Seereer lamans and the Lamanic Era

The lamans were the ancient Seereer kings and land owning class. Prior to their demise in the medieval era, they divided the present-day Senegambia region into lamanats (provinces or kingdoms) and were the rulers and controllers of the land. Barry notes that the lamanic system is the oldest form of land ownership in precolonial Senegambia. (Barry, p. 26) This view is also supported by  Lericollais ("Paysans sereer", p. 149) and others. Their domain stretched from present-day Senegal, the Gambia, old Tekrur and modern day Mauritania. They granted land based on Seereer customary land law, and like court judges, settled matters of disputes whenever they arise. They were instrumental in the design and execution of Seereer customary law especially on matters relating to Seereer land law, because their own economic wealth, spiritual connection to the pangool (Seereer saints/ancestral spirits) and guardianship of the ecosystem depended on it. 

The 14th-century marked the collapse of the lamanic class in Seereer country (in Siin, 15th-century in Saluum). Although some of their descendants retained the title laman to the present, these lamans are merely provincial chiefs and do not have the powers associated with their early ancestors (the ancient or original lamans). The scope of this article is limited to the ancient and medieval lamans who were "true lamans" in their own right prior to the collapse of the lamanic class. 

Definition and etymology 

The term laman or lamaan means "master of the land" in Seereer-Siin. (Dyao, p. 12 ;  Kesteloot & Dieng, p. 282 ; Boulègue, p.30) It is also abbreviated to lam or laamOther Seereer definitions include : "the sole owner of the country" ("Bulletin. serie B: Sciences humaines, Volume 38" , IFAN (1976), p. 452) and "the chief who owns the land". (Gamble, p. 47)

According to  Jean-Marc Gastellu, the etymology of laman is vague. He however believes that it may designate two functions : one of political office such as that of village chief, the other of land management. He posits that as is often the case, it is possible the origin of these two functions are combined to give laman. If we take the first three words lam, it simply means heir. (Gastellu, "L'égalitarisme économique des Serer du Sénégal", p. 164)

Issa Laye Thiaw gives a slightly different etymology. He writes : "the vocable laman,  which in Seereer means "heir" or "successor" comes from the verb lam, which in Seereer means "inherit"." (Thiaw, "La femme Seereer", p. 54)[8]

Biram Ngom holds a similar view to Thiaw. In his paper "La question guelwar et la formation du royaume du Sine" (1991), published in  Éthiopiques, he describes the lamans as "[...] the heirs of the heads of households who carried out the first firing of the forest." (Ngom, (1991)

Other spelling

  • Lamane  — Usually found in French writings.
  • Lamlam, Lemlem or Damdam  At the time of ancient Tekrur (or Takruur), early Arab writers such as Al Bakri used these terms. Scholars like Ibrahima Thiaw (2013) and Abdoulaye Bara Diop (1968) believes that these words "may have been a corruption of  Lamaan, which was the term used for the heads of lineages and communal territories."[13][14]

Land management : Seereer customary land laws and terminology

One of the key roles of lamans was land management. In this regard, they were instrumental in the development of Seereer customary land law. 

Some of the main elements in Seereer customary land law include the following ([1] ; Ngom, (1991)) :

  • yal naay "the master of the fire" :   The one who first cleared the fields and lit the fire and thereby owning title to the land which only his direct paternal (or maternal) descendants can inherit. In other words, the original laman. The Seereer people are both matrilineal (simanGol[2] or  Simangol in Seereer[3]) and patrilineal[4][5] (Ngom (1991), Becker, (1993)), although some Seereer subgroups like the Saafi and Ndut may lean more towards the matrilineal side. The inheritance of an asset such as land depends on which type of asset it is whether it is a maternal asset or a paternal asset. If it is a maternal asset, then the asset will require a maternal inheritance (ƭeen yaay[4] or den yaay[6]), and if it is a paternal asset, a paternal inheritance (kucarla[4]) will be required. (Ngom (1991) ; Becker, (1993))
As with most cases in the lamanic system, land is usually passed through the oldest son, exactly as in primogeniture. The Seereer term  ƭeen yaay (maternal inheritance) should not be confused with tiim or tim which means maternal clan in Seereer.[6] (ciiɗim in Ndut[7])[1]

  • bakh (Seereer proper : baax) "the right to cut" :  The right to cut and clear a certain parcel of the laman's land, granted by the original laman ("the master of the fire"), to someone's ancestor or by the descendant of the original laman to someone else. Ther term baax means estate in Seereer.[1]


This article is part of the Seereer history and religion series. For other history and religious related articles, click on the relevant category button below:
Please cite this work as:

The Seereer Resource Centre, "Seereer Lamans and the Lamanic Era" (2015) [in] The Seereer Resource Centre, URL:

1. Introduction

2. Definition and etymology
       2.1 Other spelling 

3, Land management and economic role 

4. Role in Seereer religion (a ƭat Roog)

5. Why were the ancient lamans ritually killed?

6. The council of lamans
       6.1 Members of the Council of Lamans
            The 4 main lamanic heads of Siin

7. Constitutional, political and economic role 
       7.1 The seven kingdoms of Siin
       7.2 Inheritance and egalitarianism
       7.3 The Senegambian perspective : 
             Kingdom of Baol and the Seereer 
             Teeñs, Jolof and its Seereer laman

