverse environment ranging from the savannah to mangrove ecosystems. Due to the vast array of landscapes, there are abundant species of flora and fauna. The country is home to more than 600 birds as well as the African bush elephant, panthers, cheetahs, lips, hyenas, leopards, and many species of monkeys. You may also see aquatic creatures like manatees, whales, and dolphins along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, rivers, and lagoons.
Greetings are crucial in Senegal each time you meet someone and are believed to be an integral component of a good relationship. Senegalese people prioritize asking about the health and wellbeing of a person and their family and may consider an individual to be rude if they don’t follow that practice. Meeting etiquette will vary based on the relationship, but formal introductions are considered to be customary no matter the closeness.
When dining, Senegalese table manners tend to be formal. Individuals are shown to their seats and the arrangement is typically based on hierarchy. Food is often served communally. You are to only eat with your right hand and refrain from reaching across a bowl for something. It’s customary to sample and take seconds of a dish. Once the meal is complete, Senegalese people will typically continue conversion at the table.