Why the name: Dakar?

Map of Senegal
Map of Senegal

After talking about one of the great queens of Senegal, Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj, it made total sense to explore the meaning of the capital and largest city of Senegal: Dakar. Is the name a local Wolof name? or does it have a French origin? Is the name’s meaning linked to Dakar’s strong fishing tradition or something else?

Map of Dakar in 1850
Map of Dakar in 1850

The name Dakar could be the French version of Ndakaarou (Ndakaaru), local name whose etymology still remains uncertain. It could be derived from the wolof deuk raw meaning “whoever settles here will be in peace,” or dekk-raw from dekk (country), and raw (to escape) because of the afflux of populations from the Cayor and Baol regions after the Lebous settled there. It could also arise from the wolof dakhar, the name for the tamarind tree: it is said that upon arrival in the area, the Lebou people were impressed by the huge numbers of Tamarind trees they saw, and thus named the area after it, dakhar. However, some historians think that the area was named after a French marine officer Accar or d’Accard, who lived there at the end of the 17th century, and was mentioned on maps of that era. The name Dakar first appeared on a 1750 map of the Cap-Vert Peninsula, drawn by French botanist Michel Adanson.

Map of Dakar in 1888
Map of Dakar in 1888

The Cap-Vert peninsula was settled, no later than the 15th century, by the Lebou people, an aquacultural ethnic group related to the neighboring Wolof and Serer. The original villages: Ouakam, Ngor, Yoff and Hann, still constitute distinctively Lebou neighborhoods of the city today. In 1444, the Portuguese reached the Bay of Dakar, initially as slave-raiders, but were repulsed by the natives on the shores. Peaceful contact was finally opened in 1456 by Diogo Gomes, and the bay was subsequently referred to as the “Angra de Bezeguiche” (after the name of the local ruler). Due to its key location, the bay of “Bezeguiche” would eventually serve as a critical stop for the Portuguese India Armadas of the early 16th century.

Hotel de Ville of Dakar, 1920
Hotel de Ville of Dakar, 1920

The Portuguese eventually founded a settlement on the island of Gorée (then known as the island of Bezeguiche or Palma), which by 1536 they began to use as a base for the export of slaves. The mainland of Cap-Vert, however, was under control of the Jolof Empire, as part of the western province of Cayor which seceded from Jolof in its own right in 1549. A new Lebou village, called Ndakaaru, was established directly across from Gorée in the 17th century to service the European trading factory with food and drinking water.

Public well in Dakar in 1899
Public well in Dakar in 1899

The city of Dakar is a commune, one of the 67 communes of Senegal. The commune of Dakar was created by the French colonial administration on June 17, 1887 by detaching it from the commune of Gorée. The commune of Dakar is also a department, one of the 34 departments of Senegal; this is quite similar to Paris, which is both a commune and a department. Dakar was also the capital of the short-lived Mali Federation from 1959 to 1960, before becoming the capital of independent Senegal in 1960. The poet, philosopher and first President of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, tried to transform Dakar into the “Sub-Saharan African Athens” (l’Athènes de l’Afrique subsaharienne).

The African Renaissance Monument with a view of Dakar and the ocean (Carrapide.com)
The African Renaissance Monument with a view of Dakar and the ocean (Carrapide.com)

In its colonial heyday Dakar was one of the major cities of the French Empire, comparable to Hanoi or Beirut. French trading firms established branch offices there and industrial investments (mills, breweries, refineries, canneries) were attracted by its port and rail facilities. Today, Dakar is a major financial center, home to national and regional banks, and numerous international organizations, NGOs and international research centers. Beginning in 1978 and until 2007, Dakar was frequently the ending point of the famous Dakar Rally. It is also home to the IFAN Museum of West African culture, and the tallest sculpture in Africa, the African Renaissance Monument.

Dakar is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. Located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, its numerous sandy beaches and the warmth of its people make it a rare pearl. Enjoy the video below, and if you get a chance, do visit this “Athens of Sub-Saharan Africa”, and do not forget to taste the amazing fish, and world-renowned Senegalese cuisine, and feel the spirit of the teranga (hospitality).


“Femme Noire” de Léopold Sédar Senghor / “Black Woman” by Léopold Sédar Senghor

Léopold Sédar Senghor
Léopold Sédar Senghor

I would like to share with you this poem of the late president of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor.  This poem is an ode to the Black woman, but above all, to Senegal his country.  Yes… after reading it several times, one realizes that Senghor was writing an ode to the Black woman, his mother, his sister, his daughter, but above all to Senegal which could be loved just like a woman, and whose “beauty stroke him to the heart like the flash of an eagle”, and whose “Savannah stretch[ed] to clear horizons, savannah shuddering beneath the East Wind’s eager caresses.” This poem was published in ‘Chants d’Ombre’ (1945), English translation by Melvin Dixon (in The Collected Poetry (CARAF books …)).  As you read Senghor’s poem, do you see other meanings? who do you think was the intended audience? Do you feel, like me, that he is praising Senegal, the land of his ancestors? or is he talking about the woman of his dreams? Enjoy!