8. Collapse of the lamanic class (from 1350)

9. Notable lamans

10. Legacy

11. Notes

12. Bibliography and external links
  • yal bakh (Seereer proper: yal baax "master of the cutting"  or "ax owner"  The holder of the right to cut granted by the "master of the fire", however, unless members of the laman's lineage, these new title holders are merely leasing and would never own title to the land nor will their descendants ever be title holders, and will continue to pay rent or tribute to the laman  or his descendants for infinity or until the yal baax title is revoked by the laman's  descendants.[1] For inheritance purposes, this right (ax), is patrilineal.

yal lanq or yal dax (variation yal ndaak  meaning "master of his little piece" (Galvan, p. 52))  :  "Yal  lanq" is "the right of fire." This is a landowners right, in other words a laman's right. For inheritance purposes, this right is matrilineal.  (Ngom, (1991)) 

yal xa qol (Seereer proper, variation : yal qol meaning "field owner" or "master of fields"

yal mbind   "household masters" (Galvan, p. 317) : Heads of the lamanic lineage who govern villages / towns on behalf of the laman under whose jurisdiction they serve. This is a form of devolution of power. 

Some of these laws may appear to serve the interest of the lamanic elite and their descendants, but the lamanic system also offered advantages to the Seereer masses. Galvan notes that :
                    "At a material level, the laman coordinated an elaborate system of land management and soil preservation through crop rotation, forest 
                     maintenance, and integration of herding with farming. For generations prior to commodification, this system ensured the fertility 
                     of rather poor, sandy soils and enabled the Serer to achieve one of the highest population densities anywhere in the Sahel. By controlling the 
                     annual allocation of fields, lamans coordinated a three-year rotation of pod (large millet), maac (small millet) and tos (fallow).  The laman 
                     ensured that members of the community pastured their livestock on the land during the fallow year, adding vital nutrients to the soil in the 
                     form of manure.  He also safeguard the remarkable sas, or Acacia albida trees, which not only fix nitrogen but also sprout new leaves 
                     towards the end of the dry season, providing food for livestock at a time of the year when feed supplies and grazing lands have been 
                     exhausted." (Galvan, p. 53)

Seereer customary law also protected the interests of those who lease land from the lamanic aristocracy.  Though a laman's estate may vary from a few hundred to several thousands of hectares, in a wider scale of things, only a small portion of the land was actually assigned to the laman's family or descendants. Most of the land was allocated to the settlers or lessees who in turn pay tribute on the land. The rights of a lessee is enshrined in Seereer customary law. As long as it does not damage the ecosystem, within reason, a lessee can do as they wish on their plot of land including passing it on to their descendants who in turn continue to pay tribute or rent to the laman's descendants. Neither the original laman, nor his descendants have the right to revoke such a right unless the lessee or his descendants breaks a fundamental clause in the agreement, for example doing anything that damages the ecosystem or angers the pangool that accompanied the original laman as he searched for new land to exploit. Though a lessee is afforded such rights, their annual tribute also recognises the rights of the laman and his descendants. It serves as a reminder that the original laman is  connected to the land, and in a religious sense, to the pangool. (Lericollais, p. 149)

Role in Seereer religion (a ƭat Roog)

The lamans were (and some of their descendants still are) intricately linked to Seereer religion (a ƭat Roog) in particular the veneration of the pangool. (Galvan, p.53 ; Kalis, p. 312)  

"A ƭat Roog", meaning "path of Roog" (or "path of God") or "religious life" is what the Seereer religion is. (Thiaw, "La religiosité des Seereer, avant et pendant leur islamisation" ; Kalis, p. 31)  

The religious concept of a ƭat Roog is based on the "cult" of ancestor veneration, that is, the pangool. As Kalis notes  :

                    "Religious life, or "way of God"  / a  ƭat Roog is based on the cult of ancestors. They are the pivot around which all the rituals that make up 
                     religious and therapeutic practices originates from. The priest / yaal pangool, master of the cult, is located halfway between the hereafter and 
                     the here and now; the unseen and the seen, the dead and the living." (Kalis, p. 32)

In Seereer symbolism, the lamans' numerology is number 4, symbol of the masculine world, and the human and terrestrial world (the visible world). In Seereer cosmology, this Earthly world is represented by two crossed lines facing the four cardinal points. Fixed to the four cardinal points of the Earth, they were the "Masters of the Earth" and controlled verse areas of land which they passed down to their descendants. (Gravrand, "Pangool", p. 457-8) 

According to Seereer oral tradition, the lamans were usually accompanied by a group of pangool as they search for land to exploit. As such, they became guardians of the pangool veneration ceremonies and created shrines and sanctuaries in their honour. The devotion to the pangool is still prevalent among Seereers who adhere to the tenets of Seereer religion. Along with their connection to the pangool, the Seereer lamans were also believed to be the early "rainmaking priests", a role now taken over by the Seereer priestly class — the saltigue — whom Galvand described as the "hereditary rain priests selected from the lamane's lineage for their oracular talent".(Galvan, p. 202) 

