Seereer history : Overview

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These history related articles provides a general overview of Seereer history. The Seereer people are a West African ethnoreligious group found in Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania. They have a rich yet turbulent history and in these articles, we will provide some insight into their early, medieval and recent history based on their oral traditions, early written sources by European and Arab writers who interacted with them, and calibrated archaeological discoveries in Seereer country. As an ethnoreligious group, Seereer history and culture are closely linked to Seereer religion (a ƭat Roog). As such, these articles will include some of the historical narratives found within the hermeneutics of Seereer religion but not without getting too deep into Seereer religion. For Seereer religion articles, see Seereer religion


There are Seereer Christians and Muslims who do not adhere to the tenets of Seereer religion. Others syncretized their Abrahamic faiths with the Seereer religion. For the recent history of this group, see the  History of Seereer Muslims (converts) and  History of Seereer Christians (converts) . For the reader's convenience, technical or local terms are defined in brackets ( ) and were possible, a link to the relevant article is provided. Biographical notes on the authorities cited are given at the end of each article. 


As stated elsewhere on this website, the name "Seereer" is spelled in various ways. In Gambia and English speaking countries, it is spelled Serer, in Senegal and other French speaking countries, it is spelled Sérère, and in the Seereer-Siin language, Seereer or Sereer is the standard spelling. Seereer scholars usually use Seereer which reflects the actual pronunciation in Seereer-Siin, and on occasions, the spelling Sereer  is used. In old European maps and writings, Cérère (from French) were also used. For the purposes of consistency, we will be using the Seereer-Siin spelling (Seereer) throughout these articles unless directly quoting a scholar.

The Seereer people are very diverse and include various subgroups some of whom do not speak the Seereer language but one of the Cangin languages. The Cangin languages are not dialects of Seereer-Siin. They are more closely related to each other than to Seereer-Siin. See the Seereer people article mentioned above for details about the various Seereer groups, their languages and accompanying notes. We have omitted the qualifier Seereer which precedes the name of the subgroup. However it is not uncommon to come across this qualifier. For example the Saafi people are sometimes called Seereer-Saafi or Seereer-Saafeen, the Ndut people are sometimes referred to as Seereer-Ndut etc. Saafeen is a region inhabited by the Saafi people. This qualifier affirms the people's Seereer heritage and connects them to their shared history, ethnicity and cultural heritage. 

English

This article is part of the Seereer history series. For other history related articles, click on the category button below:

Please cite this work as:


The Seereer Resource Centre, "A general overview and introduction to Seereer history" (2015) [in] The Seereer Resource Centre, 

URL: https://www.seereer.com/history-overview-and-intro

Seereer history : Introduction

The Seereer ethnic group include the Seex (variations: Seh or Seeh, following its pronunciation), Saafi, Ndut, Noon, Waro, Laalaa, Niominka (Seereer proper : Ñoominka) and Jegeem people. With the exception of the Seex, Ñoominka and Jegeem  who speak Seereer-Siin or a dialects of the Seereer language, the others speak one of the Cangin languages such as Saafi-Saafi, Noon, Ndut, Sili-Sili (or Palor) and Laalaa (or Lehar). The Seex, who speaks Seereer proper, are the most numerous and can be found throughout the Senegambia region and in Mauritania. Both Seereer and Saafi-Saafi are officially recognised languages in Senegal. In Senegal, the Seereer people make up the third largest ethnic group (CIA : The World FactBook, 2015), although other slightly earlier sources say the second largest group in that country (Gritzner & Gritzner, 2009, p. 51; Asante & Mazama, 2008).  As of 2011, the total Seereer population is estimated to be just under two million.  According to Pierre Ngom, Aliou Gaye and Ibrahima Sarr ("Ethnic Diversity and Assimilation in Senegal: Evidence from the 1988 Census", p. 1 - 7, 25 ), the dwindling Seereer population is not actually due to high mortality or low fertility rate, but due to "Wolofization" where many Seereers cannot speak their language but opt to speak Wolof and sometimes self identify as Wolof when they are not members of that group. In their report, they write:


“The Serer and the Manding are the most assimilated ethnic groups. This confirms anecdotal evidence in the Senegalese printed press of the decreasing size of the Serer.” 


They went on to write:


“In Senegal, the best illustration of this assimilation hypothesis is a recent anecdotal claim in the national newspaper ("Le Soleil") that the Serer ethnic group is disappearing. This controversial claim led to the blossoming of Serer cultural associations in Dakar over the past five years, a survival reaction to preserve the group's ethnic identity. However, the assimilation thesis is well supported by data from the 1988 census presented in this paper. The Serer is one of two ethnic groups with the largest percentage of their members reporting that they do not understand the language of their ethnic group of origin.”


[...]


"The 1988 census data show clearly that ethnic assimilation in Senegal can reasonably be equated with Wolofization."


