Senegalese Independence Day

Republic of Senegal - Scott #202 (1961)
Republic of Senegal – Scott #202 (1961)

April 4 is celebrated each year in the Republic of Senegal (République du Sénégal), a country in West Africa. On April 4, 1959, Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on June 20, 1960, as a result of Senegal’s independence and the transfer of power agreement signed with France on April 4, 1960. Due to internal political difficulties, the Mali Federation broke up on August 20, when Senegal and French Sudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) each proclaimed independence. Léopold Sédar Senghor was proclaimed Senegal’s first president in September 1960.

Senegalese stamps have been featured on ASAD twice before with entity profiles on the French colony and as the independent republic. Please take a look at those articles for general and (limited) postal histories of the area.

Map of Senegal's administrative divisions

Scott #202 was released on September 30, 1961, part of a set of five stamps portraying various Senegalese sports (Scott #202-206). The stamps were recess-printed and perforated 13. The 50-centime olive, black and chocolate stamp portrays Senegalese wrestling (Njom in Serer, Lutte sénégalaise or simply Lutte avec frappe in French, Laamb in Wolof, Siɲɛta in Bambara). This is a type of folk wrestling traditionally performed by the Serer people and now a national sport in Senegal and parts of The Gambia, and is part of a larger West African form of traditional wrestling (Lutte Traditionnelle). The Senegalese form traditionally allows blows with the hands (frappe), the only one of the West African traditions to do so. As a larger confederation and championship around Lutte Traditionnelle has developed since the 1990s, Senegalese fighters now practice both forms, called officially Lutte Traditionnelle sans frappe (for the international version) and Lutte Traditionnelle avec frappe for the striking version.

Indoor Senegalese wrestling during the World African Wrestling World Tour, Mame Balla versue Pape Mor Lô at Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. Photo taken on June 8, 2013.
Indoor Senegalese wrestling during the World African Wrestling World Tour, Mame Balla versue Pape Mor Lô at Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. Photo taken on June 8, 2013.

Senegalese wrestling originates in the wrestling tradition of the Serer people — formally a preparatory exercise for war among the warrior classes depending on the technique. In Serer tradition, wrestling is divided into different techniques with mbapate being one of them. It was also an initiation rite among the Serers, the word Njom derives from the Serer principle of Jom (from Serer religion), meaning heart or honor in the Serer language. The Jom principle covers a huge range of values and beliefs including economic, ecological, personal and social values. Wrestling stems from the branch of personal values of the Jom principle.

One of the oldest known and recorded wrestlers in Senegambia was Boukar Djilak Faye (a Serer) who lived in the 14th century in the Kingdom of Sine. He was the ancestor of the Faye Paternal Dynasty of Sine and Saloum (both Kingdoms in present-day Senegal).

The njom wrestling spectacle was usually accompanied by the kim njom – the chants made by young Serer women in order to reveal their gift of “poetry” (ciid in Serer). The Wolof word for wrestling — Laamb, derives from the Serer language Fara-Lamb Siin (Fara of Mandinka origin whilst Lamb of Serer origin) the chief griot who used to beat the tam-tam of Sine called Lamb or Laamb in Serer. The lamb was part of the music accompaniment of wrestling in pre-colonial times as well as after Senegal’s independence. It was also part of the Njuup tradition (a conservative Serer music repertoire, the progenitor of Mbalax).

Senegalese wrestling match at the Stade Demba Diop in Dakar, Senegal. Photo taken on February 6, 2006.
Senegalese wrestling match at the Stade Demba Diop in Dakar, Senegal. Photo taken on February 6, 2006.

Transcending ethnic groups, the sport enjoys the status of national sport. Traditionally, young men also used to fight as a distraction, to court wives, prove their manliness, and bring honor to their villages. Usually each wrestler (called mbër) performed a particular dance called a bàkk before the start of the combat.

Today, Senegalese wrestling is very popular in the country as an indication of male athletic strength and ability. Presently, wrestling is arranged by business-promoters who offer prizes for the winners.

One of the main objectives in Senegalese wrestling is to throw the opponent to the ground by lifting him up and over, usually outside a given area.

Champion wrestler Yékini (Yakhya Diop) at the Stade Demba Diop in Dakar, Senegal. Photo taken on June 10, 2006.
Champion wrestler Yékini (Yakhya Diop) at the Stade Demba Diop in Dakar, Senegal. Photo taken on June 10, 2006.

Senegalese wrestlers train extremely hard and may perform press ups and various difficult physical exercises throughout the day to build up their strength. However while they believe strength is important they also believe that there is an element of luck in the winner, and may perform rituals before a match to increase their chances. Common to Senegalese wrestlers is rubbing a foot on a stone or rubbing themselves with lotions or oils to increase “good luck”.

Since the 1950s, Senegalese wrestling, like its counterparts in other areas of West Africa, has become a major spectator sport and cultural event. The champions of traditional wrestling events are celebrities in Senegal, with fighters such as Yékini (Yakhya Diop), Tyson (Mohamed Ndao), and Bombardier (Serigne Ousmane Dia) the best known.

In April 2008, a BBC documentary entitled Last Man Standing covered the lives of a group of British and American hopefuls at a boot camp in Senegal who took on Senegalese opponents. Laamb was featured in the 2005 film L’Appel des arènes (Wrestling Grounds).

Flag of the Republic of Senegal

Coat of Arms of Senegal

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