The lamans were the custodian of Seereer religion, laws and ethics. Islam made its way through the Senegambia region via ancient Tekrur around the 11th-century. At the time of ancient Tekrur, then part of Seereer territory, the Lamans became the greatest opponents of Islam because they perceived Islam as a threat to their traditional religion, wealth and power. (Thiaw, Ibrahima, p.107, (2013)) 

The linguistic group we now call the Haalpulaar’en (the Toucouleurs in particular) were more opened to the idea of being Islamized compared to their Seereer neighbours. Although the lamans put up a strong resistance against Islamization especially during the reign of King War Jabi the usurper  and his Almoravid allies, ultimately, the lamanic elite were unable to defeat Islam. Realizing that the battle has been lost, the Seereer lamans of Tekrur were left with no choice but to migrate south or face murder or even worst enslavement. In Seereer culture and religion, enslavement is worst than death, hence why many Seereers used to commit suicide when defeated in battle than be captured as slaves. Indeed, the Lamans of Tekrur themselves became the target of slavery after Islam was strongly planted in Tekrur. Interestingly, at the time of early Arab writers like Al Bakri, the terms lamlam, lemlem or damdam which are probable corruption of the Seereer term lamaan or laman became associated with "non-believers".[13] The newly converted elite of Tekrur used Islam to legalize slavery against non-believers. As former religious leaders and holders of power and wealth in Tekrur, the introduction of Islam did not benefit the Seereer lamans of Tekrur. Realising the battle has been lost, they and the Seereer masses had no option but to abandon Tekrur what later became known as Futa Toro. With no one left to defend or practice it in Tekrur, the Seereer religion was replaced by Islam. As Trimingham notes:

"The inhabitants of Tőro were the first to become Muslims but completely lost their Serer identity." (Trimingham, p.176, (1962))

Why were the ancient lamans ritually killed?

They were ritually killed if they could not bring about rain and/or drive out evil from the land through their own powers, intercession with the pangool and the Gods or an accumulation of charms. When they got very old, they were also ritually killed.

Ritual killings of lamans ceased to exists after the demises of the lamanic class during the medieval era in 1350 when the descendants of the ancient lamans were replaced by new Seereer dynasties and many of their descendants lost their constitutional power and merely became provincial chiefs answerable to their ''king'' (Maad' in Seereer, Bur / Buur in Wolof). See "the collapse of the lamanic class" (below) for more on this. 

After the demise of the lamans (the true kings in their own right, not the later provincial chiefs), there has been no known or reported ritual killings of Seereer kings in the religious sense as was the case for the early lamans. There has been killings, attempted assassinations and Seereer communities dethroning kings by driving them out of the kingdom, one example being the humiliating dethronement of King of Saluum Fakha Boya Faal (Seereer : Faxaa Faal) in June 1871. However, such killings were either through battles or suicide, but these were not ritual killings as what occurred at the time of the lamans according to Seereer sources. The dethronement of Fakha Boya was due to his ineffectiveness as a king but more so after he shot and killed one of his chiefs. His dethronement was not ritually motivated because he was neither a rainmaker as was expected of the early lamans nor was he very old. He was chased out of his residence by over a thousand people. He was  not killed, he fled to the delta  (see Klein , p. 102-3 for the dethronement of Fakha). 

Though there has been no known or documented ritual killings of Seereer kings from the medieval era onwards, neither by the Seereer oral tradition nor by the early European writers, Godfrey Mwakikagile (''Ethnic Diversity and Integration in the Gambia : The Land, The People and The Culture'', p. 227) reports that:

                    "The Serer had a 'Bur,' the highest office in the land, and was in control of state affairs and 'controlling' forces of nature. When he became quite 

                     elderly, he was ritually killed as there belief was that he was no longer able to ensure the fertility of female members of the tribe or of the 


The responsibilities and motives for such ritual killings described by Mwakikagile are correct. However the title used appears to be an error, based on Seereer and other sources. Mwakikagile is describing the role and responsibilities of the early lamans, not the ''Bur'' (''Maad'' to be exact). The Bur or Maad came later and they were not expected to "control the forces of nature" as was expected of the lamans because the Maad a Sinig and Maad a Saluum (the real titles of the king of Sine and Saloum respectively, in Seereer) had the Saltigues doing that for them, hence the Xoy ceremony, an annual divination ceremony presided over by the Seereer priestly class (the Saltigues).

As noted by Ngom, Gravrand, Galvan and others, the lamans had a sacred relationship with the land (bounded by the first firing of the forest) and the invisible forces that inhabit the land. This sacred alliance included certain stipulations that only the laman and his heirs who have been well prepared for the path they are about to take could adhere to. As such, the laman was the first to plant seeds, make the ritual libation (a cuur ale) and other religious obligations. If after all that something still goes wrong for example a drought, then the laman would be held responsible (Gravrand, "Cosaan" p. 192 [in] Ngom.), and this may merit a ritual killing.  

