Seereer history : The Seereer religion perspective (historical figures)
The Seereer religion (a ƭat Roog — meaning : "the way of the Divine" or "path of God") is a polytheistic religion. Although there are multiple deities, Roog (or Rooh, following its pronunciation) is the supreme and creator god (Thiaw, "La religiosité des Seereer, avant et pendant leur islamisation"). Other deities include Takhar — god of justice and vengeance, and Tiurakh or Théourakh — god of wealth or property (Kellog & Smith, p. 664; Frazer, (1919), p. 317, 555; Frazer, (1918), p. 317-8; "Folk-Lore In The old Testament . Studies In Comparative Religion Legend and Law", p. 317–8). These two are demi—gods.
In Seereer, roog (in lower case) means "sky" or "the heavens", when capitalised to ROOG or Roog it means "sky god" or "god of the heavens" (Gravrand, Pangool, p. 176). Among the Saafi who adhere to the tenets of Seereer religion, the supreme creator is referred to as Koox (or Kooh) which in Saafi-Saafi means "the atmospheric supreme god" or "god of rain and the heavens" (Diouf & Leichtman, p. 93–96, 104–6; IFAN, 1984, p. 45–6). The Seex and Saafi deities have a very similar name and pronunciation — Rooh and Kooh. They are both worshiped in a similar way and "titled" or invoked the same way. For example the Seereer surname Seen  is usually added to the names of both deities, for example : Roog Seen and Kooh Seen. When the name Seen is added as a suffix, it changes the meaning to "Roog (or Koox) the Immensity" or by extension, "the Merciful God" (Faye, (1983), p. 44).
The Ndut supreme creator is called Kopé Tiatie Cac (variations: Koh or Koope) in their language (Ndiaye, "diversité et unicité sérères" : l’exemple de la région de Thiès"; Éthiopiques, "Issues 55 — 56", p. 124; Dupire, "Sagesse sereer: Essais sur la pensée sereer ndut", p. 61; Dupire, "Totems sereer et contrôle rituel de l'environnement", p. 39). In Ndut, it means "god grandfather" or "god the grandfather" (Ndiaye, "versité et unicité sérères" : l’exemple de la région de Thiès"; Éthiopiques, "Issues 55 — 56", p. 124) . Koope is viewed as the God of death and plague (pisti) (Dupire, "Sagesse sereer: Essais sur la pensée sereer ndut", p. 86; Echenberg, p. 139, 160-161).
Another subgroup of the Seereer people — the Noon, refer to the supreme creator as Kokh Kox (or Koh) (Société de géographie, vols, 61 — 62 , p. 245; Ndiaye diversité et unicité sérères"; Éthiopiques, "Issues 55-56", p. 124; Tastevin). All these deities are worshiped in a similar way and have very similar sounding names. The suffix Seen is also usually added to the Noon deity giving Koh Seen.
Please cite this work as:
The Seereer Resource Centre, "An overview of Seereer deities and Seereer historical figures" (2015) [in] The Seereer Resource Centre,
The addition of the Seereer totemic surname Seen after the names of these deities is perhaps not coincidental. It probably dates back at a time when the Seen family became highly involved in the Seereer priesthood — the saltigue, the last remaining guardians of Seereer religious laws and ethics after the demise of the ancient lamans. For generations, the Seen family have been involved in the Seereer priesthood even right up to the present. In Seereer history, many notable saltigues bear the Seereer surname Seen. The Seen family's connection to the Seereer deities makes them one of the old Seereer families or at the very least implies that. It is not surprising to hear in Seereer religious circles that the Seereer surname Seen is the most glorious surname of all surnames because of its connection to the Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient God.
The genesis of YAAB and YOP (the original ancestors)
YAAB and YOP were the two original human couple created by Roog according to the Seereer creation narrative, and the original ancestors of the Seereer people and all modern humans ("Genesis of YAAB and YOP" narrated by Armand Diouf of Ndimaag (Senegal), [in] Gravrand, "Pangool" (1990), p. 204)). The genesis of YAAB and YOP is found within the Seereer creation narrative, itself developed from the hermeneutics of Seereer religion, oral traditions, legends and cosmogonies, and based on two main Seereer sources : "A nax" and "A leep", which provides the specifics of the creation narrative. "A nax" is a short narrative for a short myth or proverbial expression, similar to a verb. "A leep" in contrast is for a more developed myth, similar to logos. Both are fixed- Seereer sources and sets the structure of the creation narrative (Thiaw, Issaw, "Mythe de la création du monde selon les sages sereer", p. 45−50, 59−61; Gravrand, "Pangool" p.125–6, 193–4).
