I woke up this morning to brioche! Beautifully formed, real, fluffy and buttery brioche at that. I am still marveling at the extent to which I still feel in France sometimes in Dakar. Professor Ousmane Traore delivered the first lecture of the day about slavery in Senegambia. He wanted to focus on a different approach to the topic of slavery. Many people believe that Africans betrayed their own people by submitting to slavery or that slavery was entirely the fault of the Europeans. The truth probably lies in-between the extremes of assumption of responsibility. In order to understand how the system of slavery came into place, it is necessary to understand the ethnic and social order of Senegal at that time – specifically, Senegambia. There is little written history about present day Senegambia before the arrival of Europeans around about 1450s. Before early Europeans, a number of independent kingdoms settled the area between the Senegal and Gambia Rivers. The Wolof and Sere Kingdoms primarily settled Western Senegal north of the Gambia River; the Jola and the Bainounkas inhabited Kombo. Around about AD 1000 people from the east, the Sarahule, Mandinka and Fula settled along the Gambia River in towns and villages and the Tukulor settled central and eastern Senegal. Dr. Traore explained the different kingdoms and ethnic groups at that time, and how the lowest people of the caste were basically slaves, but not slaves in the English definition of the sense. It is true that the economic system that the Europeans imposed in Senegal created disadvantageous economic circumstances where the Senegalese traded slaves in exchange for certain goods and needed money.
Later in the day, I showed the same market street behind the Baobab Centre to a friend. We bought some fabrics and talked with a man who was grinding coffee. It was amazing how different the ambiance of the street was to the major avenue that Baobab Centre. It felt much more like a village, where everyone knew each other.
The most notable thing about this day for me was that we went to Just 4 You. This was my first night really going out in Senegal, and I was so excited. Just 4 You is a live music bar/restaurant in Point E, not too far from us, and we went at 10 pm to get free entrance.
He explained to us that nightlife in Senegal starts very late, and that we wouldn’t see anyone in the place before midnight. People don’t go to clubs until 2 am. While waiting for the main act, we made friends with some musicians who were the starters. They were university students, and recommended some clubs downtown. Checking out downtown’s club scene was definitely interesting – at 3 am, these places weren’t even full and people were still trickling in. The social dynamics of the place were very foreign to us as well, because everyone was dancing in front of the mirrors and staring at themselves, testing out different moves. Also, women danced on the periphery of the men, outwardly facing the rest of the crowd. Women were in decidedly non-Muslim outfits while some men were vigorously dancing in traditional Muslim clothing. My friend and I puzzled over these details but we mostly danced and just enjoyed the moment. I even discovered towards the end of the night that I was starting to dance in front of the mirror – it certainly was helpful to see which dance moves looked good and which didn’t.
Questions: 1. Dr. Traore couldn’t get into this because of time, but what were the conditions/expectations of the two lowest social classes? What is the physical/psychological difference of then becoming a slave?
2. How did those in power in Senegambia benefit from the slave trade? Was their power derived from the colonial powers who had installed themselves or were they economically autonomous?
3. What are the different socioeconomic profiles of the clubs in Dakar? Is downtown more “popular” than Almadies or does it simply differ by place?