Senegal is in the news for winning the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time. The Lions beat Egypt on penalties after a goalless draw.
Liverpool star Sadio Mane, who had missed a penalty given in the sixth minute of the game, sealed the win for his country at the tournament hosted in Cameroon.
Senegal’s President Macky Sall declared Monday a public holiday to celebrate the country’s first-ever Africa Cup of Nations crown. Amid the celebrations, here are 10 things to know about the West African nation:
Known for one of the world’s most iconic racing events
The Dakar Rally has been one of the most popular races in the history of motorsport. It was first organized in 1978 as the Paris-Dakar Rally because the start of the race was in France and the finish was in Senegal. In 2009, the competition moved to South America after its organizers cited terrorist threats in the Sahel.
Gateway to Africa
Senegal is known as the “Gateway to Africa” due to its unique position. It is located at the westernmost point of the continent and this means that it is the last place on the continent to see sunrise and sunset.
Football tops sports in most of Africa. However, in Senegal, wrestling challenges it for popularity. Wrestling in the country is a centuries-old tradition known for its mystical preparations. Men with chests bared and clad in loincloths face off in tournaments that pack village squares, arenas and stadiums. Wrestlers Modou Lo and Balla Gaye had what was described as the “fight of the century” at Dakar’s Senghor stadium in January 2019. Some of the fighters are even more popular than footballers and politicians.
It merged with Gambia
Senegal and Gambia agreed to form a confederation to improve cooperation between them in 1982. The confederation became known as Senegambia but it was dissolved by Senegal in 1989 following Gambia’s growing concern over its autonomy.
Island made of seashells
At the far end of Petite Côte, a stretch of coast in Senegal, is a fishing village called Joal-Fadiouth. Joal lies on the mainland, while Fadiouth is linked by a narrow wooden footbridge and lies on an island build entirely of seashells. People who live there have for more than 100 years been harvesting mollusks, scooping the meat out and using the empty shells to make their little island. As such, houses, pathways, as well as graveyards on Fadiouth, are made from seashells.
Surfing and a twitchers paradise
Since the 1960s, Senegal has been attracting surfers after it was featured in Bruce Brown’s 1966 documentary The Endless Summer. With its quality surf spots and world-class waves, Senegal is one of the world’s best-kept secrets when it comes to surfing. In March 2019, it became the first West African nation to host a qualifying round of the world surfing championships. Today, more and more tourists have been going to the country to surf, with a wave for everyone, no matter if they are a beginner or a professional.
What’s more, the country attracts birdwatchers to its shores. The Unesco-listed Saloum Delta is one of the best places to go twitching in the country. All in all, there are seven Unesco sites in Senegal. Besides Saloum Delta, there is Gorée Island, Niokolo-Koba National Reserve, The Island of Saint-Louis, Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, The natural wonders of southeastern Senegal, and The Stone Circles of Senegambia. To date, Senegal is considered one of the safest countries in Africa.
It has a dark past
Senegal was a center for the slave trade. Visitors can no more about this dark time in history by heading to Gorée Island, which is situated off the coast of Senegal, opposite Dakar. Some historians say that it was the largest slave-trading center on the African coast from the 15th to the 19th century. It was ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French.
Its architecture takes from all of these influences as well as the striking contrast between the grim slave-quarters and the elegant houses of the slave traders. Several museums and the remains of colonial-era forts attract tourists. The Maison des Esclaves(“Slave House”) was constructed in 1786, housing slavery artifacts. The Fort d’Estrées, built in the 1850s, is another historical museum. The statue above of slaves breaking free is at the House of Slaves/ Slave House.
Home of arts
Senegal’s capital Dakar is nicknamed the Paris of Africa as it’s flooded with artists and amazing musicians amid high fashion. Visitors can meet some of these artists at the Village des Arts, a mini-village dedicated to all things artistic. In 2018, the country also opened what was described as the largest museum of black civilization ever. Located in the capital, Dakar, it spreads over an area of 14,000 m2 with a capacity of 18,000 pieces of art. The Museum of Black Civilizations is used for the conservation of cultural values of Black people and for the presentation of Africa to the world.
The baobab tree, which is also a major part of the country’s culture, has its pulp, leaves, bark and fruits being used for food, ropes, animal fodder and medicine.
Some taxis have goat tails
In Senegal, a sheep or goat is a man’s best friend. Some even give sheep names and keep them inside homes as companions. During the holiday of Tabaski, some families sacrifice a male sheep as an offering to God in exchange for spiritual fulfillment. Some taxi drivers also believe that attaching a goat or sheep’s tail to the back of their cars will bring them good luck.
It has a pink lake
Sitting less than an hour away from Dakar is Lake Retba, a coral pink lake that is nestled between white sand dunes and the Atlantic Ocean. The lake was then the finishing point of the off-road car race, the Dakar Rally, but it has since become a source of livelihood for thousands of people from Senegal and West Africa who come there to harvest salt. According to locals, the salt content of the lake can be compared to that of the Dead Sea and even exceeds during the dry season. The water turns color in the sun due to a salt-loving micro-algae which produces a red-colored pigment. The unique lake, which is one of Senegal’s most popular tourist destinations, is said to be intensely pink during the dry season (November through June), and less during the rainy season (July through October).