Article by Cadet Taylor Love. Edited by Hope Nelson.
SENEGAL, Africa — In every culture, there are spoken and unspoken values. In the United States, these include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Additionally, values inherent to American culture are cleanliness, promptness, and individualism. Some values transcend culture. Others do not.
In Senegal, the value structure differs greatly from the ones in the U.S. One of the most visible values in Senegalese culture is the importance of community. There is a heightened emphasis on the group rather than the individual. Many people are addressed as “my brother” or “as my sister,” even if they are utter strangers. When strangers do visit, there is little, if any, hesitation to pull out all the stops to welcome them.
The majority of meals are communal affairs. Often, a large dish will be placed in the middle of the floor, piled high with rice, vegetables, and meat. The family will gather around, eating directly off of the dish, with or without silverware depending on the family. This communion demonstrates the value of unity with one another.
This has been so for thousands of years. Warring tribal factions could easily be in mortal combat one night and be feasting and dancing together the next, after negotiations are solidified between the chiefs. Community is vital to the way of Senegalese life.
In the West, time is a taut string along which we travel. To the Senegalese, time is water, fluid and changing. Time is valued, not a thing to be owned to the Senegalese. Things will happen when they happen. There is no need to rush them.
This attitude can be seen everywhere in Senegal. Meal times will last as long as food is being eaten, from 10 minutes to two hours. When one asks the time of an event, one can receive three answers, all of which are correct.
Even important events such as commissioning ceremonies will be patiently halted as a guest arrives 20 minutes after the beginning of the ceremony. Waiting is not a hindrance to the Senegalese. It is a way of life. The saying “patience is a virtue” has perhaps never been more true than in the Senegalese culture.
While Senegal is currently facing modernization, it has also firmly held onto various aspect of traditional life, a clear value for the Senegalese. In the countryside, one will find traditional straw huts, side-by-side with cinderblock buildings. Men and women in brightly colored flowing gowns and tunics walk alongside their friends dressed in jeans and tee shirts.
Traditional occupations still exist, though modernization has led to economic competition. In rural villages, village elders – the keepers of oral history – can still be found teaching younger generations the ways of their ancestors. Many of the traditions of Senegal are not in danger of being lost anytime soon, though they are being threatened. Their traditions are too highly valued to be wiped out.
Community, time, and traditions are only some of the many values held by the Senegalese. Theirs is a beautiful culture, and these values help to highlight that beauty.
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