The Senegal Village at the Franco-British Exhibition
Part 2 taken from the official guide price 2d
Not far away is the Mosque, dear to the heart of all Mohammedans, of whom many devout will be found in the village. Here, at fixed hours, they recite their prayers, accompanying them with those gestures which give to the ceremonies of the religion of the Prophet so strange an appearance. If it were not for the fact that the devotees are sincere and grave in their religious beliefs, these public prayers would have an air of the grotesque.
In another corner we find the chief shop of the village where the goods of European merchants who have penetrated to the remotest villages of Western Africa are displayed, tempting the native, and the visitor, alike by their brightness and cheapness.
Now take a hasty glance at the interior of this hut on your right,, and make a rapid inventory of the contents. That will not be difficult. Inside you will see a bed of straw—nothing more. These primitive people have not yet adopted all the fashions and utensils of the luxurious life. Coupled with this simple life you will now be surprised to see evidences of great taste in the work of the jeweler, who is sitting in front of the hut with a wonderful array of silver filigree, arabesques of gold, and strangely-wrought trinkets before him. As he uses his simple tools you marvel at the skill of his hands, and the ingenuity of design. A woman of fashion would be glad to adorn herself with the result of his patient labour.
Come over here and watch this cobbler, and the Turkish slippers in gay colours, which he is making. If you will give him a piece of doeskin he will make for you in a day or two a delightful pair of slippers, which will serve to remind you for many a year of your visit to Sunny Senegal.
His neighbour is a weaver, who looks up from his-work and smiles, showing a double row of gleaming white teeth. You smile in return as you see his primitive material, admiring all the same his bizarre designs,, and the daring manner in which he combines the most brilliant colours in the production of his cloth.
Give, in passing, a look at the embroiderer, whose needlework would do credit to our most skillful workers. His designs are naive and fresh, giving originality to-his work ; he is evidently an artist of his kind and. proud of it.
One thought will strike you as you watch these clever artisans of the village. In Europe we specialize too much. Where is the workman who can do as this-weaver can ?—this man, who will take a live sheep and give you from its wool in a few days a many-coloured waistcoat.
If they live simply these black people yet know something about the art of cooking. Grave and conscious of her importance is the cook, who washes-her vegetables, and prepares her rice in the full view of yourself. Notice how skillfully she introduces into-her ball of rice tasty little bits of beef and mutton. It. is quite curious to watch her black hands, and if you. saw the same in the kitchen of a London restaurant you might be disturbed. I assure you the colour of those hands, like her smile, is one that “won’t come off.” Like all Mohammedans, the natives of this-village insist upon scrupulous cleanliness in the preparation of their meals.
If you are so fortunate as to see one of these families at their meal you will notice that they use only the forks nature has generously given them. Each puts his fingers into a large bowl of rice, and taking a portion rolls it deftly into a ball which he transfers at once to his mouth so easily and naturally that though you may be amused you will not be shocked.
But the dances are beginning and it is time for us to leave the huts and gather round the hall in which they are given. Here are the musicians with their tom-toms suspended round their necks. Two or three rolls upon these drums with their quick, pliant fingers,, and the dance begins.
They may not dance with the airs and graces of the ball-room, but they are far cleverer than the American negro, with his much-admired cake-walk. While the young girls move simply, advancing, bowing, and turning with graceful movements, the elder women make rapid pirouettes, balancing themselves-from their hips. But the men are the best dancers, throwing themselves into the exercise with warlike and unbridled energy, displaying in their steps their exuberant and primitive natures. In all their dances the natives of the village observe the greatest decency and good conduct, naturally and without prompting.
If you are fond of wrestling and athletic sports, you will stay after the dance to watch the work of these two colossal negroes, who look like statues of ebony as they prepare to grip. As soon as they are locked together you will notice with admiration how their muscles tighten and stand out like steel—a magnificent exhibition of natural force, which it is worth a visit to the Senegal village to see. You may be surprised at the guttural sounds which proceed from the throat of the conqueror. They prove at all events that in spite of the strain of battle his lungs are in good condition.
From great strength pass on to great weakness. Here is the village school with its little black scholars learning their' lessons under the guidance of the marabout, or priest-teacher. They sing and study their lessons under the eyes of onlookers with much unconcern, but cannot resist the temptation to study occasionally the white hands of their visitors. Are you surprised ? They are greedy little chaps, and soon spoiled by the mothers of their small white visitors, who insist upon giving them sweets, greatly to the worry of the grave and learned teacher. Before they have been with us long we have to beg visitors to refrain from giving them too many sweets, which are sadly destructive of the very excellent digestion’s nature has given these fascinating little atoms of colour.
It has been said that the Franco-British Exhibition is a very “serious” exhibition where visitors come to study and be wise. If you wish to study as well as amuse yourself you can find no better place than this corner of Africa. In this circumscribed spot you may conduct an inquiry into the manners, customs, and language of many strange races, inhabiting, it is true, the same country, but differing in many important and most interesting ways. A few notes on the different people here will add greatly to your interest in the Senegal Village.
