Captives of the Past
Located in West Africa on the Southern edge of the Sahara Desert is the Senegal River. This river separates the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and the Republic of Senegal. Approximately 700,000 people known as the Tukulor live on the Senegal side of this river. Today the Tukulor children play in its murky waters much like they did centuries ago when their parents chose to follow the teachings of Islam. Tukulor children are immersed in a strict indoctrination of Islamic culture, beliefs, and laws just as their fathers were before them.
Islam is introduced to the Tukulor children very early in life. When a child is eight days old, a ceremony is held where he or she is given a name by the Islamic spiritual leader. This influential teacher, the Marabout, also writes verses from the Qu’ran on pieces of paper that are strung together and made into an amulet. He then places the necklace containing these verses around the child’s neck and, for the first time, reveals its name. These sacred symbols are believed to ward off evil spirits and, in some cases, are worn for several years.
Children have little opportunity for formal education. The limited public instruction that they receive is usually in French and religious training is in Arabic rather than in their heart language of Pulaar.
The Qu’ranic School is very demanding upon those who attend. This school, like many others, meets in an alleyway near the home of the Marabout. The children spend most of the day memorizing and reciting the Qu’ran. Of course, this is done in Arabic, the language that is believed to be that of their god, Allah.
Most of the practical education that these children receive is handed down from the parents. Here a young mother is showing several children how to prepare rice flour for making bread. Learning how to make mud used to repair the adobe style homes is also part of this education process. Helping with the farm work is part of the daily routine. This includes driving the burro cart and caring for the livestock. Some children work in the family business such as tending the bread oven or helping to prepare goat meat that will be sold in the market. Drawing water from a deep well is a task that this young boy will not need to learn because it is women’s work. Women and their daughters make several trips each day for water.
The markets held on a regular basis in most villages give the children an opportunity to earn money for their family by selling produce, …chickens, …and goats.
These children know little about the outside world and are extremely excited to have their pictures taken and, thus, be able to get a fleeting glimpse of modern technology even though it is years beyond their grasp.
Life here centers on family and a belief system that does not allow any teaching beside Islam. The children have never known anything else and seem to be happy with what they have. … They expect to live out the saying: “to be Tukulor is to be Muslim”.
Parents are careful to care for the family even when it is very large. This 83-year-old family patriarch and village leader has three wives, 27 children, and many, many grandchildren. They all live close to each other and to the Mosque.
The captivity of practices held for centuries makes life-style changes extremely difficult. Will these children someday have the freedom to change? Will their lives continue to revolve around the Mosque and what is taught by the Marabout? What would it mean to Tukulor children if their father’s and grandfather’s chose to follow the God of love rather than Allah? Would they follow in their father’s footsteps? WHAT is AHEAD?
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