Civilisation Sénégalaise


Abstract: The republic of Senegal demonstrates that many of the conventional wisdoms are as wrong as wrong can be. Sénégal is a country with a very old civilization, even its own secular civilization (some of it disguised as the local Sufi Islam).  

That Senegalese civilization,  is more advanced, on many important markers, than the Euro-American block. So say Senegalese philosophers, including yours not so humble servant (now flaunting his African hat).

The West ought to support and defend Sénégal, because it’s about supporting and defending the essence of the West’s civilization. Much can be done, at little cost, while bringing enormous gain. The first of which being to gain great African wisdom.

Oh, and did I mention my dad led the team which found lots of very thick oil off Casamance? It was too expensive to extract at the time, but will be profitable some day. That ought to interest the West’s plutocrats.

Last, but not least. Readers may think I am “Islamophobic”, but, besides being afraid of nought, what I truly despise is the myth of Abraham: tying up a child, telling him one will cut his throat, just to please the “jealous” boSS, who glorifies in his “jealousy” (see the Second Commandment in the Bible).

As it turns out, not only I do not have a problem with Islam, Senegalese style, but I even approve of it, as it has great social virtues. (I also fear that Saudi Wahhabism, propelled by oil money, and the feudal conspiracy born out of world plutocracy will succeed to kill Senegalese Islam, which has been gaining adepts throughout the world.)

African philosophy has two main advantages:

1) It is closer to the original main philosophical operating system Homo Sapiens operated by, and evolved under. In full. It has not be led astray, constrained, mutilated, put into a box.

2) People raised in Africa have, close at hand, a cultural jump that spanned 3,000 years of history. So they can not just compare diverse cultures, but diverse places in history.


Sénégal is bounded on the north and east by the river with that name. To the west lays the Atlantic ocean. Three quarters of the country is in the Sahel zone, which has been heating up, and drying. The country had only one significant resource: fishing. However international trawler fleets have been devastating the ocean, ruining the diet of the Senegalese.

A country such as France would send gun boats (as she did against foreign fishers in the last ten years). But now Sénégal is independent… Of France.

Sénégal did not ask for independence from France, France just wanted to make economies, as one of the ministers involved admitted… 40 years later: it was too expensive to maintain a full hospital every 100 kilometers, so France threw independence at much of black Africa, to get rid of it ASAP (and open Africa to plutocrats).

Some have said it’s better to die standing up, rather than to live on one’s knees. But, if Sénégal runs completely out of fish, Senegalese will not been able to do either, as they will lay in the dirt, dying of hunger, or, at least lack of proteins.

Reading this, armies of vegetarians will utter that one can survive with plants alone. It is true that West Africa has its own rice, evolved there, and it is grown in southern Sénégal. However neither beans, nor potatoes can be grown in lowland equatorial Africa (too warm). And milk is not a possibility either: local cattle gives meat, not milk (nor has cattle a realistic future as the country is strangled by a slow and steady, terminal drought).   

Sénégal is the most democratic country in Africa: not only the country has been independent for longer than Kenya or Tanzania, but it has been continually ruled by universal suffrage. (By contrast, most other African countries were not only dictatorships, but nationalistic to the point of racism, racist (South Africa, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe) or theocratic (Egypt), monarchies, etc. )

So Sénégal is a democracy, in spite of being one the poorest countries. This shows that democracy and wealth are independent notions. One does not need to be well off to have the People in power. Democracy is not a luxury.

Sénégal is very poor, but also very smart in its own special ways. Some of these ways are on the forward edge of global civilization. For example Sénégal is less sexist in some ways than its ex-administrator, France. This shows that anti-sexism is not exclusive to Western civilization. This also shows that not having sexism is not a luxury.

Democracy and having no sexism are no luxury, because they are natural states of Homo Sapiens.  

Anti-sexism in the West originated from the Etruscans and the Germans. The Greeks and Romans, let alone the Jews (who originated the Abrahamist disease), were awful sexists.

France, a merger between Gaul, Rome and Germania (“Inferior“) pretty much invented a lot of anti-sexism: Merovingian queens could reign, and at least seven did as much as any king did (one of them outlawed slavery for the Franks, and everybody had been a Frank for a century). The Salic law allowed girls to inherit fully, just as a man, including the throne, as long as no brother was left (hey, Salic law was written 17 centuries ago).

