West Africa


The Tukulor of Senegal 

                       06 Dec 2007


PART 1: 

 Opening Scene: Boy driving large herd of cattle, desert landscape.

Opening Title: Fade in and out over opening scene:  Need some sounds of wind blowing.


    No one knows when the Tukulor first made prints in the sand in this hot and dusty land located on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.

 The sand quickly covers the prints of cattle … horses  … goats  …burros  … and people but the impressions of tradition, folk religion, and Islam have remained for centuries.

 The Tekrur Empire once dominated the area along the Senegal River.  During the tenth century, this powerful empire became the first to assimilate the Islamic faith. They used their power and influence to spread Islam to many other people in West Africa. 

 The Tukulor are Muslims at heart and Islam is the cultural value that permeates all things regarding the society.  The spiritual center for them is the city of Tivaouane (tee-voo-ahn) located about 70 miles northeast of Dakar. It is in Tivaouane that the Islamic Scholars, known as Marabouts, obtain much of their training. The Tukulor Marabouts are renowned throughout West Africa.  Using this prestige, they control much of the political, social, economic, and religious life of the people.

 During the turbulent colonial period, the French occupied this area but their influence has had little lasting effect other than decaying buildings and a limited use of the French language.  Few adult Tukulor speak French; in fact, they do not like the name “Tukulor” given them by the French, preferring instead to identify themselves as “Haalpulaaren” which means “speakers of Pulaar”.

The Tukulor migrated to the Senegal River basin to provide forage for their cattle.  Settling along the river, they also cultivated a variety of crops. … Today, there are about 1.5 million Tukulor people with nearly 700,000 living in the northern part of Senegal.

 Most income is obtained by selling produce and livestock in the markets.  Markets are well stocked with seasonal vegetables, small grains, fish, and live animals as well as freshly barbecued goat meat.  Manufactured and packaged goods are available in the larger markets and in some towns.

 This area is desolate now with only thorn bushes remaining as forage for the livestock.  By the end of July, … if the rains come, … the landscape will become lush and green.  ….  Many crops will be planted and harvested during the three-month rainy season.

 Farming during the November to July dry season is not possible without irrigation water, which is readily available from the river.  An irrigation system was installed in the 1980’s, but has not been properly maintained. Today, only about half of the original pumps and associated irrigation systems are operating as they once did. Many tractors also have fallen to the wayside.  Few skilled mechanics are to be found in the area.

 This field of okra is in desperate need of care.  The weeds can be chopped out by hand but without Insecticides aphids and other insects are much more difficult to control.

 Native plants such as the mango tree produce an over abundance of delicious fruit.  However, without processing facilities in the area most fruit will go to waste.

 Large farms are located in the “Waalo”, a flat area near the river.  An abundant crop of rice  is produced in this irrigated field. Other crops that are grown include grain sorghum, millet, sugar cane, peanuts, and a variety of vegetables. Large tractors as well as manual labor are needed to prepare the soil for planting.

 Children are an important part of the work force including this girl struggling across the freshly ploughed field to bring her father some water.

 Tukulor children enjoy swimming in the river but they also have many responsibilities.  Children help with selling produce and livestock at the markets.  Girls are responsible for cooking, cleaning house, and washing the clothes as well as caring for the younger children and babies in the family.  Older boys work in the fields helping to till the soil.  The son in this family assists in their bakery.  He tends the oven while his father sells delicious fresh bread to eager customers.  There are few toys for the younger children but boys enjoy playing soccer with only the most basic equipment and facilities.  The Senegalese boys idolize members of the national soccer team.

 PART 2: 

Children have little opportunity to obtain an education.  Elementary schools that teach only in French are inadequate and are not available to all.  The Qu’ranic School is an alternative.  This class of about 100 students meets in an alleyway near the Marabout’s home. The goal is memorizing the entire Qu’ran. … Most of their day is spent reciting verses in Arabic.

 Instead of a formal education, the culture depends on developing and understanding proper relationships and rituals passed down from father to son.  Many of these rituals are based on the use of witchcraft, sorcery and divination. The Islamic spiritual leaders participate in some of these animistic practices.

