Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Dakar, Senegal

Setting: Senegal is the westernmost country on the African continent, and is slightly smaller than the state of South Dakota. The finger-shaped country of Gambia is almost totally enclosed by Senegal with only a tiny bit of coastline on the Atlantic. The capital city of Dakar is located on Cape Verde, the westernmost point of Africa. Did I mention that it’s in the west?
Goree has become a popular tourist destination, particularly for people who want to remember and pay tribute to the horrors of the history of the slave trade.
The area is historically important because the island of Goree (Île de Gorée) was one of the most important slave-exporting posts in West Africa. With colorful pastel colonial homes, sandy beaches, and no asphalt or cars, Goree has become a popular tourist destination, particularly for people who want to remember and pay tribute to the horrors of the history of the slave trade.

Today the capital city of Dakar is among Africa's most dynamic cities, filled with prosperous businessmen and women. A mix of tradition and modernism, many people of the area can be seen wrapped in the traditional, brightly colorful Grand Boubou costume. This city has been described as “big, crowded, dirty, raw, chaotic, ambitious, in-your-face and utterly exciting.”

History: Senegal was part of the empire of Ghana as far back as the 8th century. As this empire waned, the Djolof kingdom arose and reached its height during the 13th and 14th centuries, in the area between Dakar and the Senegal River.

Europeans reached the region by the early 1500s, and the first contact was with Portuguese traders. They were displaced by the British, French, and Dutch, who struggled to gain control of the island of Goree, a strategic point where slaves were collected for shipment to the new world. By the 19th century, France controlled all of Senegal, and Dakar was built as the administrative center.

Senegal gained its independence from France in 1960, and times since then have been troubled with brief periods of violence, both with neighboring countries and from separatist rebels within the country in the Casamance region. A peaceful transition of government in 2000 brought hope of stability to the area, but progress has been slow.

Climate & Nature: Senegal is in the region of Africa known as the Sahel, which is a semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert. The region is tropical with high heat and humidity; the rainy season is May to November. During the dry season (December to April) the area is dominated by hot, dry, “harmattan” winds. The terrain of the country is generally low, rolling plains rising to foothills in southeast.
Senegal is rich in biodiversity, and has over 550 animal species.
Senegal is rich in biodiversity, and has over 550 animal species. It is an important location for migratory birds, particularly waterfowl, which migrate each winter from Europe, stopping at the Parc National aux Oiseaux du Djoudj, one of the world's major bird reserves.

The People: The status of the country is in flux at this point in time, and economic fluctuations have made the movement to modernism slow. The country has 10.8 million people, the majority of whom are Muslim (94%). Many people in the country are uneducated, with literacy rates at around 40%. Fishing and farming are the major ways of life, with production of peanuts, millet, corn, sorghum, rice, cotton, tomatoes, cattle, poultry, pigs, and fish. The country has a few industries: agricultural and fish processing, phosphate mining, fertilizer production, petroleum refining, and construction materials.

Interesting fact: Like many traditional African cultures, Senegal's main indigenous tribe (the Wolof) has a highly stratified society wherein status is determined by birth. Lowest in the social order are the Griots. However, they are highly respected, because they are charged with passing on the oral traditions and are generally the only ones who can recite a family or village history.

For further reading:
lonelyplanet.com
gouv.sn
Virtual Visit of Gorée Island