By contrast in England, for another millennium, husbands appeared in court in the stead of their wives (however they were not roasted in their place).

While in France noble women studied more refined ways of handling inter-gender relationships in the “Courts d’ Amour” (that gave birth to “common courtesy”, as we know it), much of French culture, as the rawness of the Franks got diluted, returned to the old demons of Roman sexism (for five centuries from about 1320 CE to Napoleon’s infantile sexism, and grotesquely misogynistic  legislation).

Thus one sees that sexism has a long and complicated history in the West. In non sexist Crete, girls with very little clothing fought bulls, for a profession, but thirty centuries later, Jeanne d’Arc was condemned to burn alive, for having worn pants in jail (to avoid rape, she said). This shows that erroneous mental systems have huge inertia.

This also shows one of the interests of Black Africa. Differently from North Africa (which is fundamentally Western Eurasia, culturally and genetically), Black Africa is philosophically independent. Black Africa, by staying out of the convoluted history of the Middle Earth, was able to stick to a more fundamental philosophy, which, per its fundamental nature, is often more correct.

Sexism in the Middle Earth is very complex. But complexity is not veracity.

Until very recent times, not only Senegalese women did not cover their face, but, whenever working, or exercising, not much of their body either. Why? Well, why not? Ah, and a little detail: temperatures can reach 50 Celsius, 120 F in the interior.  

One can compare the Senegalese tradition of women dressed like the Olympic athletes of old, with that of the Middle East. There, traditionally, women have been turned into tents. Thus they are unable to go outside much, or to do any significant work there. Thus they stay inside, turning stupid… And not turning the children they bring up inside into the brightest bulbs, either. 

Sénégal has its own version of Islam. Something crucial about Senegalese Islam is that it is non sexist. In some ways, it was significantly less sexist than anything found in Europe or America (for example, women did not have to be more covered with more clothes than men).

Overall, Senegalese society is less sexist, because it worships less at the foot of the difference between genders. Or let me rephrase that; coming out of Sénégal, and watching the Euro-American circus of civilization pretense, I was struck by how much was contrived to increase differences. For example Western men are enticed, and train themselves, to avoid high pitch sounds. It’s something that is pretty obvious when one lives in West Africa.

Why that fear of having European men pass for women?  Is it because European men are supposed to be terrifying, and terrifyingly serious all the time? Is it because the roar of a low growl fills the inferior ones with dread? Thus, is the lack of high pitch related to empire?

Were African-American  musicians subversively undermining the Western empire by going high pitch occasionally? If Obama had exhibited early on his high pitch capability (which he discreetly showed to Mick Jagger recently), he would never have been elected president.

Indeed a few pop stars, since the 1960s, have neglected the interdiction against high pitch squeaking, and feminine voices. But certainly, many were not completely mesmerized by empire (and thus some were decorated by the empire to cover-up that fact).

In Sénégal, men have kept fuller voices, and are less afraid to pass for women (probably because, well, it’s hard to confuse a big strong Senegalese with a woman…). In Sénégal, the gender gap is viewed, in some important ways, as less important to society than in it is in Euro-America, and it is also viewed as something impoverishing society, because it puts both men and women, each, into their little box (and then Euro-Americans have all these rather comical gender identification problems).

A lot of contemporary music originated in West Africa, where the main instruments are obvious direct ancestors of those of jazz and rock.

Another important activity of Senegalese society is talking and debating. OK, at about 12 degrees of latitude, the most productive thing to do, mid-day, is to rest in the shade and talk. But talking is viewed as so important in West Africa that an entire caste specialized in it exists, the griots. Griots are in charge of talking, storytelling chanting, and no doubt incarnate the origin of what came to be known as rap.

Debating and talking was viewed as essential in a lot of European civilization at its most famous. This is another case of convergence between Sénégal and the best Europe ever offered.

So what is it about Senegalese Islam? Well one can put it in a rather striking way: Senegalese Islam is secular (!).