The Council of  Lamans

At the height of their power, the lamans formed a council made-up of lamans from verse areas in Seereer country. One of their constitutional duties were to hear and settle disputes similar to a court of appeal. It was the highest appellate court in Seereer country. Though many disputes were usually settled by a laman within his domain, a dissatisfied appellant has the right to escalate the matter to the Council if they are unsatisfied with the judgment imposed by the local laman. A similar thing still exists today in the Senegambia region where elders come together as a collective unit to hear and settle disputes such as marital problems, etc. Prior to the demise of the lamanic class in the 14th century, Maysa Waali Maane, the first Guelowar king to rule in Siin, is reported to have served this Council for fifteen years as adviser to the lamans before his nomination and election for kingship.   Along with their legal responsibilities, another objective of this Council was to come together as a collective unit and pool their resources in order to repulse potential threats from other kingdoms. (Ngom, Biram, "La question guelwar et la formation du royaume du Sine", (1991)).

 Members of the Council of Lamans : The 4 main lamanic heads of Siin

Prior to the Guelowar Dynasty (1350), the Kingdom of Siin was governed by the lamans as with other other parts of Seereer country.  Niokhobaye Diouf (1972) notes that, the Siin was headed by three main lamans (see below) 

  • Lam Sango also called  Diarno Diaoulo who took residence at Palmarin
  • Lam Diémé Fadial (Seereer : Laman Njeme Fajaal)  who resided at Fadial
  • Lam Wal Satim Ndok who took residence at Ndok in the east of Siin.  (Diouf, N. (1972), [in] Ngom)

Henry Gravrand, who undertook years of research in this field believes there was a fourth laman, and that was : 

  • Lam Njafaaj (Gravrand [in] Ngom)

In the Siiin, these four lamans formed a council probably as a form of coalition to defend their territories against potential outside threat. (Ngom, 1991).

Constitutional, political and economic role

The seven kingdoms of Siin

In the 12th-century, Gravrand believes there were seven Seereer states in Siin, namely:

  1. Njafaj 
  2. Ña-UI
  3. Joral 
  4. Ngohe-Pofin 
  5. Hiréna (west of Siin at the Petite-Côte) 
  6. Singandum (which covers the two lands of the Siin Valley, making 7. (Henry Gravrand [in] Ngom)

According to Charles Becker and Victor Martin's paper on the settlement of Siin prior to the Guelowar period (1350 - 1969), Siin had sixty villages and all these villages were governed by the lamans. (Charles Becker & Victor  Martin [in] Ngom)

Each laman covered territories stretching several villages, and each village a separate entity at the time with its own political and economic structure administered by family heads residing under the jurisdiction of a laman. These family heads or household masters (Yal mbind - (Galvan, p. 317)) were of lamanic lineage, and their job was to assist the laman under whose authority they serve. (Ngom, (1991))
Inheritance and egalitarianism
As noted earlier, the Seereer people follow a bi-lineal system (Ngom, (1991)). Matrilineal lineages established by women from maternal ancestry and patrilineal lineages established by men from the paternal ancestry are both important in Seereer society. For the purposes of inheritance, the mode by which the asset was acquired would help determine whether it is a maternal asset necessitating a maternal inheritance or paternal asset requiring a paternal inheritance or succession as in the lamanic system.

In the case of land, rights are derived from two modes of acquisition : "the right of fire" and "the right of ax" (tools used to cut the grass).  The right of fire - "yal lanq" or " yal dax" is a landowner's right, in other words a laman's right. This right of fire is matrilineal. 

The right of ax is held by the "yal baax" or " yal xa qol"  ("field owner" or "master of fields") under the effective clearing which their fathers have carried on the perimeters where a "yal dax" has been assigned. This law (ax), is patrilineal, not matrilineal.  (Ngom, (1991))

Seereer religion and culture rejects the notion of slavery. To enslave another human being is regarded as an enslavement of their soul thereby preventing the very soul of the slave owner or trader from entering Jaaniiw the sacred place where good souls go after their physical body has departed the world of the living. In accordance with the teachings of Seereer religion, bad souls will not enter Jaaniiw. Their departed souls will not be guided by the ancestors to this sacred abode, but will be rejected  thereby making them lost and wandering souls. In order to be reincarnated ((ciiɗ, in Seereer) or sanctified as a Pangool in order to intercede with the Divine, a person's soul must first enter this sacred place. Jaaniiw should not be confused with the Abrahamic notion of Heaven. Seereer religion rejects the Abrahamic religions' notion of Heaven and Hell, but for the purposes of comparison and understanding,  Jaaniiw is the equivalent of the Abrahamic concept of Heaven, and becoming a lost and wandering soul without the ability to reincarnate or intercede with the Divine is the equivalent of Hell. These teachings were and still are well understood and respected by ultra-orthodox devotees to  "a ƭat Roog" (Seereer religion). As guardians of the faith, the lamans were well placed to know this. At their time, slavery in Seereer society violates religious and cultural norms, and a Seereer slave system perpetrated by Seereers was unheard of as the oral tradition relates, an account which is supported by early European writers despite the fact that they arrived in the Senegambia region after the collapse of the lamans. As the early European writers like Alvise Cadamosto and others note, the people we now refer to as speakers of the Cangin language (members of the Seereer ethnic group)  were more preoccupied with defending their territory from Wolof slave raiding. (Cadamosto [in] Kerr, (1811), p. 238-40 ; and Cadamosto [in] Verrier (2003), p.136, 61-73

