The origins of the Seereer people

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The origins of the Seereer people has been a topic of discourse for several decades. Just like the etymology of the word Seereer (variations: Sereer, Serer or  Sérère), where many theories have been proposed, so is the origin of the Seereer people. In this article, we will first outline what the oral tradition of the Seereer people says about their own origins before reporting on what the academic world says about the origin of these people.
Seereer oral tradition

As discussed in previous articles, and as evident in some of the previous and succeeding articles in this history series, Seereer history and culture are closely linked to Seereer religion.


On the subject of Seereer religion, Asante writes:

                  "Religiously, the Serer follow the pattern of many West African people: They have a belief in one Supreme Deity, Roog. In their view, Roog 
                   created everything in the universe, but all of the ordinary things that have to do with daily life, relationships, land disputes, war, and death are 
                   left to the ancestors. Among the Serer, there are elaborate ceremonies surrounding their relationship with their clan and totemic ancestors. 
                   Names such as Faye, Sar, Fall, Diange, and Diouf are considered totemic for the Serer." (Asante, Molefi Kete ; Mazama, Ama, "Encyclopedia                    of African Religion" [1])
And on the Seereer oral oral sources about their own origins, Asante  went on to write:
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                    "The oral tradition of the Serer states that, they traveled from the Upper Nile to West Africa. One of the reasons that Cheikh Anta Diop                                  claimed that the Serer were able to reject Islam, being one of the few African groups in the West African Sahel region to do so successfully,                        might be because of their strong connection to their ancient religious past." (Diop, Cheikh Anta, "The African origin of civilization" - "Myth or                        reality"  [in] Asante, Molefi Kete ; Mazama, Ama , "Encyclopedia of African Religion" [1])
Although there are various demigods in Seereer religion, Roog Seen (or Koox Seen among the Saafi) is the Supreme Deity in Seereer religion. For the various names assigned to the Supreme Deity by the various Seereer groups, see God in Seereer religion.
Scholarly sources
Theories about Nile Valley connection

Professor Cheikh Anta Diop was one of the first scholars to propose a Nile Valley origin. In "The African origin of civilization" - "Myth or reality" (p. 192), he writes:


"The Serer probably came to Senegal from the Nile basin; their route was said to be marked by the upright stones found at the same latitude, from almost as far away as Ethiopia to Sine-Salum. 

On the subject of the Thiemassas culture discussed in the Seereer archaeological sites article, Henry Gravrand ("Pangool", p.77) writes:


"Rupestral engravings of the Sahara before it turned into a desert are well the proof of a double presence of Blacks and Berbers in the Sahara. During a visit of the geologists on the pre-historic site of Thiemassas, not far from Mbour, the geological analysis of the site, its oral tradition and the origin of the Sereer were successively evoked. I was brought to present the Sereer origins from the Nilotic point of view, going back to ten millennia to the present, of their ancestors from the Nile valley. During the debate held on the geological site in question, the possibilities of the crossing of the Sahara were recognised reasonable before the fifth millennium. According to the present geologists and pre-historians, there was a Saharan optimum with the seventh, the sixth and even at the fifth millennia. On the assumption of a Sereer presence in the valley of the Nile, between the tenth and the fifth millennia, or of a Lebou presence in the west of Egypt at varying times, a series of migrations relating to restricted groups is about the possible one." (Gravrand, "Pangool", p. 77)


Citing Cheikh Anta Diop and others, Asante writes:


"Scholars have long believed that the route of the Serer from their ancient homeland in East Africa can be traced by upright stones found along the latitude they traveled from East to West, from Ethiopia to the region of Sine-Saloum." (Diop, Cheikh Anta, "The African origin of civilization" - "Myth or reality", p. 192 [in] Asante, Molefi Kete ; Mazama, Ama , "Encyclopedia of African Religion" [2])

Asante went on to write that:


"Linked to the religious beliefs of the Serer is the fact that their ancestors came through the Sudanese village of Tundi-Daro and erected upright stones in the shape of a phallus and a female organ. It is believed that this was an agrarian practice that symbolized the ritual union of the sky and Earth as a way to give birth to vegetation, their daughter. The vegetation from this union was a cosmic trinity that harks back to the African trinity of Ausar-Auset-Heru. Thus, the ancestors to the Serer carved stones of two sexual organs to invite the divinities to couple and give them good harvests. It was the desire to ensure material existence that drove humans to this process of ritualizing the the divine union." (Diop, Cheikh Anta, "The African origin of civilization" - "Myth or reality" , p. 192-6 [in] Asante, Molefi Kete ; Mazama, Ama , "Encyclopedia of African Religion" [3]).

"The Serer people still retain the deity service to the upright stones. At one time during the 14th century, they planted pestles that were used as alters for libations, called dek-kur, by the Wolof who have mixed with many of the Serer. Indeed the idea of dek-kur means anvil or receptacle. The ancient town of Tundi-Daro means, in Wolpof, the hill of sexual union in a ritual sense, affirming much of the Serer oral tradition." ( Diop, Cheikh Anta, "The African origin of civilization" - "Myth or reality", p. 196 [in] Asante, Molefi Kete ; Mazama, Ama , "Encyclopedia of African Religion" [4]).


The term "dek-kur" is most probably a Seereer or Saafi term in origin, not Wolof. As with many Seereer and Cangin religious words loaned by the Wolof e.g. Tobaski [5], Gamou [6], Weri Kor [7], Korite [8]Cosaan [9], Julit [10], etc., the term dek-kur may have made its way into the Wolof language and the author's source might have assumed it to be Wolof in origin without reference to the etymology of the term. This is a rather common misconception in the Senegambian region where many words are assumed to be Wolof in origin but actually aren't. A result of the Wolofization phenomenon in the region, and the Wolof's ability to absorb or borrow from other cultures.

Notes and references


[1]  Asante,  Molefi Kete ; Mazama, Ama , "Encyclopedia of African Religion"

[2]  Diop, Cheikh Anta, "The African origin of civilization" - "Myth or reality" [in] Asante, Molefi Kete ; Mazama, Ama , "Encyclopedia of African Religion"

[3]  Diop, Cheikh Anta, "The African origin of civilization" - "Myth or reality" [in] Asante, Molefi Kete ; Mazama, Ama , "Encyclopedia of African Religion"

[4]  Diop, Cheikh Anta, "The African origin of civilization" - "Myth or reality" [in] Asante, Molefi Kete ; Mazama, Ama , "Encyclopedia of African Religion"

[5]  Tobaski is an ancient Seereer religious festival. It was a fetish competition festival based on the tracking of a dead / shot animal with an arrow. The animal itself was the Tobaski, who ever found it won the Tobaski (the prize). The word Tobaski comes from old Seereer. After the Wolof and other Senegambian groups mass conversion to Islam in the 19th-century, the Seereer word Tobaski was adopted for the Islamic festival 
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