Home Institution

Muhlenberg College

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

Senegal: National Identity and the Arts


For Wolof women, verbal art has always been an important tool for negotiating power. In a public context, griottes have lent their voices to traditional ceremonies such as marriages and baptisms; in a private context, all women have used songs as accompaniment to daily tasks and as an informal way to comment on the society in which they live. This paper explores the way that certain Wolof songs, sung by and for women, simultaneously challenge and adhere to traditional Wolof culture—that is, the way their texts and performances both contradict and perpetuate traditionally mandated gender codes. In order to achieve this, it first offers a historical survey of the roles and expected behaviors of griottes and Wolof women in general. Then, using results of interviews as well as the texts and performance observations of several women’s songs as a basis for analysis, it assesses the extent to which such songs correspond to those roles and behaviors. The study examines texts spanning from the traditional to the contemporary, ultimately suggesting that the evolution of Wolof women’s songs over time demonstrates a move away from preserving tradition and toward the explicit empowerment of women.


African Studies | Music | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology | Women's Studies


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