Long after the creation of the universe, the primordial trees and animal world, Roog Seen, the supreme transcendental principle entity created the first human couple YAAB and YOP via its feminine principles. The first human was a female named YAAB, the second a male named YOP (Gravrand, "Pangool", p. 204-8). The old and sacred Seereer village of Yaboyabo takes its name from the original twins (YAAB and YOP). It is in Yaboyabo where "the ark of Yaabo-Yabo" is believed to be kept. The ark of Yaabo-Yabo is shaped like a bench and it is in wood, believed to be made from the somb tree (Prosopis africana), which is one of the primodial trees in the Seereer creation narrative. Based on the numerous archaeological discoveries in Seereer country and the numerous Seereer religious relics found to be in the possession of some Seereer families which they guard jealously, scholars like Gravrand believe the ark to be an ancient relic (Gravrand, "Pangool", p. 208-9). As the scholar Charles Becker notes, ancient relics from the past have been preserved by some Seereer families (Becker, "Vestiges historiques, témoins matériels du passé dans les pays sereer" ). The ark of Yaabo-Yabo has a religious and historical significance to the Seereer people. It is believed that, when YAAB and YOP were born to Roog in its Empyrean Heaven, they were deposited in an ark and carried down to Earth. The ark is referred to by different names depending on which part of Seereer country one find oneself, but all believe it to be held at Yaboyabo. In the precolonial Kingdom of Siin, the ark is called MAAK. In Seereer, MAAK (or Maak) means elder. In Diohine, a former territory of Siin, the ark is known as Badir (Gravrand, "Pangool", p. 208-9).
Seereers who adhere to the tenets of Seereer religion believe this narrative to be prehistoric and sacred, and contains profound truths about their religious believes and prehistory.
Unan and Ngoor are two historic figures whose account are found in Seereer legend — interposed in the Seereer creation narrative. Unan is the female and Ngoor (or Ngor) the male. Although not the original human couple as it will be explained below, they are important figures in Seereer mythology. Henry Gravrand believes this legend to possibly date back at around the iron age with the introduction of a third dimension (a blacksmith) interposed in the legend of these two figures. An excerpt of the legend of Unan and Ngoor is found below, and the blacksmith that came to offer them iron tools and protection from the supernatural being (a pangool) that has entered their realm (Gravrand, "Pangool", p. 204 – 8):
The Legend of Unan and Ngoor
"The first human being created by Roog was a woman.
She lived naked, where Roog had placed her.
She slept on the ground at night,
bitten by the fleas of the earth.
She could not sleep.
Roog moved her to another place.
At that time, she was alone.
A man finds her and asks: "What do you eat? From the earth?
What do you drink? Water?"
The woman responded: "I do not know what I eat: because I'm not hungry.
I do not have water to drink."
He asks her name. She say: "Unan."
She leaves him to live elsewhere.
The man followed her for several winter years.
She gave the name Ngoor to the man,
for the man is he who comes to the woman for company.
A blacksmith found Unan and Ngoor.
He said to them: "I can make iron, so you can work" the earth.
They forged a hoe and a machete.
The Pangool came and spoiled the work.
The blacksmith made them protective talismans.
The purpose of the talismans were to protect them from the pangool, the supernatural entity. Unan and Ngoor are not their real names but denote their respective functions. Unan means one who pile millet or the norisher. Ngoor means a virile man. These two according to the legend will later procreate. This narrative evokes the original twins: YAAB and YOP, and the trials and tribulations they faced. In the narrative, It also evokes Roog Seen who according to his masculine principles acted as a good father and moved the woman to a more comfortable place when she complained (Gravrand, "Pangool", p. 204—8; Universität Frankfurt am Main, p. 145). In Seereer history and mythology, blacksmiths were highly esteemed and believed to possess supernatural powers. However in the epic of Laman Jeegaan Juuf (the early medieval founder of Tukar and its surrounding colonies Njujuf, Ndokh, Sob, etc.), the noble laman referred to his adversary — Fassaman Caw (variation: Fassamane Thiaw) as a "paal" meaning blacksmith, a derogatory term in this context (Galvan, p. 110).
The legend of Jambooñ and Agaire
The legend of Jambooñ and Agaire is a Seereer and Jola legend. The Jola people (proper: Joola) are an ethnic group found in Senegal (Cassamance in particular), the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. These two ethnic groups have a "joking relationship" ("maasir" or "kalir", in Seereer ) with each other and believe to share a common ancestry since ancient times. This shared Seereer —Jola ancestry is found within the narratives of Jambooñ and Agaire. It is one of the widely studied subject by Senegalese and Gambian writers working on the Seereer —Jola historical relationship and their connection to the Point of Sangomar, one of the sacred Seereer sites. Sangomar (or sangu in Saafi-Saafi) is a Seereer word meaning "village of shadows" (the "elysiums") (Gravrand, "Visage africain de l'Église", p. 285)).
