Officially known as the Republic of Senegal, the country is situated in West Africa. The capital city Dakar is also the largest city of Senegal and is the western most point in the African continent. The Republic of Senegal surrounds Gambia on three sides and is itself bordered by Mauritania, Bali, Guinea and Guinea Bissau.
1. There are two most popular theories related to the origins of the name of the country. As per the first, the country is said to owe its name to the Senegal River which flows in the north. According to the second theory, the name is the result of a miscommunication between the Wolof fishermen and the Portuguese. It is believed that on seeing the Portuguese ships in the 15th century the Wolof people started saying the phrase “Sun gal”, which means “our canoe”. But the foreigners mistook it for the name of the country and the name stuck.
2. The first Europeans to land on Senegalese coast were the Portuguese in 1444. Thereafter, the French colonized the country by 1677. Senegal became the longest lasting French colony in Africa, gaining independence in 1960. It has continued to maintain closer political, cultural and economic ties with France as compared to any other former French colony. The country had representatives in the French parliament even as a colony.
3. In the pre colonial era, the land that Senegal is now situated on was a part of three empires namely Ghana, Mali and Songhai. It was an important node on the trans-Saharan caravan routes as part of the Ghana and Djolof kingdoms.
4. The dominant religion practiced by almost 90 percent of the population in Senegal is Sufi Islam. The second most prominent religion is Christianity. A small percentage of the population follows indigenous religions whose beliefs are many times integrated in the Muslim and Christian practices. One of the early inhabitants, the Toucouleur people, converted to Islam in the 11th century while still retaining elements of animism in their religious beliefs.
5. Though the official language of the country is French, it is spoken on a regular basis by only a minority. The ethnic languages like Wolof, Pulaar, Jola and Mandinka are more widely used. Portuguese Creole is popularly spoken in Ziguinchor, the capital of Casamance.
6. Senegal is considered to one of the most stable and successful democracies in Africa. As a black African country, it also has been acting as a cultural bridge between the Islamic and black African nations.
7. The Senegambia stone circles are a part of the world heritage list and are dated between 3rd century BC and 16th Century AD. Of the four large groups of megalithic circles, two form a part of Senegal namely Wanar and Sine Ngayene; and two form a part of Gambia, Wassu and Kerbatch. The sites consist of more than 1,000 stone circles spread over a width of 100 kilometers and length of 350 kilometers. Each circle is made up of anywhere between eight to fourteen standing stones. The stones are generally two meters in height and weigh up to seven tons.
8. The Goree Island, located one nautical mile off the coast of Dakar was the largest slave trading centre, from 15th to 19th century, on the African coast. It is estimated that about 20,000,000 Africans passed through this island between mid 1500s to mid 1800s.
9. The current Senegal constitution in force is the fourth constitution of the country and was adopted on 22nd January 2001. Prior to this the constitution was adopted in 1959, 1960 and 1963.
10. A very important part of the Senegalese culture is greeting. Even if two people meet a second time the same day, they are expected to exchange greetings properly. This can last up to five minutes, wherein one must inquire about the other person’s health and family. The traditional dress of Senegal is boubous, a loose fitting cotton tunic with large opening for arms.
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