 Eating a meal of rice and meat from a common bowl with your hands is a sign of identification with their culture.  The Tukulor say “my hand is my spoon” and to eat their food with them is a sign of friendship.  They use the phrase “my stomach is scared” when they haven’t seen someone in a long time so a visit brings your face to their face, your hands to their hands, and it eases the stomach.

 Ataaya – sitting on a mat, having a conversation and drinking hot tea – is the way of life among the Tukulor.  Ataaya is viewed as the time when ideas are shared and relationships deepened.  Just as the tea is mixed over and over again by pouring it from one glass to another, so ataaya is seen as the “mixing of ideas”.  As the sugar is added to each of the three rounds of ataaya to make the tea sweeter, it is believed that the relationships between those participating in this ceremony also grow sweeter.  The Tukulor say that “Without tea and sugar, my body will die.”

 The Innde is another very important ritual.  Eight days after the birth of a child, the baby is given a name.  Early in the morning, the Marabout arrives.  He writes three different verses from the Qu’ran on pieces of paper that are then carefully wrapped in string, encased in pouches, and strung together.  While this is taking place, the father of the child goes aside and speaks with family elders.  When completed, the amulets are placed around the baby’s neck where they remain for a long time.  Accompanied by mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and other women of the family, this young mother watches over her first-born son.  As his name is given, a goat or sheep is killed.  The parent’s Islamic duties are fulfilled at this time, but the cultural expectations are met only when the celebration continues in the form of a large party.  Family, friends, and neighbors are invited.  Men enjoy attaya … and some of the women begin the food preparation and visiting with each other.  As the day continues, a man quietly reads the Qu’ran, … the food cooks, … women stir the rice pot, … men share ideas or take time to pray … mothers and grandmothers talk about their children, … and at mid-day the mound of rice and meat is made ready for the guests to enjoy.  The party continues on through the day and into the night. 

 The Innde is common among the Tukulor People.  This mother proudly displays her child’s amulets.  She believes that by wearing them her daughter is protected from evil spirits.

 PART 3: 

 It is said, “to be Tukulor is to be Muslim.”  This tightly held belief in Islam is ever-present throughout the area.  Mosques dominate the skyline of the villages and towns.  This strong allegiance to Islam and close relationships among families make change very difficult. … There are no known Tukulor Christians in Northern Senegal. …

 Many villages dot the countryside near the river.  This village appears much like all of the others with mud houses and children in evidence everywhere.  At one home, an 83-year old father and grandfather wanted to introduce his family.  Since his wife is nearly blind, their son brought her in.  After settling her next to him, the father gently adjusted her scarf and cane in preparation for photographs. … His entire family was then introduced as number 2 wife with several of their children came in … and, finally, number 3, who is the youngest of his three wives, and her children, posed for photographs.  In all, 27 children and many grandchildren follow this father.  … Such is the legacy of those who dwell in this hot and dusty land.

 A dirt road, that in many places is hardly more than a cattle trail, passes through many small villages along the river.  Some of these villages are open to outsiders … others are not.

 The water source in the community provides not only water but also a meeting place for the women of the village.  Ideas are shared and the latest community news is broadcast from here.

 In a village of about 3,000 people located at the edge of the river, a gracious elder shared his shade … his food … and his tea. Information about his home, his family, and his village was also shared.  He has lived in this village for all of his 75 years. It requires about two hours of driving over dirt roads to make a visit to this friendly community.

 Reaching the Tukulor with anything new will require much time building relationships through having tea … shaking hands … eating out of a common bowl … engaging in leisurely conversations …driving for hours on dirt roads … and spending much time in prayer talking with Our Father.

 1)     (Overlay:  GOD IS LOVE)  For hundreds of years Tukulor children have followed the footprints of their fathers.  They have memorized the Qu’ran but they do not know that God is LOVE.  Will the Tukulor hear the Good News or will they continue in the footprints of their fathers?

2)    (Overlay:  NEW FOOTPRINTS)  Where will the footprints of this young Tukulor lead his children?  Will he continue to follow the footprints of his father and his grandfather OR will he choose to follow the footprints of Our Father?

3)    (Overlay:  LEAD OR FOLLOW?)  Where will the footprints of this father lead his family?  Will his children follow a god who is like shifting sands – a god they cannot know?  OR  will they trust the unchanging faithful God?

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