After hysterical laughter from those who do not know the meaning of some words die down, I will explain what secular means. “Secular” means living in one’s age. One can be to some extent superstitious, and secular, at the same time. Indeed, everybody is a bit of both. Even the most fanatical of fanatics has to live, to some extent, in his own time, be it only to be effective in his nastiness.

Thus Osama bin Laden studied civil engineering. (So one can see bin Laden was completely steeped in the world he had when he was three year: he believed thoroughly the superstition of his ancestors, he studied the knowledge of his father, an engineer, founder of the Binladen group.)

Senegalese Islam is viewed as “Sufi“. That means that Senegalese Islam has an important, even domineering, philosophical component.

The Wikipedia article on Sufism I linked to emphasizes the mystical character of some types of Sufism… as if Sunni Islam were not mystical; it is true that some forms of Sufism are very mystical… But it’s just the opposite in Sénégal. Senegalese Islam is a philosophical machine.

So what is the metaprinciple of Senegalese Islam?

One can put it this way: to inject into secularism the spirit that habitated Muhammad. So it’s not just about the Qur’an (which was written long after Muhammad’s death), nor is it about all what Muhammad was supposedly heard saying (Hadith), or supposedly seen doing (Suna). It’s about being inhabitated with the same spirit Muhammad had.

And what do we see in the spirit that habitated Muhammad? A strong will to change secularism by improving civilization along the lines of science and new possibilities. Thus in Senegalese Islam, wise religious figures can rise as high, or even higher than Muhammad himself… thanks to more knowledge and more possibilities.

That was the case of Amadou Bamba. After opposing (pacifically) a rather obtuse French administration (which deported him far away), this Senegalese holy man came to terms with it. Amadou Bamba understood that it was important to help France defeat racist Germanoid fascism. So him, a pacifist, help send an enormous number of  Tirailleurs Sénégalais. 200,000 saw combat in World War One, and 30,000 died, thanks in part to Amadou Bamba.

A few years ago, the Constitution of Senegal was changed to limit presidential mandates to two terms (as in France, itself following the lead, for once, of the USA). President Wade chose to interpret this as meaning that he could do a third term, as the change happened during his second term. The Senegalese were not amused, and demonstrated massively. Wade impressed on the Constitutional Court that his point of view was right. However, he was defeated by one of his own past Prime Ministers (initially an agronomic engineer), now president Macky Sall. One can compare with Russia, where Putin just said he envisioned to be president until 2024!

By American standards, massive demonstrations against the guys in power is too awful to contemplate, it’s not part of democracy as United States citizens are supposed to understand it. However, the Senegalese, just like the French, and, increasingly, other Europeans, view civil disobedience as a form of free speech. Yet, the Senegalese although friendly to great verbal energy, and even confrontation, are overall extremely pacific.

In general, there seems to be a complementary relationship between verbal violence, and real violence. And it’s understandable: verbal violence can address problems that, if left untouched, only physical violence can otherwise fix.

I was raised in Sénégal. Once after more than a decade, a taxi cab driver was assassinated. Something never heard before. It turned out that the assassins were two white French tourists!

There has been a secession war of sort in Casamance, in the equatorial south, separated from the rest of the country by (the English speaking country of) Gambia, religion, way of life (villages are full of black pigs). But the situation there is easily explained by the unfolding anthropogenic ecological disaster, some of which just arose from making roads through the giant mangrove forests, destroying them, with the teeming life they brought.  

Basically the problem with Casamance, or, in general, with the catastrophic turn of Senegalese ecology is too big for Senegal to solve alone. I was aghast when I saw recent photographs of entire regions that went from lush with towering trees, to moon like dried mud, from horizon to horizon.

In any case, let’s revert to the positive. How come is the  civilisation Sénégalaise so advanced? How does that fit with my Middle Earth centric view of the world? The Middle Earth is composed of the Indo-European ensemble plus North Africa and Arabia.

The Middle Earth centric view claims that the Middle Earth (in the middle of which is the Middle East) that most human inventions arose there, because the Middle Earth was the forum of the world. It is bordered to the west and north by the ocean, and to the east by the nearly completely impassable giant mountains of the Himalayas, Karakorum, Tien Shan, and their associated deserts.

