THE DIOLA TRIBE OF CASAMANCE SENEGAL


The ethnic group known as the Diola tribe come from The Casamance in Senegal as well as parts of the northDiola1 of Guinea-Bissau. Historically Diola communities and lineages are highly fragmented, decentralised and highly autonomous and spread out in hamlets covering several square kilometres. They do not have a caste system unlike say the Wolof social hierarchy and further they have no paramount chief like the Mandinka as rule was carried out only at the village level. They are famous in Senegal for their exciting tribal cultural dancing.
The Diola’s of Foni call themselves Ajamat or Ajamatau and it was the Mandinka who called them "Jo-la" which means someone who pays back for something given or done to them.
The Diola’s are an industrious people and their various occupations included large scale rice cultivation, honey collecting, palm wine tapping (bounouk), fishing, oyster collecting and other agricultural activities. Many women are employed in Gambian households as domestic maids. Their wealth was measured in the amount of rice owned as opposed to the Fulani who measured their wealth in the number of cattle one possessed.
In a typical Diola village the eldest man who founded the village would be the head but had no power other than as a ritual head and adjudicator in any disputes. However, in times of war or when Diola villages were attacked villages would get together in a temporary alliance under an acceptable warrior. This alliance would end as soon as the war ended.
History & Origins:
Little is known about the origins of the Diola’s because unlike other Diola2tribes they do not traditionally have griots who were able to pass down their ancestor's history from one generation to the next. However, they do have musical entertainers who recited their past but this was not passed down to the next generation therefore reducing their collective historical memory. They often build stockades against real or imaginary enemies and they were protected for a long time from European influence as they tended to inhabit thick forest woodland or swamp areas which proved difficult for outsiders to penetrate. This is one of the reasons so little is known about their origins.   What is known is that they are among one of the oldest existing tribes in The Casamance. They along with other groups like the Balanta and Pepel were already in the Casamance region of Senegal in the 13th century before moving northwards to Foni ,Gambia. Their migrations tended to be sporadic, seasonal and on a smaller scale than say the Mandinka. Over time some migrations evolved into more permanent settlements and some of them moved in to Baddibu, Niumi and Bathurst during the Soninke-Marabout wars when they were attacked by the Islamist jihadists Foday Kabba Dumbuya, Ebrima Njie and others between 1850 and 1890. The Islamists were determined to convert the people of the region from their animist beliefs and practices. The Diolas proved to be the most difficult tribe to convert however, most eventually succumbed though some doggedly held out and many who are Muslims today still perform Animist practices.
Animism is based on the premise that natural objects such as animals, trees which may have a Jine, sacredDiola3 pools such as the one in Kachikally and Folonko in Kartong, as well as man-made symbols such as fetishes idols & deities (Jalang & Gerem) are imbued with supernatural powers. It is also believed that Marabouts, witch doctors, diviners and herbalists have control over these powers or can create some of them which may take the form of Jujus. It may require the sacrifice of an animal such as a chicken, goat or sheep. Sometimes holy water, called Saffara, is used which is created by taking paper with Islamic scriptures on it and mixing it with water. This water tends to be used after bathing to afford some sort of protection or good luck.
Animism as a formal and principal belief system is still practised in some areas of Casamance in south eastern Senegal and parts of Foni in The Gambia. When modern medicine, prayer, and the semi-religious solutions of the Marabouts fail to cure an illness, people often turn to the old ways.
For example among the Lébou of Cape Verde, the ritual known as Ndeup is still held from occasionally, though not on fixed dates. The Ndeup is a mystical therapy aiming to extract the evil spirit from a patient. It is held in public in the open. Often conducted by women, and involves dancing and drumming.

Jujus are sacred amulets that can either be created with traditional methods or using Islamic scriptures. TheyDiola4 can be bound in leather or metal or can take the form of goat’s horns, wood, feathers, padlocks, string and other objects.
 Most are worn on the body to afford protection from illness, bullets, exams, stabbing knives, verbal abuse
 However, some can be placed in the grounds of a new house you intend to move into to ward off evil spirits known as Rapp. Some are used for get you promotion at work or to cause someone else to be demoted. Some can be placed in an enemy's or business competitor's premises to have a desired negative effect on them. It is said that some can even be used to kill someone! Indeed, there are any number of reasons they are used as they can be tailor-made to 'fix' a particular individual or family problem.

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