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What are Senegalese Values?

Updated on April 21, 2018
A West African country that is a model of the mingling of French and African influences, Senegal has a host of various values treasured deeply.
A West African country that is a model of the mingling of French and African influences, Senegal has a host of various values treasured deeply.

Virtues, Values, and Moral Concepts

  • Jom - Jom is dignity, moral upstanding, effort, determination, ambition. It represents a refusal to be dominated. Is usually used with a verb, such as to have dignity, am jom = have Jom.

By contrast, an inversion of Jom is Amuloo Jom, somebody worthless. This concept connotes an individual. Amnaqa jom meanwhile, is a self-made man.

The opposite of jom, formed by adding on a negation (niakk) is, Niakk jom. An example of this is somebody who doesn't perform well in class, doesn’t do their lessons, doesn’t study, so on and so forth. This represents, importantly, the general concept, while the above ones represent individuals.

  • Fit - This represents courage, daring, bravery. Notably it does not necessarily apply to women as positive virtue; just as how a woman might (in "traditional" Western values) be expected to be coy and not excessively forwards, to let men take the lead in endeavors and to be delicate and refined in contrast, so too Fit applies to men, but not to women.

Leguer fit - too brave, too determined. Precocious. Perhaps bravado might be a good translation, although bravado has a sense of fakeness which attaches to it, which I'm not sure if Leguer Fit has. Maybe rashness.

  • Gore - Gratitude to good acts. This word is very polysemous, it has a lot of meanings. It can also be honesty, integrity. Perhaps a Western concept might be chivalrous; a chivalrous person acts with honesty and integrity and appropriately pays their debts
  • Soutoura - which really might have been better written as sutura phonetically, it derives from arabic, and Soutoura is a Frenchified version of the spelling - is to be able to keep secret, to be discrete, to deal with things with moderation. Discretion. Discretion is important in Senegal, such as for example when money is given in Senegal, it can be very fast and hidden, a simple exchange of hands and the money is transferred. This beyond even the natural benefit to not money-giving obvious, the Senegalese also tend to value keeping such affairs hidden. Another, more profound example of this might be in the case of a robber who one knows, who robs one's home. Instead of heading out to the central square the next day to broadcast that this happened, one would go to the robber who one knows as a friend and demand one’s possessions back. Being discrete in such regards is important, to not destroy the reputation of others. In American terms, don’t air one’s dirty linen. In one relations with others, it is an importance of preserving the dignity of others, which maintains the confidence of the community.
  • Suturloo - modesty, limits on what one has, not begging, self-reliance. In "traditional' Senegalese society,
  • Kersa - reservedness, avoiding being rude, sense of balance. This is easy to take to extremes, like avoiding making any eye contact and communication, so this strikes a delicate balance between being shy and timid, and being too forward.

Niakka kersa, is to lack this degree of discipline and this modesty, as an example if one was with people of superior position, elders, and danced or was too jovial, one lacks this decorum.

  • Tekki - verb in this form, but often used as an adjective, success, to be of significance to the family. Everything is done for the family in this sense. Senegal is highly devoted to the importance of the family Tekki can also involve undoing something.

Tukki is travel and Takk is married. There is social pressure to get married. It is not surprise that they are all so close together. These trio speak to the social goals of the Senegalese; traveling gives success, and success is for the family. Being married with somebody from home is a final part of the validation process of these.

  • Laab (clean) biir (stomach) - Literally this means clean stomach, but actually what it means is to have a good consciousness, to be kind, to be consciousness to others. Somebody who has the interest of everyone. Selfless.
  • Taabe - to give without expecting a return, give give give give. To not be tight-fisted. Nie by contrast, means tight fisted.
  • Kou mougn mougn - if one is patient, then one day you will be happy. After sacrifices, good times will come. “Good things come to those who wait” in English
  • Maasla - A sense of compromising, working to facilitate peaceful deals, and accepting the results of that which happened and moving on with life as well. Bargaining, avoiding fights and troubles. The English term which is closest might be being "diplomatic" Too much maasla, being too diplomatic, isn’t good, then one gets walked over - a pushover in English, or a poire in French.
  • Yiiul - to be honest, ethical, moral.
  • Ndank ndank - To be steady, slow, purposeful. Taking one's time. Trying to speak too fast and to get things over too quickly, is not elegant in Senegalese society, instead one moves with a graceful decorum.
  • Siis - Being selfish, refusing to share. Senegalese food in particular is shared among everybody. This goes beyond just the image of breaking bread around a table, to that that if one invites another to a restaurant, one will pay for the invité. When one eats, if one doesn’t give a morsel to a cat or dog nearby, the superstition is that one will catch an incurable disease. Even if the food the Senegalese have is very small, they will still share. So too, Senegalese possessions otherwise are shared for use, sometimes without asking or necessarily even saying thanks, as it is communal and hence using "your" possessions is incomprehensible, as there is no "your" in regards to this.
  • Fokkale - a glutton, greedy. When one is given food in some rural regions for example, even if one is hungry, one doesn’t eat all of it but reserves some of it to give onwards. Better to not eat everything as in the US. This is especially so for certain ethnic groups, in the Wolof grouping it can be less so.


Ligeyou ndey di agnou dom - a mother’s work is her child’s dinner, reflecting that it is the labor of the mother that produces the child’s preparedness and well-being. Raising a child in the way that it should be, and they will not stray from it. In English some sayings that might serve as appropriate counterparts is that the apple does not fall far from the tree. There might also be the way in which the Jesuits were remarked upon for their ability to influence children, although that was not really maternal; still, the saying "Give me a child for the first seven years and I will give you the man" of the Jesuits applies. Much of Africa is a matrifocal society, with both traditional and more recent events (such as the surge of female business ownership in the 1980s).

As an example of such thinking, my professor mentioned that when he left to go abroad, he was told that if he succeeded, it would be credited to his mother, and if he failed, she would be seen as having failed. Importance is thus layered on the family and the mother in particular, rather than on the individual.

Niit may garabou niit - This is an important representation of the communal nature of Senegalese values. Literally it means that "the human being is the medicine of the human." Figuratively, my problem is yours, we are all in this together, we are all our brother's keepers.

Notably, many of these virtues are in a process of flux and change. Senegalese society itself is in the process of dramatic changes as modernization and urbanization happens, the population shifting from traditional communities in the countryside into the new cities. These values do maintain themselves there to some extent, but the traditional structures of society are altered and changed. In addition, when economic crises happens, some of the communal values can be cast asides. When the financial collapse of the last decade occurred, the communal values to look after each other, by necessity, could at times collapse towards a scramble for survival. The position of women changes in society, and so too value divisions between men and women. As elsewhere in the world, there is always the concern over whether a society's traditional values and morals are lost as it changes : this is beyond just the countries of Africa or Asia which are developing rapidly, but also the large developed nations like the United States, which have their own internal debates over whether society's moral compass is in a state of collapse. From my own personal interaction with the Senegalese people, I cannot but think that some of their gloomy predictions of the collapse of their society's moral compas are incorrect, and that their society is animated by an impressive degree of respect, morality, kindness, politeness, and friendship.

It is easy to see the air of friendship and amity which pervades the country

My knowledge of Senegal is still as of yet incomplete, and I expect as I continue my studies here I will have more to learn and more that I can correct and add, both expanding in detail and number, and in the subtle aspects, such as differences among various population groups. However, I hope that this provides for a rough description of many of the cardinal virtues - and anti-virtues - that the Senegalese hold dear.

© 2017 Ryan Thomas


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