Preserving Seereer heritage for future generations.
The Seereer Resource Centre (SRC)
Ngoye Njuuli (or NGoye Njuli, sometimes called Ngoye Mbahe) is an ancient tree and mythical baobab tree located in Kahone, the capital of the Seereer precolonial Kingdom of Saluum in present day Senegal. Carbon dating indicates that the tree predates the reign of Mbeegaan Nduur as Maad Saluum (King of Saluum, reigbed 1493).
In 2016, the Seereer Resource Centre in collaboration with our radio station (Seereer Radio) sent our research teams to document and preserve the oral tradition of several Seereer villages and towns from notable historians and griots. On that project, we he held an interview with two of Kahone's historians namely Alhaji Momodou Marr and Fara Lam Saar (20 March 2016).
In Seereer culture, boys were circumcised as a group every seven years. Number 7 is symbolic here. It is the symbol of perfection in Seereer numerology. Number 3 represents the masculine world, number 4 the feminine world, and 3 + 4 = 7 (the symbol of perfection, symbolising balance).
During the time of the Seereer kings ("maad", successors of the the ancient Seereer "lamaans"), parents could not just send their boys "ndut" (nest) for circumcision, but most first request the permission of the king (maad). After persmission has been granted by the King of Saluum (Maad Saluum), they would build a hut enclosure called ndut in Seereer (nest) at Ngoye Njuuli for the initiates. It is from this tradition where Ngoye Njuuli got its name from, meaning the tree for the circumcision initiates. The name "ngoe" or "goye" mean "tree." The word "njuuli" comes from the old Seereer word "njul" of "jul" which mean a little boys penis (i.e. those to be circumcised). The Senegambian word for a Muslim (Julit) also derives from njul. As the Seereers were none-Muslims during the mass Senegambian conversion to Islam in the 19th-century, the other Senegambian ethnic groups who adopted Islam simply borrowed the old Seereer word because of its spiritual connection.
It was in this ceremony where the Seereer boys received their education and valour e.g. fighting, bravery, honour, citizenship, secrets of the universe and the cosmos. At that time people use to fight on horse back, using machete, spears, knives, bows and arrows.
When the initiates' wounds have healed, they would teach them how to ride a horse (gawaar).
The leaves of the Ngoye Njuuli tree are sometimes used to make a Seereer couscous called saay in Saafi, saac in Seereer Siin (Seex) or chere, The fruit of the tree can be eaten, but according to local beliefs, if you want to eat it you must eat it at the tree's location (next to the tree). If you take the seeds home to eat your home will burn. The tree is believed to have healing properties.
During the Gelwar dynastic period (1350 - 1969),
if you claim to be of Gelwar lineage when you not, your faith will be decided during the sworn-in ceremony - which was done at Ngoye Njuuli after the coronation ceremony. If you have been deceitful, it was believed that a big snake which resided in the tree (similar to to a Seereer pangool) will come out and kill you. Therefore, Ngoye Njuuli was a place of judgemebnt and for finding out the truth, similar to the Koffki shrine of the Saafi - located in Bandia.
Ngoye Njuuli was so significant in the history of Seereer Saluum that, it was the location where the Seereer kings and their armies would depart from as they make their way to battle. It was also where they would stop after their return from battle. Certain rituals must be carried out before and after battle.
In the 1970s, the late Gambian griot Jabel Samba (descendant of the great Sainey Mbossin Njie Samba) gave an interview to Radio Senegal and Radio Gambia's joint weekly programme called "Chossanie Senegambia" (the history of Senegambia) - the first ever show of its kind where notable Sengambian historians and griots were brought on Radio Gambia and Radio Senegal's studios to narrate the history of the Senegambia region. In that interview, Jabel gave a similar account regarding the historical and religious importance of Ngoye Njuuli which he called Ngoye Mbahe. He went on to state that, it was were people used to go to swore an oath.
The Chossanie Senegambia programme was broadcast in the local languages every Tuesday. It ran from 1973 to the 1980s. It was the first history programme of its kind in Senegal and the Gambia. It is the predecessor of similar programmes such as "Sunu Chossan" and the like that came later and ran on Gambia Radio and Television Services and Senegal's radio and television networks. Alhaji Alieu Ebrima Cham Joof, who was then the Director of Programmes and Head of Local Languages at Radio Gambia was one of the pioneers. He and his team of journalists would travel the length and breadth of Senegal and the Gambia to organise and interview notable historians and griots. Other notable members of the team included the great Gambian broadcasters Alhaji Assan Njie and Alhaji Mansour Njie. For Senegal, their team included Ebrima Mbenga. Dodou Diego Diop and Alioune Cissé.
Ngoye Njuuli is now a protected site by the Senegalese authorities, and attract visitors.
The Seereer Resource Centre have preserved all the audio interviews, some of which have been uploaded on our podcast website. You can listen to them by going to www.seerpodcast.org.
Audio Titles :
1. Cosaan Seereer : Exclusive interview with Alhaji Momodou Marr and Fara Lam Saar by The Seereer Resource Centre and Seereer Radio ;
2. Part 1 of 2 : Cosaani Senegambia (History of Senegambia) : History of Saluum by Jabel Samba ;
3. Part 2 of 2 : Cosaani Senegambia (History of Senegambia) : History of Saluum by Jabel Samba.
1. Joof, Alhaji Alieu Ebrima Cham. "Senegambia - The land of our heritage". (1995). p 12