This self identification as Wolof is not due to an attempt to distance themselves from their Seereer heritage, in fact, the report went on to point out that the Seereer are very proud of their cultural heritage. However, their inability to speak their own languages might be viewed as an exclusion from a major part of their cultural heritage. Language is not the only element of one's culture but it is a very important part of one's cultural identity. The embarrassment of not being able to speak one's own language might make one to self identify as Wolof — the dominant language in Senegal and the Gambia, and one of the main languages in Mauritania.


To understand the history of this Wolofization program, one must refer to the colonial period as briefly touched on by Ngom; Gaye and Sarr (p. 1, 7). 

The Seereer have a long history of mixed farming, and mostly relied on batter in precolonial times. However during the colonial era, they looked down on commerce as something vulgar and entrusted the commercial side of their activities to others whilst they continued with doing what they have always practiced: farming,  animal husbandry and fishing. As a result, the Wolof language became the dominant language in the marketplace despite colonial authorities' assimilation program and later encouragement of it. After the colonial period and Senegal and Gambia gained their independence, the Senegalese and Gambian media continued that legacy, and television and radio programs were broadcast in the respective colonial languages (French or English) and one of the local languages — Wolof. From commerce to politics, right down to the layman on the street, people spoke Wolof and were assumed to be fluent in Wolof even if they are not members of that ethnic group. This severely affected other local languages and not just Seereer and Cangin and in many instances, one will find one bearing a Mandinka or Fula surname yet they cannot speak their own  language and interestingly, self identify as Wolof. For more about this Wolofization phenomenon, see Primorac, p. 7;  Gellar, p. 99-107;  and Safran and Laponce, p. 136-7.


These articles will delve into Seereer ancient, medieval and recent history. Sources relating to their history since ancient times will be included. The articles will then give an overview of Seereer history during the Lamanic Era (lamane or laman were the ancient Seereer kings and land owning class who were tide to the pangool — Seereer saints and/or ancestral spirits) before moving on to Seereer medieval history — the period which saw the disestablishment of the "lamanic class", being replaced by new Seereer dynasties, and the encroachment of Islam in Seereer territory, and the effects of this religion from the North on the lives of the Seereer populous. We will then discuss Seereer history within the context of the colonial period, and the relationship between the colonial authorities, the Seereer people and the Seereer kings. Finally, we will address Seereer recent history, how other ethnic groups view them, and the survival of the Seereer languages (Seereer and Cangin) and culture, and summarise with the influence of Seereer history and culture on the Senegambia region and her people.

Bibliography and external links

  1. CI A:  The World FactBook : Senegal (2015)
  2. Gritzner, Janet H.; Gritzner, Charles F; "Senegal"Infobase Publishing (2009). p. 51, ISBN  9781438105390
  3. Asante, Molefi Kete; Mazama, Ama; "Encyclopedia of African Religion", SAGE Publications (2008), ISBN 9781506317861 (NB: page number not available on free view).
  4. Ngom, Pierre; Gaye, Aliou; & Sarr, Ibrahima; "Ethnic Diversity and Assimilation in Senegal: Evidence from the 1988 Census" p. 1-7, 25,  [in] African Census Analysis Project (ACAP). ACAP Working Paper No. 13th February 2000
  5. Official recognition of Seereer in Senegal : Article 1 of Senegalese Constitution of 7th January 2001. Original  decree: Decree  No. 75.1025 of 10th October 1975. See "DECRET N° 2005-990 du 21 octobre 2005", Published: J.O. N° 6280 du Samedi 27 Mai 2006,  Secrétariat général du Gouvernement de la République du Sénégal [in] Journal officiel du Sénégal  (Saturday, 27th May 2006)
  6. Official recognition of Saafi-Saafi in Senegal : "DECRET n° 2005-989 du 21 octobre 2005" Published: J.O. N° 6280 du Samedi 27 Mai 2006, Secrétariat général du Gouvernement de la République du Sénégal [in] [Journal officiel du Sénégal]  (Saturday, 27th May 2006)
  7. Seereer in Ethnologue 
  8. "OLAC resources in and about the Serer language
  9. Saafi-Saafi in Ethnologue
  10. Ndut in Ethnologue 
  11. Noon in Ethnologue 
  12. Palor (or ''Sili-Sili'') in Ethnologue
  13. Laalaa in Ethnologue
  14. Primorac, Ranka, "African City Textualities",  (Editor:  Primorac, Ranka),  Routledge (2013), p. 7, ISBN  9781317990338
  15. Gellar, Sheldon, "Senegal: an African nation between Islam and the West"Westview Press (1982), p. 99-107, ISBN  9780566005510
  16. Safran, William; Laponce, J.A.; "Language, Ethnic Identity and the State ",  (Editors:  Safran, William; Laponce, J.A ), Routledge (2014 ), p. 136-7, ISBN  9781317983842 (for references to Serer, see: p. 136-7, 143, 146-8, 150)