Right now Black Africa is separated from the Middle Earth by the Sahara desert. But it was not always so. The Sahara was wonderfully wet at the very birth of Egyptian civilization. The Egyptians had to take refuge along the Nile and associated lakes, as the Sahara finally desiccated. That was about 7,000 years ago. But trade routes remained.

In the last 3,000 years, Carthage re-established the relationship between Middle Earth and Black Africa (so did Morocco later).

How come Europeans could not repeat in Africa what they did in the Americas? Steel. Africans had steel. Steel arrowheads would have been enough to stop Europeans. As a child, I saw some native hunters train with bow and arrow, and I was impressed. The penetration of arrows deep in solid tree trunks was astounding.

Africans had, have, developped their own steel technology. So who invented steel? It’s not clear. The Dorians showed up with it, and conquered Greece, thanks to it (killing all the men, causing a Dark Age). The Dorians came from the north, but I believe possible that steel technology actually arose in Black Africa first, and came to Greece in a circuituous route.

So was Sénégal part of the Middle Earth, in some ways? Of course.  First Senegalese, those the French were in contact with, had French citizenship, already in the seventeenth century (curiously, under the sectarian fanatic Louis XIV, probably desirous to make us believe he was not how he truly was). In the Nineteenth century, the French conquered all of Sénégal.

That meant that 5,000 Tirailleurs Sénégalais, armed with guns, led by ten French officers, yes, only ten, conquered all of Senegal, and beyond.

Senegal was thus created as a country. Senegal did not exist before that because it was actually made, at the time, of at least six different nations, each with its own language. These six “regional” languages are recognized officially: Wolof, Soninke, Serer, Fula, Maninka, Diola. (In a similar fashion, before Caear invaded gaul, three main languages were talked there… Latin became the new lingua franca, would I say, trying to be funy…).

The national language of Sénégal, of course, is French. One should not forget that France and Sénégal were long united. There were French Members of Parliament, or Senators, Senegalese born. Leopold Sedar Senghor,  Sénégal’s first president, was a prominent member of the French constituent assembly after World War Two. 

Senghor was a major French poet and philosopher. With other prominent French thinkers of non white skin, he thought one had to be proud of the word “niger” (the Latin for black). The fact that Americans think that “niger”, mispelled, is an insult means that the USA has not yet graduated out of racism 101. Senegalese make a lot of paintings where black dominates, it is unique, and extremely beautiful.

One can go back much earlier than the European period. Before the Europeans showed up on one ridiculously tiny volcanic island off the Senegal to trade slaves (and where I nearly got killed in an accident), Sénégal had, twenty century earlier, been in contact and trade with Carthage. Carthage, as a Phoenician colony, was fully a Euro-Mediterranean power. Although Rome hated and annihilated Carthage, Rome absorbed many of the Punic colony’s ways, from naval and agricultural engineering to other, more subtle moods.

Carthage got destroyed by Roman plutocrats, because they had come to fear its democracy. But the democratic ideal of that giant city survived (although those it inspired in Rome itself were destroyed in the next few generations, well, here we are, confronting the bankers and their ilk).

Civilization is not just about books, or even oral knowledge. It is also about moods. Long ago, may be as they traded with Carthage, and allowed Carthagenese to install a settlement, the Senegalese learned to be more open minded, and laugh about it. The West, and especially France, can do better than mildly forget about Sénégal, which incarnates so many of the good ways of the West, and sometimes does it better than the West can yet understand.


Patrice Ayme

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9 Responses to “Civilisation Sénégalaise”

  1. Dominique Deux Says:

    Extremely interesting and rich as usual. African wisdom very often can be traced back to Senegal.

    Senegal’s fishing resources were in fact shared with Mauritania’s and plundered along with Mauritania’s, as Mauritania was only too happy to sell fishing rights and splurge on the meager proceeds, It did not even have the common sense to invest in speedboats and enforce the law among pirate fleets, making a healthy prize profit in the process. Too late now, the stocks are down for decades.

