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Three generations of women give their opinion on the practice of the sacred

The role of women in the continuity against all odds in heavily Islamised communities

We visited the family of Khady Fall, called "Sela", for a special session with the aim to obtain simultaneously the views on the practice of the sacred of women from three generations. We have met Khady Fall, her mother, Coura Diop, and her daughter, Fatou Sarr, in their concession in the village of Hann-Pêcheurs.

As we have stressed in some of our earlier reports, Hann-Pêcheurs is strongly influenced by the importance of the Muslim segment of its population. The presence of Islam has had an impact on the animist practices to the point that men, draped daily in their boubou, rosary in hand, have difficulty in recognising that the practice of the sacred is still present in their homes. We must also understand their attitude to the extent that Islam condemns animist practice and the belief in a supernatural power other than God.

But parallel to this position of the men, attesting and insisting that the practice of the sacred is no longer around, the interview with three generations of women shows how these still believe strongly in these realities. While the forms of expression of these beliefs may vary from one generation to another, there remains a constant: the sacred is not only part of their lives, but also provides them with physical security and insurance for their livelihoods as human beings with multiple needs. Indeed, in front of us these three women from three generations expressed their attachment to the sacred in the following ways:

  • A grandmother, Coura Diop, illustrated through examples that the sacred practices have tangible positive effects on people, who adhere to these beliefs. She compares the breakdown of these practices with the curses some young people live through;

  • Khady Fall confirms the fact that in her work these practices are still ongoing in that the women of her generation continue to use the prayers from people known for the special power they hold: the use of those magical repositories of knowledge for success in work or guarding against bad luck. So for her, the women of her generation hang on to this cause. She is more concerned for future generations, who she thinks are too exposed to the potential effects of globalisation, especially with the new communication technologies;

  • Finally, Fatou Sarr, Khady's daughter, aged 36, who has two children: she adopts an attitude demonstrating that she does not question these beliefs so deeply rooted in the fishing families. Indeed, while very much a daughter of this community, she takes full advantage of modern opportunities (use of social networks to communicate with people of her generation) agrees strongly with the fact that, for younger generations "calling into question the tradition, including the belief in the sacred, could be hazardous for the next generation." She insists that not aspects of modernity are to be taken on board.

These very clear positions of the women on the sacred show how they ensure the perpetuity of the modes of thinking and acting in society in general. It should be remembered that the initiation of young people to the sacred takes place from an early age and is ensured by the women, as we have also seen elsewhere: in Kayar, Yoff and Saint Louis.