In Senegal, ancient male rite collides with modern times

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The dancers are a blaze of colour, swirling amid a deafening, pounding noise.

In their midst, a young man stands up.

This is an important moment for Cedric Djikila Diatta, 21, on his path towards the coveted status of manhood.

To prepare for the next step, a phase that may take half a dozen years, he and other young men of the same age have spent the past month together.

“Once you have been initiated, you change status,” said Cedric. 

– Combat –

And this where the dance comes in: it is designed to strengthen them spiritually for combat, which in the Diola culture is conveyed through wrestling, Senegal’s national sport.

Some are bare-chested, others are wearing tunics, feathers or magic charms called grigris — those men who are due to marry in the coming year are dressed as women.

Evening starts to fall and a gentle light, filtered by the emerald fronds of two giant kapok trees, bathes the dancers.

Children are there, and the elderly too. The mothers look adoringly at their sons on the brink of manhood — “he’s so handsome!” cries Cedric’s mother, Angele Antessey Diatta, a proud smile illuminating her face.

The party marking the end of these important rites coincides with the end of the rainy season each year in late September.

The rituals, teaching and secrets conveyed from generation to generation vary from village to village, said Abdou Ndukur Kacc Ndao, an anthropologist.

“In a hundred, two hundred years, it may well be that they no longer exist.”

Those who return bring back different perspectives, fashions and tastes.

He showed off his small house, which had no furniture, toilet or running water or even a floor.

He trained as a cook, working in one of the hotels in Casamance’s Cap Skirring tourist resort, leaving for work at 4:30 am and returning in the afternoon to work in the rice fields.

His dream was to get a job at the Club Med, an upmarket French vacation village at Cap Skirring.

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Originally published as In Senegal, ancient male rite collides with modern times


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