Monday, February 25, 2008
Though we have described Sine and Saloum as part of the Wollof Empire at its height, the leading people of these states were the Serer. These people also have traditions of migration into the Senegambia area, and are also believed to be the product of racial fusion between non-Negro immigrant groups and indigenous Negroes.
Their customs and language bear considerable similarity to those of the Wollof.
They appear to have settled originally to the north of the Senegal but under pressure from more powerful peoples they moved into
Futa Toro and became subjects of the Tukulor. Other invaders including Wollof, forced the Serer to migrate south westwards until they finally established themselves in small states in the Sine-Saloum area probably in the twelfth century.
The Serer States of Since and Saloum came under the Wollof domination but remained Serer in character. Both Tukulor and Mandinka invaders that finally won control of Sine and Saloum and a series of smaller states along The Gambia including Niani and Wuli. The Mandinka migrants took over much of the Serer culture including their language.
They took the wollof "Bur" in preference to "Mad" which was the Serer title of king.
The Serer had roughly parallel social structures as the wollof domination but remained Serer in character. Both Tukulor and Mandinka groups rivalled the Wollof aristocracy for power in the Serer states but it was a group of Mandinka invaders that finally won control of Sine and Saloum and a series of smaller states along The Gambia including Niani and Wuli. The Mandinka migrants took over much of the Serer culture including their language. They took the Wollof "Bur" in preference to "Mad" which was the Serer title of king.
The Serer had roughly parallel social structure as the Wollof, marked by the existence of distinct status grouping of nobles, free peasants and slave warriors, as well as castes of artisans. The Serer can be divided into five major status groups and 'a number of sub-groupings.'
First, there was the nobility who, as in the case of the Wollof, consisted of holders of royal power and their relatives. Second, there were the "Tyeddo", the warriors who largely made up the entourage of the Burs and their major chiefs. In the third and largest status group were the "Jambur", the Commoners or free peasants. They participated in the political system, and their consent was necessary for its operation. A number of major chiefs were chosen from their ranks.
Fourth, came a series of castes of which the most important was the griot. Caste status were inherited and attached to an economic activity. Griots were well rewarded for their work and often became rather wealthy. However, the most rigid of marital taboos was against marriage with griots. They could not be buried in soil, and their corpses were generally placed in the arms of giant baobab trees.
Fifth and last on the social ladder were the slaves. Here again there were the trade slaves and domestic slaves.
The Serer did not develop any complex political institutions until they came into contact wit the Guelewarr. The Burs of both Sine and Saloum were chosen from among the Guelewarr. In both Sine and Saloum, the Bur was the highest political and religious personality. He was charged with operating the state and with taming those forces beyond the control of Man. The most important factor dividing the peoples of the Senegambia was the differential impact of Islam.
In this the Serer stood out as one of the groups that had undergone no conversion. A Bur, who reached old age, was subject to ritual murder because it was believe he could no longer guarantee that cattle and women would remain fertile. In theory, he oldest male Guelewarr became Bur. In practice, the Guelewarr, who could amass the most power, ascended the throne. Constitutional processes merely confirmed and gave legitimacy to the most power Guelewarr.