    Re sexism: women in Mauritania are fattened with sweets and swathed in miles of gauze, waddling around like giant jellyfish. In contrast Senegalese fishmongers on Nouakchott’s beach are equally stocky, but muscular and lively, and they have a way of always having a shoulder bare, but sending the shoulder strap from one side to the other with a powerful shrug, which literally turns Mauritanian males into local versions of Tex Avery’s drooling wolf. My kids loved the sight, the men’s eyeballs following the show like a tennis ball going to and fro…

    Senegal is very proud of having sent the very first full-fledged African Parliament members to Europe. Blaise Diagne must ring a bell with you.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Dominique: thanks for the compliments. I could have have put much more details in, but those will come in the future. Senegal has a very interesting social organization, religious supported, providing with a very peaceful society. Deep down. I always felt safe in Senegal, whereas in the USA, it’s more of a life of terror (I already faced a gun once, long ago, from a vigil, in a parking lot, for no good reason whatsover; the guy just showed up, gun out, so I was not surprised it took 6 weeks to indict the self declared “watch captain” murderer in Florida who killed that kid; apparently only 38% of whites think it was unjustified, as the victim was brown…)

      Whether I like it or not (I love it), I think (partly) as an African, always. Or, rather, mostly as a Senegalese:I have kept some of the (gentle) provocation you evoke about me. As a child in Africa, visiting Europe occasionally, and then the USA, it always seemed to me that the Euro-American block missed a lot of the human experience, especially on how lucky they had been with the interaction between the interaction between ecology (what wonders forests and water are!) and technology (which makes us into gods).

      An important consequence of an African perspective, as I said, is to realize the relativity of systems of value. Mauritania, by the way, is very different from Senegal. First most of the country is (fabulous) desert. The Adrar, a range inside, above the city of Atar, is stupendous. Also Mauritania is an Islamist republic, complete with racism, slavery and child genital mutilations. This being said, I like the place. Simply the West should have as main political goal to de-Islamize the constitutions of such places.


  2. Dominique Deux Says:

    And about open-mindedness. The developed world is used to seeing young African men on street markets, hawking leather goods of dubious origin or authorship. Those bothering to actually speak with them rather than open fire will learn that, quite often, they are Mouride students on a world tour, sent off by the confrerie, not seeking to enlist followers like your run of the mill Mormon or Jehovite, but to simply see and understand the world.


  3. Dominique Deux Says:

    and a last one not to seem too rosy-eyed: as much as I like Hamadou Hampate Ba, I must say I find his views on African Pharaohs and African pre-Colombian travel rather wild.


  4. pendantry Says:

    Reading this makes me despair that it will ever be possible for humanity to move rationally into the future. There’s so much (too much!) about the world that most people simply don’t (can’t) know.


    • Jens Says:

      Dear pedantry, I often get the same feeling. The best cure for that feeling that I have found yet, is Couchsurfing. I have often experienced that it brings out the best in people when they meet and share fundamentals like experiences, opinion, food and sleeping space. The generosity I have experienced only spurs me to try and give more back and then I get the feeling that there are people in the world who don’t let silly social conventions get in the way of making the world a kinder and more open-minded place.



    • Jens Says:

      And Patrice, I’m looking forward to hearing more about Senegal to help combat my vast ignorance. Great stuff!


      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        Dear Jens: Very glad you liked it. It helps me rejuvenating the roots of my knowledge… and childhood. Now that I crossed the Rubicon with Senegal, daring to reveal my connection with more gusto, I hope not to stop there. However I will be travelling a lot in the next month. Family reasons, but Rome to shake me out of my complacency on the way.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Pedantry: Despair was not the emotion I wanted to convey! If anything Senegalese civilization is a wondrous thing. Not only something to admire and want to know, but also an obvious weapon, and rich trove, for progressing civilization to use against rabid Muslim fundamentalists, a la Saudi exploitative feudal sauce.

      The world may be finite (as I have argued before). However, for us humans, it is, de facto, infinite. It can only be so.
      Not being able to know everything is the first wonder there is. Embracing it, is the first wisdom

      Let’s not be afraid, let’s embrace that infinite universe, as we look up to the Milky Way above, shining with thousands of worlds. Let’s just marvel, and welcome the incomprehensible infinity. Then we can do the same with other people and cultures too.


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