Look at this tall negro with the bangles on his arm and his gaudy waist-belt. You saw him dancing just now. He is a true Griot, one of the troubadours of the Dark Continent. Not for him the hard work of making earthenware pots, or beating brass into cunning shapes. His sole mission in life is to amuse and startle the simple negroes of other castes, first with his dance and music, and secondly with his weird ability to forecast the future. Should a Griot see a distinguished person passing before his hut he will at once improvise a chant in his honour, celebrating the glory of his ancestors, and promising him illustrious. descendants, continuing the eulogy until he has drawn a gift from him.
If you are a musician you will be delighted with, the harmonious sounds these Griots draw from their primitive instruments, of which you will recognize the following : The Kora, a sweet-sounding harp of sixteen strings. The Balafon, a sort of xylophone, in which little calabashes full of water are placed under the reeds to modify the sound. Musicians declare that there are few instruments in Europe equal to this for correctness and harmony of sounds. The Bourou, a trumpet. The Kalarn, a violin. The Tom-Tom, a little drum held in the hand and struck with a single stick.
Thanks to their skill with these instruments the Griots are able to give a most entertaining exhibition, which it will repay every musician to study.
Among the dancers you will notice several tall good-looking negroes wearing beards, but without mustaches. They wear a head-dress called the “subakane”, a hat of white calico of cylindrical form. Their wives cover their heads with a handkerchief folded in turban fashion, and paint their gums and lips blue. Mohammedans, polygamous, and very superstitious, the Ouolofs, as they are called, are the blackest and finest of the negro races of Senegal. Notice the amulets and “gris-gris” they are wearing. These are charms against the eye of the Griots, who, jolly fellows enough when dancing and singing, may yet prophesy evil.
The Madingoes are a different type. This middle-sized man is evidently one. of them, for he wears the, characteristic double-peaked hat, and he has the enormous jaw, flattened nose, and wide nostrils of the typical negro. He is a traveler and a merchant, and has made journeys as far as the Sudan. At home you will never see him without a gun or sword hanging from his shoulder. He, too, is very superstitious, and never makes a bargain without consulting the sorcerer.
Probably the weaver you were looking at just now is a Sereres. His race are great weavers and workers in metal. Unlike the other people of the village the Sereres are not Mohammedans, but cling to the ancient belief in fetishism which preceded the cult of the Prophet. This man will tell you that he believes his soul after death will enter into the body of a bird, and enjoy a second existence free from the necessity for; toil. Being a married man his head is shaved. His wife has not tattooed her gums and lips like other women in the village, but decorates her body with various patterns instead.
This war-like person with the austere look, wearing white pantaloons and a burnous, his arms and legs weighted with bangles and gris-gris, is one of the Toucouleur race, the most fanatical and courageous of all these Senegal people. He is a strict Mussulman,. and ever ready to wage a holy war against the infidel at the bidding of some mad prophet. The French have wisely enlisted many of these warlike spirits in their native regiments, and find them excellent soldiers under strict discipline. You may find them among the weavers and workers in metal, but they regard manual labour of this sort with disgust, and prefer agriculture.
The Soussous are also represented in this village They are a pacific people except when provoked to internal discord by secret societies. The men embroider and sew while the women are busy in the kitchen. The latter are clothed only in cotton “knickers” and a piece of stuff, which, having a hole in the middle, can be drawn over the head and chest. Both men and women are cultivators of the soil, growing cereals of all kinds, and the arachide nut. If they were not the most improvident of people they would soon be wealthy, for the soil of Senegal quickly repays a hundredfold the little labour they bestow upon it.
I have now introduced you to the people of the Senegal Village, and can leave you to make their better acquaintance, assured that you will return many times.
Valentine’s published one view of the Senegal Village, but the promoters of the Village brought a plentiful supply of their own post cards with them. These French post cards of the Senegal Village were probably taken from photographs originally taken at a Belgian Exhibition at Liége in 1905. Many of them bear Ballymaclinton or Franco-British Exhibition post marks and messages tying them to the White City exhibition. All of the titles include Village Sénégalais followed by a description of the view or activity in French. There are four series of post cards.
Senegal Series 1.
B/W litho printing, title printed in black upright letters, green back with ‘CARTE POSTALE’ without full stop measuring 52 mm., double line ‘T’ divider with short single top bar, no stamp box.
Senegal Series 2.
B/W litho printing, titles printed in red. On the front down the left side also printed in red is ‘Roch et Lyon, édit., Neuilly-s-Seine. Reprod Interdite’. Green back with ‘CARTE POSTALE’ without full stop measuring 51 mm., single zigzag line divider with long top bar measuring 122 mm, no stamp box.
Senegal Series 3.
B/W litho printing with title printed in black italics, black back with ‘CARTE POSTALE’ without full stop measuring 53 mm., double line divider with long top bar measuring 116 mm., no stamp box.
Senegal Series 4.
Coloured printing, titles printed in red. On the front down the left side also printed in red is ‘Roch et Lyon, édit., Neuilly-s-Seine. Reprod Interdite’. Green back with ‘CARTE POSTALE’ measuring 51 mm., single zigzag line divider with long top bar measuring 122 mm., no stamp box, as type 2.
© Exhibition Study Group 2008