The Wolof of West Africa.
A cluster of 5 Wolof groups in 5 countries.
The Wolof of Cóte d'Ivoire, France, Gambia, Mali, Senegal.
Hundreds of years ago, the Wolof conquered many tribes in the northwestern Senegal area. By the end of the 1300's, the Wolof had grown into a large empire of separate, self-governing states. By the 1500's, the empire had split into four major Wolof kingdoms.
The French expanded into Senegal during the 1800's, making it a colony of French West Africa. At the same time, Gambia was colonized by Great Britain. The Wolof of Senegal were awarded French citizenship; and today, many Wolof have their homes in France.
By 1965, both Senegal and Gambia had gained their independence; however, European influences are still a part of Wolof culture today.
What are their lives like?
The Wolof follow a complex code of behavior that is based on their social status. For example, a person belonging to the upper class is obligated to maintain the highest social standards. He is expected to maintain self-control and dignity, always show courage, avoid actions that may dishonor his family, and fulfill all his religious obligations.
When outside the village, the Wolof are expected to wear clothing suitable for the occasion, whether they are attending an important social event or simply shopping in the market. While in the public eye, they must look, move, and talk in the appropriate manner.
The Wolof, particularly the women, are known as being spectacular and beautiful. They dress very fashionably and wear sophisticated hairstyles. In fact, they are often the fashion-setters for others around them.
While many of the Wolof have settled in cities and work as merchants, teachers, or government officials, most of them still live in rural areas and work as peasant farmers.
The main cash crop for the peasants is peanuts. Huge sacks of them are sold to traders, and the earnings are used to provide new clothes, household utensils, blankets, and tobacco. Okra, peppers, beans, and tomatoes are also planted in gardens around the houses; and their basic dietary crops include sorghum and millet. For breakfast, grains are prepared as thick porridge. In the evening, grains are prepared as a steaming dish covered with either peanut and tomato sauce, or meat and bean sauce.
A typical Wolof village consists of several hundred people living in compounds that are grouped around a central village square. The compounds contain houses made of mud or reeds. Fences are built just inside the compound entrances to block the view of strangers. Public events, such as dancing and wrestling, take place in the village square. A platform used for public meetings is usually located in the center of the square, and a mosque is located on the square's east side.
What are their beliefs?
Islam is a religion of works that is centered on five basic teachings or "pillars." (1) A Muslim must affirm that "there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." (2) Five times a day he must pray while facing Mecca. (3) He must give alms generously. (4) He must fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. (5) He must try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in his lifetime.
Although the Wolof are almost entirely Muslim, some pre-Islamic beliefs are still held, particularly by the women. They believe that both good and evil spirits, as well as witches exist in each village. The bad spirits are thought to live in the bush or in tall trees in the center of the village. Protective amulets are often worn to ward off the evil forces.
What are their needs?
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.