Our World At Home: Senegalese culture - Whole Wide World Toys
our world at home

Our World at Home: Senegal

The next stop on our global scavenger hunt at home is the western coast of Africa—Senegal to be exact. Where we plan to unearth an easy craft, a story to tell and recipes that were made to share. So point your compass toward home to begin our adventure!

[An important note before we start our journey…As we sift through our everyday lives, finding elements of Senegalese culture, it’s important to remember that the words we unearth, the foods we find, and the customs we examine were not shared willingly, nor naturally. Rather, they were brought to this country aboard slave ships, where they were cultivated by African slaves, and eventually absorbed into American culture.]

Ask your kids if they speak Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal, and they’re sure to say no. Won’t they be surprised to learn that they do! In fact, some super recognizable, every-day words have their roots in Wolof. Have you ever played a bongo? Or carried a tote? Eaten a yam? Or listened to jazz? Maybe your kids have begged you to get a Basenji dog. The word Voodoo (vodou) most definitely comes from there, and it’s possible zombie does too. Even the beloved bananawas originally a Wolof word, adopted by the Spanish or Portuguese. Give your kids the chance to play with these Wolof words in one of three ways…

Create a word search puzzle they’ll love. You can plug in parameters and words at this online puzzle generator.

Griots are West African storytellers who use poetry and music to pass on stories and important history. Let your kids play griot by challenging them to tell a story using all of the Wolof words they know. We love the idea of a hero basenji dog who plays jazz and saves the world from zombies. Or how about a banana-loving, bongo-playing protagonist who’s on a mission to do away with plastic bags and replace them with reusable totes… maybe filled with yams? The possibilities are endless!

Invite them to write a call-and-response song using Wolof words. This is a two birds, one stone activity, as slaves brought the call-and-response technique to this country from West Africa.

For the Love of Food

Behold! As usual, your kitchen is a cornucopia of global food finds. Open the pantry to discover a few Senegal staples, like rice and black-eyed peas. In the fridge, you’ll find a few more—tubers (like yams), okra and fresh fish (like grouper) are all common foods in West Africa too.

But the most surprising find you’ll make on this “excavation” is the cola in your fridge. That’s right, one of the most important original ingredients of Coca-Cola—caffeine—was extracted from the kola nuts of Senegal. And although these nuts were brought over by slaves in the early 17th century, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that a Georgia pharmacist thought to mix caffeine and a few other ingredients into the first-ever cola drink. Who knew?

In Senegal the concept of terangais universal; you find it everywhere. In fact, Senegal’s national football team is known as the Lions of Teranga. It’s a Wolof word that loosely translated, means “hospitality” or “welcoming generosity.” No wonder so many traditional Senegalese dishes were made to share! Here are two we think you’ll love to make with your crew!

Whether you spell it Thiebou jenn, Thiebou dienn or Thieboudienne, this labor-intensive, national dish of Senegal is an adventure to make and eat. There are a few harder-to-find ingredients you’ll need to track down to make it, but they’re worth the search. Try this recipe for Thiebou jenn, or this one to compare.

You’ll recognize the roots of gumbo, jambalaya and hoppin’ John in Jollof Rice, a standard West African dish. Get a Jollof Rice recipe at NYT Cooking, or search for your own.

For the Love of Crafts

It seems batik, a resist fabric dying process, was ubiquitous in the ancient world. There’s evidence ancient Egyptians, Asians, Indians and Africans were using the art form thousands of years ago. And while most of these cultures used beeswax to resist the dye, Africans used cassava starch, rice paste or even mud as a resist. Encourage your kiddo’s creative side with these batik dyed bags that use simple school glue as a resist. You can find a batik how-to video here so your kids have an idea of where they’re headed with this project.

For the Love of Play

If your kids are still itching to learn more about the world around them, pull out the World Village Playset China, where they can dive into the colorful play mat and imagine they’re Joe or Emma, wandering the streets of a Chinese village.

Then jet over to Ireland to explore some more with the newly released World Village Playset Ireland. Here, your kids can take Joe and Emma through the streets of an authentic seaside town in Ireland. Check out the music store over there, or O’Connor’s Pub, right next to the sweet shop on the shore. There are so many ways to play and imagine with these interactive sets!

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