Postcolonial Urbanisms in Senegal: Jan 11th – Saint Louis

Saturday Jan 11.


I still felt extremely destroyed from getting sick the day before. I had slept 12 hours straight, was medicated (which is extremely rare for me), and when I woke up, I had absolutely no desire to move from bed for the next 24 hours. But I wanted to make an effort and not miss this opportunity to learn about Saint Louis, so I forced myself to go with the group. One of the girls in our group had sprained her ankle just before arriving to Saint Louis, so we took a calèche (horse driven carriage) to the fishing village on the presqu’île (almost island) of Langue de Barbarie. Our guide spoke in French, but it was really hard for me to understand him. Our professor and one of the course assistants have basically learned Senegalese French, never French French, and I think it is much easier for them to understand other people speaking Senegalese French than it is for me. When I meet other French people traveling around Senegal, it is a joy and relief for me to speak to them. I had always thought that I wanted to speak only one kind of French, French French, because my Spanish has influences from Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Spain and I always would have liked to have one discernable and stable accent. I realize now that French’s different faces interest me, and it would be wonderful to spend extended time in Francophone countries.


This morning, we visited a fishing village on the mainland of Saint-Louis (our hotel is on the island). It was much more crowded than the island, with small wooden houses packed tightly together and many people in the streets. There was a lot of religious graffiti – mainly images of Amadou Bamba, founder of the Mouride brotherhood, painted on the sides of houses.

We went right to the edge of the ocean, where the fish are laid out to dry. We learned that the fishermen known that they drying process they use – laying out salted fish in the sun – is not the most effective or the most sanitary, but they lack the resources to use another method.

We also learned that the village is a strong community. There is no hierarchy outside the families, which are patriarchal. Profits are kept within families, but if there is an exceptionally large catch, the family is expected to share the profits with the community.

The people in the village are doing better than many Senegalese economically, but their livelihood is suffering because of overfishing and competition from large fishing enterprises that take the lions share of the fish in the ocean. I was shocked to hear that women had six or seven children on average, and were encouraged and expected to create large families. The children were valuable because they could all work in the family fishing effort and thus make more money. They are not encouraged to attend school, because it is more important to learn about fishing, and at 14 years old, a boy can already go on fishing expeditions. This makes economic sense in the short term, but in the long term it may limit the potential of the community.

In the afternoon, we came back to the island and joined the architecture students at an example of a “good” restoration.  We entered a beautiful home that was half open due to an exposed courtyard and also an exposed walkway on the upper floor. The propriètaire was a very gracious Senegalese woman who had been clearly educated in France and had the means to completely restore this home. She was very involved in Saint Louis’s cultural scene, and told us that she hosted events at her home for the Biennale d’art contemporain, which is a premier contemporary African art event. Her home was also apparently a sort of boutique hotel – some of the students took her card and vowed to return to stay there. If I ever return to Saint Louis, I’m pretty sure that such a hotel –as well as Hôtel de la Poste – would be out of my price range, but it was nice to visit the home to admire it for its architectural value.


1. How many people live in the fishing village that we visited, and what is the population density?

2. Our tour guide said that this was actually the richest neighborhood in Saint Louis. Is this true?

  1. 3.  We see two kinds of development here. One that is very local and grassroots – through fishing – and another that takes lots of combined municipal and private resources – architectural restoration that ultimately garners tourism. Which one could be considered more profitable and which more sustainable?

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