In this legend, two sisters, one called Jambooñ, the other Agaire, boarded a pirogue with their parties. Due to act of nature, the pirogue broke into half at the very Point of Sangomar. Those who headed south became the ancestors of the Jola people (the descendants of Agaire), those who headed north became the ancestors of the Seereer people (the descendants of Jambooñ). As such, Seereer and Jola believe that they trace their descend to Jambooñ (variations: Jambonge or Jambon) and Agaire (variations: Ougeney, Eugeny, Eujeuny or Eugene). For the legend of Jambooñ and Agaire, see Fata Ndiaye and Ebou Momar Taal.
 Other meanings : "God of the Heavens" but more so "God of Rain" or "Rain God". See : Diouf & Leichtman, p 96
 In Seereer proper, this surname is spelled Seen or Sen. French and English variations include : Sène, Sene or Sain.
 Spelling variation of YOP include : YOB
 Other spelling : Djigan Diouf, Laman Jegan Joof, (Seereer proper : Lamaan Jeegaan Juuf or Laman Jeegaan Juuf).
 For more about Seereer lamanic system and these villages see Bressers & Rosenbaum p. 151-157; and Galvan, p. 44, 80, 109. Galvan believes some of these Seereer villages in particular Sob and Diokul to have been settled several centuries before the Gelowar period which he termed "conquest by the Gelwaar" (p. 44). Seereer sources refute a conquest but more a marriage between Seereer noble men and the Guelowar noble women of Kaabu. This view is supported by Babacar Sédikh Diouf ([in] Ngom, "La question Gelwaar et l’histoire du Siin", p. 69) and would explain why none of the kings of Siin or Saluum had Mandinka surnames but Seereer surnames. According to Alioune Sarr (Histoire du Sine-Saloum, p. 19), the Guelowar dynastic period commenced in 1350 following the enthronement of Maysa Waali Maane (also known as Maïssa Wali Dione). Sarr's paper is the authoritative paper when it comes to the chronology of Seereer kings from Maysa Waali to the last kings of Siin. Niokhobaye Diouf's paper ("Chronique du royaume du Sine") is very detailed about the historical background of Siin but some of the dates do not tally. Bressers and Rosenbaum (p. 151) places the "master of fire" (yal o naq, also known as laman)" in the Siin "roughly from the tenth to sixteenth centuries." Bressers and Rosenbaum are probably referring to the Seereer migrants from the north, i.e. the Seereers of Tekrur who migrated in the tenth century to escape Islam. Though there were Seereers already present in Siin, Saluum and Baol, the Seereers of Tekrur exodus to the south remains in the memory of many Seereers as it was a major event in Seereer medieval history. Based on the Seereer oral tradition, these sources and archaeological discoveries around the area, this would imply Tukar was probably founded by Jeegaan Juuf around the tenth or eleventh century. Many sources including Bressers and Rosenbaum (p. 157) believe Tukar to be an old or ancient village.
 Note that Ebou Momar Taal made a transitional error regarding the line of descend. According to the legend, it is the Seereer who descended from Jambooñ (or Jambogne) and the Jola from Agaire who Taal called Eujeuny.