Prior to the collapse of the lamanic class, other than the lamans themselves who were both religious leaders and heads of state, everybody else was on a level playing field. There was no sophisticated social stratification or caste system because that in itself encouraged slavery which contravenes Seereer customs.  The lamanic states were egalitarian in nature. Each family worked for their own subsistence and relied on batter. They farmed for themselves, look after their herds by themselves, made artisanal goods by themselves or exchange what they have produced for artisanal goods if there was no creative person in the family. Seereer families became their own griots, and kept their own family history and genealogy rather than relying on a griot. In the lamanic era, Seereer society was an equal society and an ultra religious society. They worshiped the Seereer Deities and offer libation to the Pangool so that they can intercede on their behalf. (Ngom (1991)
The Senegambian perspective : Kingdom of Baol and the Seereer Teeñs, Jolof and its Seereer laman

Prior to Njaajaan Njaay's formation of the Jolof Empire in c. 1360 (Fage & Oliver, (1975), p. 486)), the kingdoms that would later be known as the Wolof kingdoms also adopted the Seereer term laman as title for the rulers of the land (Barry, p.18, 26, 39-40 ;  Boulègue, p. 30, but without the stringent Seereer customary land law associated with it unless they were Seereers and/or adhered to the tenets of Seereer religion. The term laman and Seereer religion - particularly the veneration of the pangool are interconnected (Galvan, p. 53). Waalo had lamans, so did Jolof and Kajoor.  (Barry, p.18, 26, 39-40; Brigaud, p. 93-6) The royal titles Brak, Damel and Buur Ba (respective titles for the kings of these three kingdoms) were later Wolof adoptions. Brak is a loaned word from the Arabic word baraka (barka among the Moors of Mauritania). IFAN (1966), p. 21) 

The oldest indigenous title assigned to the kings of the Wolof kingdoms was the title Teeñ (title for the king of Baol), itself derived from Seereer and Cangin, Saafi-Saafi to be exact. After the demise of the Juuf paternal dynasty (one of the Seereer royal families) and Wagadou maternal dynasty (Bagadou in Seereer)  of Baol, the Wolof retained the title  Teeñ in Baol. The Juuf paternal dynasty of Baol were one of the oldest paternal dynasties of that Kingdom, and have ruled it for several centuries since the time of the Ghana Empire.  Many of the earliest  Teeñs of Baol - several centuries before the Faal paternal dynasty of Baol (from 1549) bore Seereer surnames, from the Seereer patronyms Juuf,  Ngom and Fay. Some of these early Seereer  Teeñs of Baol include :  Bouré Diouf (Bure Juuf in Seereer and Cangin),  Guidiane Diouf (Gejaan Juuf),  Ma Diouf (Ma Juuf), Jinak Dialane Diouf (Jinaak Jeelane Juuf),  Maguinak Diouf (Maginack Juuf), Mbissine Ndoumbé Ngom (Mbissiin Njumbe Ngom), Massamba Fambi Ngom, Kolki Faye (Kolki Fay), etc. (Phillips, p. 52—71; IFAN,"Bulletin de l'Institut fondamental d'Afrique noire, Volume 38"  (1976), p. 557—504; "Bulletin. serie B: Sciences humaines, Volume 38" , IFAN (1976), p. 457—458)) 

These Seereer kings pertain to the  Wagadou period which roughly corresponds to the time of the Ghana Empire or towards the end of the Empire. The name Wagadou (or  Ouagadou) is actually the Soninke word for their kingdom, the Kingdom of Wagadou, which gave birth to their Empire. The Seereer name for it is Bagadou, the people they were in contact with as narrated in one of the many versions of the Soninke "myth of Bida" (the mythical black snake with the seven heads). The Wagadous were a maternal dynasty from the Ghana Empire that married into the Seereer noble paternal clans Juuf (or Joof / Diouf), Faye and Ngom (or Ngum).

