Apr 042014


Today is Independence Day (1960) in Senegal, officially the Republic of Senegal (République du Sénégal), a West African nation. It is the westernmost country in the mainland of the Old World (or Afro-Eurasia) and owes its name to the Sénégal River that borders it to the east and north. Senegal is externally bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south; internally it almost completely surrounds The Gambia, namely on the north, east and south, except for The Gambia’s short Atlantic coastline. (see here).   Senegal covers a land area of almost 197,000 km2 (76,000 sq mi), and has an estimated population of about 13 million. The climate is tropical with two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.


Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, is located at the westernmost tip of the country on the Cap-Vert peninsula. About 500 kilometers (310 miles) off the coast lie the Cape Verde Islands. During the 17th and 18th centuries, numerous trading posts belonging to various European colonial empires were established along the coast. After French colonization of the territory called French West Africa (Afrique occidentale française, or AOF), the town of St. Louis became the capital; in 1902 it was succeeded by Dakar. When Senegal gained independence from France in 1960, it affirmed its capital as Dakar. The country is part of The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  Senegal is also a member of the African Union (AU) and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States.

Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal has been continuously inhabited since the Lower Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) by various ethnic groups. Some kingdoms were created around the 7th century: Takrur in the 9th century, Namandiru and the Jolof Empire during the 13th and 14th centuries. Eastern Senegal was once part of the Ghana Empire. Islam was introduced through contact between the Toucouleur and Soninke in Senegal and the Almoravid dynasty (Berbers from northern Africa), who in turn promoted the religion within Senegal. The Almoravids, with the help of Toucouleur allies, used military force for conversion. This movement faced resistance from ethnicities of traditional religions, the Serers in particular. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Wolof converted peacefully due to the intervention of leaders such as Amadou Bamba, Malik Sy and Sayyidunâ Muhammad Al-imam Laye, who brought their followers with them. They saw Islam as a way to unite and resist European colonialism.


In the 13th and 14th centuries, the area came under the influence of the empires to the east; the Jolof Empire of Senegal was also founded during this time. In the Senegambia region, between 1300 and 1900, close to one-third of the population was enslaved, typically as a result of captives taken in warfare. In the 14th century the Jolof Empire grew powerful, having united Cayor and the kingdoms of Baol, Sine, Saloum, Waalo, Futa Tooro, and Bambouk. The empire was a voluntary confederacy of various states rather than an empire built on military conquest. The empire was founded by Ndiadiane Ndiaye, a part Serer and part Toucouleur, who was able to form a coalition with many ethnicities, but collapsed around 1549  with the death of the last emperor of Jolof, Lele Fouli Fak Ndiaye, who was killed at the Battle of Danki, which took place near Diourbel , in the ancient region of Baol . He was killed by Amari Ngoné Sobel Fall, the son of the head of the region at the time Amari Ngone Sobel Fall, who would become the first damel (king) of Cayor.

In the mid-15th century, the Portuguese landed on the Senegal coastline, followed by traders representing other countries, including the French. Various European powers—Portugal, the Netherlands, and Great Britain—competed for trade in the area from the 15th century onward. In 1677, France gained control of what had become a minor departure point in the Atlantic slave trade—the island of Gorée next to modern Dakar, used as a base to purchase slaves from the warring cultures on the mainland.


European missionaries introduced Christianity to Senegal in the 19th century. It was only in the 1850’s that the French began to expand on to the Senegalese mainland – they had abolished slavery and promoted an abolitionist doctrine, adding native kingdoms like the Waalo, Cayor, Baol, and the Jolof Empire. French colonists progressively invaded and took over all the kingdoms except Sine and Saloum under Governor Louis Faidherbe. Senegalese resistance to the French expansion and curtailing of their lucrative slave trade was led in part by Lat-Dior, damel of Cayor, and Maad a Sinig Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof, the king of Sine, resulting in the Battle of Logandème.

On 4 April 1959 Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on 20 June 1960, as a result of the independence and the transfer of power agreement signed with France on 4 April 1960. Due to internal political difficulties, the Federation broke up on 20 August, 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. Senghor was a very well-read man, educated in France. He was a poet, a philosopher and personally drafted the Senegalese national anthem, “Pincez tous vos koras, frappez les balafons”. He supported pan-African unity and advocated a brand of African socialism.


Ceebu jen (cheh-boo jen) is one of the most popular dishes in Senegal, especially along the coast, and is considered a national dish. Ceebu jen is a Wolof term meaning “rice and fish” – a mix of fish, rice, tomatoes and cooked vegetables that shows a strong resemblance to Spanish paella and Creole jambalaya. A wide variety of vegetables and fish can be used, making ceebu jen an extremely versatile dish. It can also be spelled thieboudienne, tiéboudienne, thiep bou dien, cep bu jën.

You can use whole fish or fish fillets. Any firm white-fleshed fish works well. If using fillets, try marinating the fillets in the parsley mixture (roff) instead of using it as a stuffing, then add the roff to the onions as they sauté. Most Senegalese also add small amounts of smoked, dried fish (guedge) and fermented snails (yete) to ceebu jen. They add an incomparable, smoky flavor. You can use whatever chile peppers suit your tastes.  Scotch bonnets are closest to Senegalese peppers for flavor and heat.  Use any vegetables you have on hand. Try yams, cassava, potatoes, green beans, zucchini, okra, or bell peppers.


Ceebu Jen


2 lbs whole fish (or fillets), cleaned
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
2 or 3 chile peppers, finely chopped
2 or cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
¼ cup tomato paste
5 cups light stock
3 carrots, cut into rounds
½ head cabbage, cut into wedges
½ lb pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cubed
1 eggplant, cubed
2 cups rice
lemons, cut into wedges



Rinse the fish inside and out with cool water and pat dry. Cut three diagonal slashes about 1/2 inch deep in each side of the fish. Mix the chopped parsley, chile peppers, garlic, salt and pepper and stuff the mixture (called roff) into the slashes on the fish.

Heat the oil in a large, deep pot over medium-high heat. Brown the fish on both sides in the hot oil and reserve.

Add the chopped onions to the hot oil and sauté until cooked through and just beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and about ¼ cup of stock and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the stock, carrots, cabbage, pumpkin and eggplant and simmer over medium heat for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and tender. Add the browned fish and simmer for another 15 minutes or so. Remove the fish and vegetables and about 1 cup of the broth to a platter, cover and set in a warm oven.

Strain the remaining broth, discarding the solids. Add enough water to the broth to make 4 cups and return to heat. Bring the broth to a boil, stir in the rice and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through and tender.

Spread the cooked rice in a large serving platter, including any crispy bits (the xooñ) sticking to the bottom of the pan. Spread the vegetables over the center of the rice and top with the fish. Finally, pour the reserved broth over all. Serve with lemon wedges. Ceebu jen is traditionally eaten with the hands from a common serving dish.

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