It is through Bassene’s words, an Historian, Professor, Political Scientist and Solar Energy Technician that we can learn more about the land of Teranga. More commonly known as Senegal, the country was once governed by a poet named Leopold Senghor largely acclaimed in the francophone literature. Based in West Africa, Senegal’s borders peculiarly – and with a bit of imagination – seem to be embracing the tiny Gambia. Dakar is Senegal’s capital and main metropolitan center which has the particularity to sit on the most western point of the African continent.
Interestingly, Bassene doesn’t hail from Dakar but from the southern region of Casamance sitting in between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. Casamance might be unknown to foreigners but it has attracted the attention of experts following claims of independence raised by a minority group 30years ago. Despite tensions that have changed the nature of this conflict, Senegal remains this legendary peaceful land where ethnic communities have co-inhabited side by side for centuries. “Unlike the other West African countries, the Senegalese army has always stayed on military camps and not in power” as Bassene reminds us of Senegal.
Bassene belongs to the Jolas and although they speak a myriad of dialects, he stresses on the ‘cousinhood’ existing between Jolas and the other main ethnic group, the Serers. Like a griot (African storyteller), he shares with me the story of Aguene and Diambone. The twin sisters’ story gives a deeper understanding of the history of Senegal and the kinship capable of bringing tribes, families and ethnic groups together. “They [the twin sisters] once were asked by their mother to find wood and while navigating to do so, they got caught up in a ferocious storm that halved their boat. Aguene clung onto her side and was carried by the tide to Casamance where she gave birth to the Jolas. At her end of the boat, Diambone reached the town of Joal and became the mother of the Serers”. The sons of both sisters are the good examples of acceptance and harmless relationships that shouldn’t be transgressed to live peacefully. This might partially explain what Teranga is!
He gives another illustration of Teranga if you were to travel through Senegal. The Senegalese eagerly welcome visitors into their homes and proudly share their language and customs. On the land of Teranga, the Senegalese are socially well connected and support one another. “We never die of hunger in Senegal. That is Teranga” as he defines with his own words. It is this sense of hospitality, this ability to connect with the other or should I say to make this step forward towards the other. That is what makes Senegal a place of encounters and acceptance. Maybe there are some lessons that can learn from Teranga?
Today Bassene works in solar energy and would love to export the Australian expertise to Africa that still faces energy management issues. As a man from the land of Teranga, he advises his compatriots wishing to explore Australia to abide the law and respect the others. “Australia can be an engine for development where equal opportunities lay ahead of us”.