In the chronicle of the 19th-century Senegambian noble  — Yoro Boly Dyao (variation: Yoro Boly Jaw), a direct descendant of Laman Jaw of Jolof (1285), he underlined the importance of the Seereer element in Baol, as many princes and princesses of the Wagadou matriclan were of Seereer heritage ("Bulletin de L'Institut Fondamental D'Afrique Noire: Sciences humaines, Volume 38" (1976), p. 455)), including his own ancestor Laman Jaw, the Laman of Jolof who sources placed at 1285 AD. For the Jaw family and other lamanic families, see the Seereer lamanic familiesAfter the demise of the Seereer paternal dynasties and the Wagadou maternal dynasty of Baol, the Faal dynasty succeeded on the throne several centuries later in 1549 following the Battle of Danki. This may explain why the earliest members of the Faal paternal dynasty were of Wagadou maternal descent and why after the demise of the Juuf dynasty of Baol they still managed to retain some autonomy in the country as well as neighbouring Kajoor. (Phillips, p. 5271; IFAN, "Bulletin de l'Institut fondamental d'Afrique noire, Volume 38"  (1976), p. 557504; Fall, "Recueil sur la Vie des Damel") One example of this  is Manguinak Diouf (Manguinak Juuf) who was appointed Ber Jak of Kajoof (similar to prime minister) after he helped his cousin Amari Ngone defeat the King of Jolof at the Battle of Danki.  (Fall, "Recueil sur la Vie des Damel"). Like the Seereer title Maad (king) as in Maad a Sinig (King of Siin) and Maad Saluum or Maad a Saluum(King of Saluum), the title  Teeñ was one of few royal titles in existence within the Senegambia region prior to the collapse of the lamans. In Seereer country, the title maad was used interchangeably with laman. Whilst the Seereer kingdoms excluding some Seereer provinces abandoned the term laman in the "true sense of the word" (see the "Collapse of the lamanic class", below) around 1350 in Siin, and 1494 in Saluum, the Kingdom of Kajoor and some old Seereer villages like Tukar (Seereer proper: A Tukaar) continued to use the term. 

*The Kingdom of Saluum was previously known as Mbey (in Seereer)[9] and the ruler was known as "Maad a Mbey"  meaning King of Mbey in Seereer. Mbey was renamed to Saluum by the Seereer king Maad a Saluum Mbeegaan Nduur in the 15th-century. It was named after his marabout   Saluum Suwareh. (Bâ, "Essai sur l’histoire du Saloum et du Rip" ; Samba, Jebal, et al. [in] « Cosaani Sénégambie », p.12))

Collapse of the lamanic class (from 1350)

In Siin, the collapse of the lamanic class can be place around 1350 during the reign of Maysa Waali Maane - the first Guelowar king to rule in Seereer country. The term Guelowar is a maternal clan that originated from Kaabu. They were relatives, offshoot and rivals to the powerful maternal dynasty of  Ñaanco, the reigning dynasty of Kaabu at the time. They were probably supplanted and defeated in a dynastic struggle by the powerful  Ñaancos, as their oral tradition relates. Around 1335, Maysa Waali Maane, one of the heads of this matriclan arrived in Seereer Siin accompanied by his relatives. Siin's oral tradition states, Maysa Waali served the Council of Lamans  for fifteen years before he was nominated, elected and crowned Maad a Sinig (King of Siin). Their oral tradition went on to state that, after his famous judgement as adviser to the Council, Maysa Waali was selected because of his good character and the trust he has gained within the Council and the people of Siin. However there was a proviso to his nomination and election as king. Maysa Waali will marry off his nieces and sisters to the Seereer nobility. The offspring of this Seereer-Guelowar unions will be Kings of Siin. In time, they will be authentic Seereers, follow Seereer religion and culture, speak the Seereer language and have allegiance to the Kingdom of Siin and her people, and not Kaabu. That was the deal before Seereer-Guelowar union, and there will be checks to ensure that this agreement is adhered to at all times. Judging by the Guelowar's six hundred years history in Seereer country, this agreement seems to have been stuck to. Although the Guelowar's mother tongue was Mandinka in Kaabu, their surname is Maane (in Seereer, variation : Manneh or Mané). This surname, just like the surname Saane is Bainouk and Jola in origin, not Mandinka. In their history in Siin, they saw themselves as Seereer, followed Seereer religion and culture, and spoke the Seereer language. They did not have Mandinka surnames, but Seereer surnames because they were fathered by Seereer men. Maysa Waaali was the only non-Seereer king to have ruled in Seereer country from 1350 onwards. Although in the latter part of the Guelowar period some kings from the Wolof kingdoms did rule in Seereer country, most notably Saluum, these kings had Seereer ancestry through royal marriage alliances. Senegambian kings and princes were marrying off their daughters and sisters to other kings to accumulated their power and to form strong political ties. Similar to the royal marriages in Europe. Though there were attempts of conquest, royal marriages was more of a dominating force, and such royal marriages between neighbouring kingdoms was nothing new. The Joos maternal dynasty of Waalo was a Seereer maternal dynasty founded by the Seereer princess Lingeer Ndoye Demba of Siin. The matriarch of the Joos was Lingeer Fatim Bey (maternal grandmother of Ndoye Demba)  a Seereer princess and queen of Siin. (BIFAN (1979), 234 ; Dyao,. Barry (1985) ; IFAN (1955), p. 315)