Biography and external links
- Thiaw, Issa Laye, "La religiosité des Seereer, avant et pendant leur islamisation'' [in] Éthiopiques, n°54 revue semestrielle de culture négro-africaine, Nouvelle série, volume 7, 2e semestre (1991)
- Thiaw, Issa Laye, "Mythe de la création du monde selon les sages sereer", p. 45−50, 59−61 [in] "Enracinement et Ouverture" – "Plaidoyer pour le dialogue interreligieux", Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (23 and 24 June 2009), Dakar
- Kellog, Day Otis; Smith, William Robertson; "The Encyclopædia Britannica: latest edition. A dictionary of arts, sciences and general literature", Volume 25, Werner (1902), p. 664,
- Frazer, Sir James George, "Folk-lore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend and Law, Volume 3", Macmillan and Company, limited (1919), (reprint), p. 317, 555
- (Frazer, Sir James George [in]) "Folk-Lore In The old Testament. Studies In Comparative Religion Legend and Law", Forgotten Books, p. 317–8, ISBN 9781440070150
- Frazer, James George, "Folk-Lore In The old Testament. Studies In Comparative Religion Legend and Law", Forgotten Books (1918), p. 317-8, ISBN 9781440070150
- Bérenger-Féraud, Laurent-Jean-Baptiste, "Les peuplades de la Sénégambie: histoire, ethnographie, mœurs et coutumes, légendes, etc", E. Leroux (1879), p. 276-7
- "Africa", Forgotten Books, p 143, ISBN 9781440091308
- Gravrand, Henry, "La Civilisation Sereer" - "Pangool", vol. 2. Les Nouvelles Éditions Africaines du Sénégal (1990), p. 125–6, 176, 193-4, 204-9, ISBN 2-7236-1055-1
- Gravrand, Henry, "Visage africain de l'Église", Orante, Paris, (1961), p. 285
- Galvan, Dennis Charles, "The State Must Be Our Master of Fire: How Peasants Craft Culturally Sustainable Development in Senegal", Berkeley, University of California Press (2004), p. 44, 80, 109-110, ISBN 9780520929425
- Faye, Louis Diène, "Mort et Naissance le monde Sereer", Les Nouvelles Éditions Africaines (1983), p. 44, ISBN 2-7236-0868-9
- Ndiaye, Ousmane Sémou, "Diversité et unicité sérères : l’exemple de la région de Thiès" [in] Éthiopiques, n°54 , revue semestrielle, de culture négro-africaine, Nouvelle série, volume 7, 2e semestre (1991)
- Éthiopiques, "Issues 55 — 56", Fondation Léopold Sédar Senghor, (1991), p. 124
- Dupire, Marguerite, "Sagesse sereer: Essais sur la pensée sereer ndut", KARTHALA Editions (1994), p. 61, 86, ISBN 2865374874
- Dupire, Marguerite, "Totems sereer et contrôle rituel de l'environnement", L'Homme (1991), Volume 31, Issue 118, p. 39
- Echenberg, Myron J., "Black death, white medicine: bubonic plague and the politics of public health in colonial Senegal, 1914-1945", Heinemann (2002), p. 139, 160-161, ISBN 0325070172
- Tastevin, C. (R.P.), "La religion des Nones", Études missionnaires, t. II, n° 2, avril — juin : 81-100; t. II, n° 3, juillet-sep : 176-187. (1933, 1934)
- Diouf, Mamadou; Leichtman, Mara, "New perspectives on Islam in Senegal: conversion, migration, wealth, power, and femininity", Palgrave Macmillan (2009), p. 93–96, 104–6, ISBN 9780230618503
- "Notes africaines, Issues 181–190", Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire (IFAN), Institut français d'Afrique noire, Institut français d'Afrique noire (1984), p. 45–6
- Becker, Charles, "Vestiges historiques, témoins matériels du passé dans les pays sereer", CNRS-ORSTOM, Dakar, (1993)
- Universität Frankfurt am Main. Frobenius-Institut, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Kulturmorphologie, Frobenius Gesellschaft, "Wirtschaft und Wirtschaftspolitik in Abeokuta 1830-1867., Volume 28; Volume 30; Volumes 40-44", F. Steiner (994), p. 145
- Bressers, Hans; Rosenbaum, Walter A.; "Achieving sustainable development: the challenge of governance across social scales", Greenwood Publishing Group (2003), p. 151, 157, ISBN 9780275978020
- Diouf, Babacar Sédikh [in] Ngom, Biram, "La question Gelwaar et l’histoire du Siin", Dakar, Université de Dakar (1987), [in] Éthiopiques, n°54, revue semestrielle de culture négro-africaine, Nouvelle série, volume 7 - 2e semestre (1991) p. 69
- Sarr, Alioune, "Histoire du Sine-Saloum (Sénégal)." Introduction, bibliographie et notes par Charles Becker. Version légèrement remaniée par rapport à celle qui est parue en 1986-87, p. 19 - 21 [in] Horizon documentation.
- Diouf, Niokhobaye, "Chronique du royaume du Sine", Suivie de notes sur les traditions orales et les sources écrites concernant le royaume du Sine par Charles Becker et Victor Martin. (1972), Bulletin de l'Ifan, Tome 34, Série B, n° 4, (1972), p. 705-6, 757 (p.4, 38) [in] Catalogue SUDOC
- Ndiaye, Fata, "LA SAGA DU PEUPLE SERERE ET L’HISTOIRE DU SINE", [in] Éthiopiques, n°54 revue semestrielle de culture négro-africaine, Nouvelle série volume 7, 2e semestre (1991) "Le SIIN avant les Gelwaar"
- Taal, Ebou Momar, "Senegambian Ethnic Groups: Common Origins and Cultural Affinities Factors and Forces of National Unity, Peace and Stability" [in] The Point Newspaper (Gambia), (Thursday, April 22, 2010)). Note that there is a transitional error in Taal's paper. The line of descend should be the other way round. See note 6 above.