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O. Ndongo: Address to World Summit 2020

Address to World Summit 2020, Seoul, Korea, February 3-8, 2020


A recent social historiography of independent Senegal shows a long history of encounters of the country with foreign cultures, first Islam from the Middle East, as early as the eighth century, and later the West, which brought to the African shores Christianity and colonization. Those foreign cultures did not find a barren ground, a tabula rasa of values, in Africa. The continent had its own traditional religions where human beings lived very close to nature and where spirituality was the emanation of the plant world as well as the physical or human one.

The combination of local realities and foreign influences created a culture with several layers of influence still visible in Senegalese culture and explains some of its peculiarities, among which, as a country whose population is 95 percent Muslim, to have as its first president, Leopold Sedar Senghor, a Christian from a minority group, a Serere who received strong support from marabouts, or Muslim clerics, to access power. Both the second and third presidents among the four that have been at the helm of Senegal, as an independent nation, so far are Muslims by faith but have Christian wives. The most conspicuous symbol of that syncretism is in the birthplace of the first president in the town of Joal-Fadiouth, where Muslims and Christians share the same cemetery and their families are a mixture of Christians, Muslims and animists and interact socially without any sign of discrimination or prejudices.

Concepts that I want to address in this paper in the context of Senegalese society are teranga and Pleasant Parent Kinship. The two concepts redefine Senegalese parenthood as not being just based on blood kinship but people united beyond closed family units by the values of hospitality and tolerance where a stranger feels welcome in any visited home. While teranga opens the heart and urges the host to show a clean and hospitable face to any visitor, Pleasant Parent Kinship creates a network of relationships through patronyms, family kinship and ethnic group affiliations through which people are taught never to do harm to each other. For example, in the Southern part of Senegal, there is an ethnic group called the Joola (also known as the Diola or Jola). They want to secede from the northern part of the country, and for 38 years now armed groups of the Joola have been in conflict with the central state. A Joola, a Southerner, will never kill a Serere, living in the central part of the country, knowingly. The reason is that the Joola and Serere are related by Pleasant Parent Kinship. A Joola could kill a Joola which is not common, but a Joola killing a Serere is abomination.

Definition of Concepts

These peculiarities are due to, among other things, a culture of tolerance embedded in the vocable teranga, a concept that shows a welcoming and accommodating nature of the Senegalese people with regard to strangers. Perhaps, it is this sense of compromise that saved the country from political turmoils in a continent ravaged by military coups and ethnic clashes. Moreover, Pleasant Parent Kinship, the second concept discussed in this paper, has come to reinforce that openness of the Senegalese people and serve as a traditional mechanism to help ease off most conflictual situations. Both teranga and Pleasant Parent Kinship are deeply rooted in Senegalese society.

The concept of teranga, with the support of many other mechanisms, such as Pleasant Parent Kinship or its French translation parenté à plaisanterie, found deep resonance in the Senegalese social structure and strong life ideals to co-exist with other members of society,  going even beyond national borders. It has become a frame of mind of the Senegalese people that puts them  in constant interaction with the other, not the other as someone to conflict with but someone to show hospitality and comfort to. Today, teranga is, as a matter of fact, a brand name for Senegal and the Senegalese people in Africa. It calls for openness to other people. Senegal is referred to as le pays de la teranga or “the country of teranga.” The national soccer team players of Senegal are called: Les Lions de la Teranga, which means “The Lions of Teranga,” urging the players to combine the power and strength of the lion with fair play, courtesy and elegance in competition. As a core value in Senegalese society, teranga implies empathy and solidarity with anyone who knocks at your door.

Illustration of Teranga and Pleasant Parent Kinship Contexts

The first element of teranga is the greeting sequence and the time it takes before any serious conversation can take place. Long greetings with a newcomer is a sign of consideration and provides the visitor with a sense of comfort before any serious matter is addressed. It is very inappropriate, especially in traditional communities, to reduce a greeting to just “Hello” or “Hi”. Greetings go through a litany of evocations, from the person’s wellbeing to the family to the wider circle of the extended family. The host will inquire about peace with various members of the family, about property without truly knowing the visitor’s condition. Then will go on to offering water and food.

Pleasant Parent Kinship is another core value for peaceful co-existence in society. It establishes relationships through patronyms of people, family relationships and ethnic groups where peace is absolutely required among people sharing those connections. Those are called “cousins,” which means that people sharing that relationship are required to never do harm to a person within that space. You can joke and use inappropriate language if you wish in front of your “cousin,” but should never do harm to him or her intentionally. It is believed that if you do harm to your cousin something bad will happen to you. This extends into education, and members of society are brought up with these views. There is a strong belief that any transgression will result in punishment from hidden forces. This is deeply enshrined in local culture and is transmitted from generation to generation.

The first stage for Pleasant Parent Kinship is with “cousin,” those who are related to your father or mother. Then, Pleasant Parent Kinship moves to patronyms. Diop and Ndiaye are the most common patronyms in Senegal. The clause of Pleasant Parent Kinship exists between those families. A Diop should not do harm to a Ndiaye. This exists in most patronyms. As a greeting commonly begins with asking a person’s last name, once the name is known, Pleasant Parent Kinship can come into the interaction. In this regard, any village can become a set of family networks that recognizes among its members the Pleasant Parent Kinship mechanism.

Another aspect of Pleasant Parent Kinship is what is seen as a “joking relationship.” You can make fun of your cousin, say nasty words to him or her, but it is not meant to be malicious, and should not be taken seriously and seen as harmful. It happens most of the time in a situation of anger. When someone realizes that the person they are interacting with is a “cousin” by patronym, by ethnicity, suddenly the discussion becomes lively and finishes with jokes and laughters. The problem is settled and  they hug each other.



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