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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Water and Culture: Senegal

Water in Africa

Africa, Senegal


by Rebecca and Jay Wozny, Saare Oumar, Senegal

Superstitions about water abound. For example, if there is a problem with a well, the villagers say that there is a genie in the well. And, if there's a genie in the well, no one will use it—even if it's full of clean water.

A ceremony that involves water is tea-making. It is a daily event and an important aspect of Senegalese culture As a group sit in the shade of a tree and talk, one person pours tea from cup to cup, making foam. The entire process can take up to three hours. This tea-making ceremony gives Senegalese time to relax and enjoy one another's company.

Occasionally, people fall into a well. Although adults or bigger children may survive with a few scratches or a nose full of water, small children usually drown. Again, this is attributed to a genie.

by Catherine Guillard, Samba Diarry, Senegal

Tea-making is an important part of Senegalese culture. This ceremony is performed whenever people have time to sit and socialize. It consists of three rounds of tea served in a tiny glass. The first round is very strong and has a lot of sugar, the second one is less strong with more sugar (sometimes flavored with mint), and the last round is the weakest and sweetest. The actual tea-making process is done by one person (man or woman) and takes up to two hours. Each person has his or her own style of tea-making. Some make it strong, some make it sweet; others flavor the tea with mint or other herbs. And everyone adds a personal touch—usually, an extravagant flourish as they pour the hot liquid back and forth between glasses to make a frothy foam. Although the tea is tasty and people enjoy drinking it, the purpose of tea-making is to sit, chat, relax, and just be with people. When I tell my friends here that there isn't any Senegalese-style tea in the States—let alone the time to make it the way it is made in Senegal—they are amazed and say that they are sorry for us. They couldn't imagine a place where people are forced to live without Senegalese-style tea!

by Enid Abrahami, Missirah Tabadian, Senegal

I celebrated my 30th birthday in the small village of Missirah Tabadian. I'll never forget it! Weeks were spent in preparation—shopping, cleaning, cooking, planning. Finally the day arrived. I woke up at 7 a.m. to the steady rhythms of women pounding grain for the day's festivities. Already at this early hour my compound was filled with women from neighboring villages who had come to clean, chop, stir, pound, and cook.

I had invited an exquisite drumming band from a village 20 km away to play. This was to be the highlight of the entire party, since their music was not only mesmerizing, but the drummers supposedly spewed fire from their mouths. We awaited their arrival at 4 p.m. with great excitement. But 4 p.m. came and went. Then 5 p.m., 6 p.m... . It became increasingly clear that the "Jimbe" drumming band was not going to show. My heart sank. Where will we find music now? At this hour? With such short notice? And how will we dance? And sing? And celebrate? At the moment when I believed all hope was lost, my host mom walked to the middle of the compound carrying a large bucket of water on her head and holding an enormous calabash (a bowl made from a hollowed out gourd) in her hand. The women immediately gathered and began clapping their hands. The bucket of water was set on the ground, with the upside-down calabash placed on top. My mom's hands began to move with a life of their own. Within seconds, the most magnificent of sounds echoed from this homemade contraption—a traditional musical instrument, as I later found out, called djidundun (water drum). And to my astonishment and joy, the women played such incredible tones and rhythms that everyone there began to dance and sing until the next morning.

Without a doubt, it was a memorable 30th birthday.

by Kathleen Rucker, Louga, Senegal

Each morning, after returning from the mosque, my host father sprinkles water across the sandy entrance of our family compound and says a prayer. I have also seen shop owners in town sprinkle water across the entrance of their shops. This is a way of keeping away the bad spirits and protecting the people inside.

by Jamie Schehl, Sokone, Senegal

It is the custom here that, as soon as you roll out of bed, you must wash your hands and face, and rinse out your mouth. Once I made the mistake of greeting my host grandfather as he emerged from his sleeping hut with a cup of water in hand. He refused my outstretched hand and ignored my words. The rest of the family members giggled at my faux pas.

There are also many superstitions concerning the water in wells. For instance, at sunrise and sunset, no one goes to the well. The villagers believe that spirits inhabit the wells during the hazy time between light and dark. Another example: If you help a pregnant woman lift a bucket of well water onto her head, you too will become pregnant.

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