Senegal Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Capitals and ports tend to be more diverse than the rest of a region. Therefore, it's no surprise that Senegal, long home to the capital of French West Africa, is one of the most diverse countries in the region, with people from as far away as Lebanon.

French Colonial Capital

For decades, Senegal was one of the most important French colonies in West Africa. It was home to Dakar, both the capital and one of the largest ports in the region. Much of France's colonial aspirations went through Senegal. Today, Senegal is one of most important countries in West Africa, a center of both trade and finance. However, like many other African countries, Senegal is formed by many different ethnic groups instead of just one. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the largest three ethnic groups in Senegal, as well as look at the role of non-African ethnic groups in that country today.


The Wolof

The largest ethnic group in Senegal are the Wolof. They make up nearly 44% of the population and they tend to be Muslim, but focus more on meditation and inner spirituality than more overt demonstrations of faith. The language of the Wolof, also called Wolof, is a major language, alongside French, throughout Senegal, even for non-Wolof.


The second largest group in Senegal are the Fula. They make up about 24% of the population, and if you've studied a lot about the demographics of West Africa, the presence of the Fula shouldn't come as a major surprise. While most Wolof stick close to major settlements, the Fula live throughout the countryside. Similar to many of the other Fula in the rest of West Africa, the Fula of Senegal make their livings as merchants and as herders, with only a small portion of them farming.


The Serer are the next largest group in Senegal. They make up around 15% of the population of the country. Despite being a different group, they tend to have great relations with the Fula, in the past even going as far as to agree to a division of labor in which the Serer will farm and the Fula will take care of the animals.

However, the Serer made a major contribution to Wolof culture as well. If you've ever seen one of those large West African drums, referred to as a Sabar, that was a Serer invention. That said, the Wolof turned it into a West African institution.

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