Femme noire

Femme nue, femme noire
Vétue de ta couleur qui est vie, de ta forme qui est beauté
J’ai grandi à ton ombre; la douceur de tes mains bandait mes yeux
Et voilà qu’au cœur de l’Eté et de Midi,
Je te découvre, Terre promise, du haut d’un haut col calciné
Et ta beauté me foudroie en plein cœur, comme l’éclair d’un aigle

Femme nue, femme obscure
Fruit mûr à la chair ferme, sombres extases du vin noir, bouche qui fais lyrique ma bouche
Savane aux horizons purs, savane qui frémis aux caresses ferventes du Vent d’Est
Tamtam sculpté, tamtam tendu qui gronde sous les doigts du vainqueur
Ta voix grave de contralto est le chant spirituel de l’Aimée

Femme noire, femme obscure
Huile que ne ride nul souffle, huile calme aux flancs de l’athlète, aux   flancs des princes du Mali
Gazelle aux attaches célestes, les perles sont étoiles sur la nuit de ta   peau.

Délices des jeux de l’Esprit, les reflets de l’or ronge ta peau qui se moire

A l’ombre de ta chevelure, s’éclaire mon angoisse aux soleils prochains de   tes yeux.

Femme nue, femme noire
Je chante ta beauté qui passe, forme que je fixe dans l’Eternel
Avant que le destin jaloux ne te réduise en cendres pour nourrir les racines   de la vie.

Black Woman

Naked woman, black woman                              Clothed with your colour which is life, with your form which is beauty
In your shadow I have grown up; the gentleness of your hands was laid over my eyes.                                                                   And now, high up on the sun-baked pass, at the heart of summer, at the heart of noon,
I come upon you, my Promised Land,
And your beauty strikes me to the heart like the flash of an eagle.

Naked woman, dark woman                        Firm-fleshed ripe fruit, sombre raptures of black wine, mouth making lyrical my mouth
Savannah stretching to clear horizons,
savannah shuddering beneath the East Wind’s eager caresses                                                                 Carved tom-tom, taut tom-tom, muttering
under the Conqueror’s fingers                            Your solemn contralto voice is the
spiritual song of the Beloved.

Naked woman, dark woman                                  Oil that no breath ruffles, calm oil on the
athlete’s flanks, on the flanks of the Princes of Mali
Gazelle limbed in Paradise, pearls are stars on the night of your skin

Delights of the mind, the glinting of red gold against your watered skin

Under the shadow of your hair, my care
is lightened by the neighbouring suns of your eyes.

Naked woman, black woman,
I sing your beauty that passes, the form
that I fix in the Eternal,                                        Before jealous fate turn you to ashes to
feed the roots of life.

Abdoulaye Wade, the Negrier is gone! – Congratulations to Macky Sall

Flag of Senegal
Flag of Senegal

First of all, I would like to praise the victory of Macky Sall in Senegal against Abdoulaye Wade…  Apparently, and the foreign press does not want to give the real results, Wade received a real K.O. …  He was apparently knocked out with less than 30% of voices in the second round of the presidential elections in Senegal.  Congratulations to Macky Sall and the people of Senegal who defeated the octogenarian Abdoulaye Wade.  I am particularly joyous because Abdoulaye Wade has viciously destabilized some of the most stable countries in Africa in the past few years: Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, and recently Mali. This man totally served the western interests of stopping the formation of a United States of Africa, or rather the FMA (Fonds monetaire Africain), and the formation of a common currency. He betrayed Kadhafi, and many others.  I have no pity for somebody who was ready to transform his country into a monarchy… like Togo and Gabon… he just made the mistake of thinking that Senegal was Togo or Gabon.  He should pay for his crimes and should also be prosecuted for crimes against humanity in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya. So long Gorgui… You will not be missed!

Map of Senegal
Map of Senegal

As I said, this is a people’s win… however, history (on the continent) has shown that simple alternance of power does not mean a true system change.  Macky Sall may be good willing, full of good intentions, but how can he act if he does not even control his country’s currency? how can he act when the true power resides elsewhere, in the hexagon?  Well we wish Macky Sall the best, and all children of Africa rejoice for his victory and that of the Senegalese people.  We also hope that there could be light at the end of the tunnel, and give Macky Sall our entire support in leading his country.