Yesterday, April 4th, CREATE!’s field team in Senegal had the day off to celebrate Senegalese Independence Day. The annual holiday marks the historic day in 1960 that the nation finally became independent from France after three centuries under colonial rule.

Gaining independence back in April 1960 was a major turning point for Senegal. Even before France had control of Senegal, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, and Great Britain also had power in the region, eventually conquering Senegal’s native empires and kingdoms that had been thriving there for centuries before. To finally gain independence in the mid-20th century meant that the people of Senegal could begin to rebuild their cultural traditions once more after hundreds of years under colonialism.

At first, Senegal was merged with French Sudan to form the Mali Federation, but just four months later the countries separated, forming Senegal and the neighboring Republic of Mali.  Today, Senegalese independence day is celebrated throughout the country with parades, festivals, and a two-week vacation from school for students.

The heavy influence of historic French colonialism is still evident throughout the nation (for example, café touba, Senegal’s popular coffee beverage, has French origins), but Senegalese culture also now flourishes vibrantly. Throughout our partner communities, villagers are able to grow ingredients for their favorite traditional dishes, such as ceebu jen (fish, vegetables, and rice), ceebu ginaar (chicken, vegetables, and rice), and mafe (lamb and rice with peanut sauce). Some of these ingredients they grow include tomatoes, eggplant, jaxatu (African eggplant), okra, hot peppers, bell peppers, onions, and turnips. In addition, cashew, papaya, moringa, and baobab trees provide fruits and nuts, as well as shade over their garden sites.

We are proud to be able to support Senegal’s cultural traditions and rural ways of life through our community partnerships. This week, we celebrate their independence with them, and wish Senegal a very happy birthday, or trés joyeux anniversaire!