The Geej maternal dynasty of Baol and Kajoor from the 18th-century onwards was another Seereer matriclan founded by the Seereer noble Lingeer Ngoneh Jaay of Saluum. The Wagadou princesses were a maternal clan from the Ghana Empire who married into the Seereer paternal noble clans as discussed earlier. Such royal unions was nothing new. From a maternal dynastic point of view, the Wagadou and Guelowar dynasties are two of the Seereer people's dynastic periods. From a wider Seereer matrilineal history, they are both proceeded by the ancient Seereer matriclans of Garek Kare (or Garé Karé) and Rik, as well as the ancient matriclans of Cegandum and Kagaw whose historical narratives is found within the hermeneutics of Seereer religion and believed to be two of the proto-Seereer maternal clans. ( BIFAN (1983), p. 387-401 ; Gravrand, "Cosaan", p. 200)

From 1350 in Siin, and 1494 in Saluum, the lamanic class totally collapsed as it was supplanted by the Guelowar dynasty. 1350 marks the reign of Maysa Waali in Siin, and 1494 the reign of the SeereerGuelowar Mbeegaan Nduur (son of Marga Caac Nduur[10] (Becker et al. "Traditions villageoises du Siin", p. 22)) (Sarr, "Histoire du Sine-Saloum" (Sénégal), (1986-1987)) 

The descendants of the early lamans will loose everything they have previously enjoyed. Their political power will be curtailed. Although some lamanic families retained their lamanic titles, they were not "true" lamans in the old sense of the word, but merely provincial chiefs answerable to the Kings of Siin and later the Kings of Saluum. In Siin, some of the lamanic families were not so keen to lose their power to a foreign prince like Maysa Waali, eventhough the tradition relates that he secured a majority vote from the Council of Lamans and the people of Siin. In this regard,  Laman Panga Yaye Saar, member of the Saar family, one of the oldest lamanic families in Seereer lamanic history, made it a mission to oust the Guelowars from Siin as he and some disgruntled lamanic families believe that their ancestral privileges were being threatened. In the ancient and sacred village of Tukar - Njujuf (formerly a state with colonies), founded by Laman Jeegaan Juuf several centuries earlier, the Juuf family put up a strong resistance against the Maad a Sinig, including the invocation of the Pangool of Tukar, the spiritual guardian of Tukar that accompanied their ancestor when he was looking for land to exploit. Tukar regaind some degree of autonomy and independence as the Guelowars fared angering the Pangool. 

Although these later lamans were not true lamans in the old sense, but merely provincial chiefs, they still retained a degree of power. Above all, they were connected to the pangool, and like their early ancestors, they had strong links to Seereer religion and were well respected by the Seereer masses. As such, they could dethrone a reigning monarch if angered. It was also from their families were the Seereer kings spawned from. 

Both the Seex and Saafi people had lamans and equally respected their lamans. However, the Seex afforded a higher status to the lamanic class than their Saafi counterparts who are more egalitarian like some of the other Cangin groups. Nonetheless, the only figure head in Saafi country that the Saafi community afforded any respect to was their lamans. Like the Ndut of Cayor, they had little respect for the Wolofized[11] Teeñ of Baol (king of Baol) where the Saafis make-up the majority of the population.  

Notable lamans

Below are some notable Seereer medieval lamans — the era which marked the end of the lamanic class:

  • Laman Jeegaan Juuf or Laman Jeegaan Jaay Juuf (Seereer proper, variations : Lamane Jegan Joof or Djigan Diouf) c. XIth century (possibly earlier based on the founding of Tukar and its surrounding vassal, see Bressers and Rosenbaum), founder and king of Tukar and Njujuf and its surrounding vassals.  He was originally from Lambaye. Tukar is one of the Seereer holy places were the ''Raan'' festival is held every year on the appearance of the new moon in April. The epic of Jeegaan Juuf and the epic of Tukar are still preserved in Seereer tradition and narrated. He is an early ancestor of the Juuf family that went on to became the kings of Siin and Saluum, and the lamans of Tukar (provincial chiefs).[12]

  • Laman Sosseh Juuf (or Socé Diouf), son of Laman Jeegaan Juuf and inheritor of his title and estate.

  • Laman Saar

  • Laman Seen (or Lamane Sene) - (Diagne,  p. 31)

  • Laman Jaw (variations: Lamane Diao or Laman Dyao), - King of Jolof 1285 AD. ( Nnoli, p. 241 ; Gamble, p. 47)

  • Laman Panga Yaye Saar (Seereer proper, variations: Laman Pangha Yaya Sarr or Penga Yaye Sarr), this  14th century Laman of Siin was an opponent to the Guelowars, the last royal dynasty in Seereer country. The Saar family have a long history of being lamans.


A distinction must be made between the ancient Seereer lamans who were divine rulers and the land owning elite, and their medieval descendants bearing the name laman who were merely provincial chiefs answerable to Seereer medieval kings during the Guelowar period ("Maad a Sing" in Siin, or "Maad a Saluum" in Saluum). 

The early lamans themselves were a class of nobles men who benefited economically by virtue of being born into the lamanic lineage, either founded by them or their lamanic ancestors. They ruled the land and executed the laws they formulated over the people they ruled.  This in itself may be regarded as a conflict of interest as managers of the land within their domain. Although general Seereer laws and ethics offered some protection to the Seereer masses who were not from lamanic families, it would be naive to conclude that there were no abuses of power, as the lamans' role was not limited to land management and religious affairs, but also included settling matters of dispute. Effectively, the lamans were policing themselves despite the formation of the Council of Lamans where one could escalate one's case in order to seek redress. Although there were elements of egalitarianism, Seereer society was not fully egalitarian as one might be led to believe. Egalitarianism might have persisted below the lamanic class, but the lamans themselves were a class of their own. They were the upper echeolons of Seereer society, the rulers of the land and the land owning elite, as such, this defeats the notion of egalitarianism in its literal sense.   This view is compounded by the fact that, the descendants of the lamans consider the whole land as their property by virtue of the fact that their ancestors were the first to establish the fire estate out of the primordial forest or wilderness thereby making it fit for human habitation. (University of Wisconsin-Madison. African Studies Program, p. 13)  

However, despite the fact that the lamans had an economic power as landowners and a political power under the land tenure system, it is because of this ancient legacy that many Seereers today own their lands, inherited from their ancestors. From a religious perspective, the lamans were strongly allied to the pangool who guided them as they search for new lands to exploit. This ancient alliance is believed to be sacred by those who practice Seereer religion, and as such, they had religious authority and were highly esteemed by those who follow the faith. They were seen as the Supreme Deity's physical representative on earth. To get to the pangool and pray for intercession with the Supreme Being, one must first go through a laman — the guardians of  the pangool veneration ceremonies who created shrines and sanctuaries in their honour. Historically, the Seereer people were, and to some degree, many still are "people of the land." Land was and still is pivotal in Seereer society. The lamans created and executed laws governing land in Seereer society. These laws are the cornerstone of Seereer customary land law, albeit it there complexities. 
From a wider perspective, the Seereer title "laman" spread beyond Seereer society and was adopted by non-Seereer ethnic groups and other Senegambian precolonial kingdoms such as Jolof, Waalo, Kajoor and Futa Toro. Although some of these ethnic groups may not have adhered to Seereer religious beliefs, the lamanic system is the oldest form of landownership in the Senegambia region, and some of the elements found within Seereer customary land law have made their way into Senegalese and Gambian land laws. Most of these national laws derived from colonial laws, others from local customs with Seereer land law being its progenitor.  Perhaps the lamans' greatest legacy was their ability to preserve the ecosystem, a belief rooted in Seereer religion where every natural thing is viewed as sacred and from the same divine placenta of the Supreme Being. That action enabled the Seereer people "to achieve one of the highest population densities anywhere in the Sahel."  (Galvan, p. 53 ; Gravrand, "Pangool", p. 201) 


[1] For references to the Seereer lamanic inheritance system and terms such as yal naay, bakh and yal bakh, see  Galvan, p. 52-3, 107-8, 278,  317. See also Ngom (1991)
[2] See  Kalis, p. 299
[3] See Lamoise, LE P., "Grammaire de la langue Serer" (1873)
[4] See Becker, "Vestiges historiques, trémoins matériels du passé clans les pays sereer" 
[5] See Gastellu (1985) [in] (1988), p. 1, 2-4 (p. 272-4), 7 (p. 277) 
[6] See Dupire, Marguerite, "Sagesse sereer: Essais sur la pensée sereer ndut", KARTHALA Editions (1994). For references to "tim" and "den yaay" , see p. 116. Dupire also deals in depth about the Seereer matriclans and rights of succession through the matrilineal line. See also p. 38, 95-99, 104, 119-20, 123, 160, 172-74 
[7] Dupire, "Totems sereer et contrôle rituel de l'environnement", p 40 
[8] Issa Laye Thiaw, "La femme Seereer (Senegal)", p. 54 — original French text

                    "Le vocable laman qui signifie en Seereer "heritier" ou "remplaçant" vient du verbe lam « hériter » en Seereer."

[9] Many spelling variations including : Mbey, Mbeye or Seereer proper: Mbeey

[10] Also known as Mari Nduur 

[11] The Faal (of Fall) paternal dynasty that ruled Kajoor and Baol from 1549, were not ethnically Wolof, but Wolofized Black Moors (Naari Kajoor meaning Moors of Kajoor) who saw themselves as Wolof and adopted Wolof culture. The patronym Faal a is Moorish surname in origin, not Wolof, just like Sanneh and Manneh are Bainouk and Jola surnames in origin, not Mandinka.

[12] For references to Djigan Diouf, see Galvan, p. 108-122

[13]  Thiaw, Ibrahima; "From the Senegal River to Siin: The Archaeology of Sereer Migrations in North-Western Senegambia.", p. 107 [in] "Migration and Membership Regimes in Global and Historical Perspective: An Introduction Studies in Global Migration History", contributors: Bosma, Ulbe; Kessler, Gijs; Lucassen, Leo.  BRILL (2013), ISBN  9004251154

[14] Diop, Abdoulaye Bara, “Le tenure foncière en milieu rural Wolof (Sénégal): Historique et actualité”, Notes Africaines, no. 118, (April 1968), IFAN, Dakar, p. 48–52

Bibliography and external links

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