The Serer religion, or a ƭat Roog ("the way of the Divine"), is the original religious beliefs, practices, and teachings of the Serer people of Senegal in West Africa. The Serer religion believes in a universal supreme deity called Roog (or Rog). In the Cangin languages, Roog is referred to as Koox (or Kooh), Kopé Tiatie Cac, Kokh Kox, etc.
The Serer people are found throughout the Senegambia region. In the 20th century, around 85% of the Serer converted to Islam (Sufism), but some are Christians or follow their traditional religion. Traditional Serer religious practices encompass ancient chants and poems, veneration of and offerings to deities as well as spirits (pangool), astronomy, initiation rites, medicine, cosmology and Serer history.
The Serer people believe in a supreme deity called Roog (or Rog) and sometimes referred to as Roog Sene ("Roog The Immensity" or "The Merciful God"). Serer tradition deals with various dimensions of life, death, space and time, ancestral spirit communications and cosmology. There are also other lesser gods, goddesses and supernatural spirits or genie (pangool or nguus) such as the fangool Mendiss (or Mindis), a female protector of Fatick Region and the arm of the sea that bears her name; the god Tiurakh (var : Thiorak or Tulrakh) – god of wealth, and the god Takhar (var : Taahkarr) – god of justice or vengeance. Roog is neither the devil nor a genie, but the Lord of creation.
Roog is the very embodiment of both male and female to whom offerings are made at the foot of trees, such as the sacred baobab tree, the sea, the river such as the sacred River Sine, in people's own homes or community shrine etc. Roog Sene is reachable perhaps to a lesser extent by the Serer high priests and priestesses (Saltigue), who have been initiated and possess the knowledge and power to organise their thoughts into a single cohesive unit. However, Roog is always in watch of its children and always available to them.
In Serer, Roog Sene is the lifeblood to which the incorruptible and sanctified soul returns to eternal peace after they depart the living world. Roog Sene sees, knows and hears everything, but does not interfere in the day-to-day affairs of the living world. Instead, lesser gods and goddesses act as Roog's assistants in the physical world. Individuals have the free will to either live a good and spiritually fulfilled life in accordance with Serer religious doctrines or waver from such doctrines by living an unsanctified lifestyle in the physical world. Those who live their lives contrary to the teachings will be rightfully punished in the afterlife.
For the ordinary Serers, they addressed their prayers to the pangool (the Serer ancestral spirits and saints) as they are the intermediaries between the living world and the divine. An orthodox Serer must remain faithful to the ancestral spirits as the soul is sanctified as a result of the ancestors' intercession between the living world and the divine. The pangool have both a historical significance as well as a religious one. They are connected to the history of the Serer by virtue of the fact that, the pangool is associated with the founding of Serer villages and towns as a group of pangool would accompany village founders called "lamane" (or laman - who were their ancient kings) as they make their journey looking for land to exploit. Without them, the lamane exploits would not have been possible. In the religious sense, these ancient lamanes created shrines to these pangool, thereby becoming the priests and custodians of the shrine. As such, "they became the intermediaries among the land, the people and the pangool".
Whenever any member of the lamanic lineage dies, the whole Serer community celebrates in honour of the exemplary lives they had lived on earth in accordance with the teachings of the Serer religion. Serer prayers are addressed to the pangool who act as intercessors between the living world and the divine. In addressing their prayers to the pangool, the Serers chant ancient songs and offer sacrifices such as bull, sheep, goat, chicken or harvested crops.
There is no heaven or hell in the Serer religion. The immortality of the soul and reincarnation (ciiɗ in Serer) is a strongly held belief in Serer religion. The pangool are canonised as holy saints, and will be called upon and venerated, and have the power to intercede between the living and the divine. Acceptance by the ancestors who have long departed and the ability to intercede with the divine is as close to heaven after one passes over. Rejection by the ancestors and becoming a lost and wandering soul is as close to hell in Serer Religion.
Each Serer family has a totem ("Taana"). Totems are prohibitions as well as guardians. They can be animals, plants etc. For example, the totem of the Joof family is the antelope. Any brutality against this animal by the Joof family is prohibited. This respect gives the Joof family holy protection. The totem of the Njie family is the lion; the totem of the Sène family is the hare and for the Sarr family is the giraffe and the camel.
Both men and women can be initiated into the secret order of the Saltigue. In accordance with Serer religious doctrines, for one to become a Spiritual Elder (Saltigue), one must be initiated which is somewhat reserved for a small number of insiders, particularly in the mysteries of the universe and the unseen world. The Xoy (or Khoy) ceremony is a religious event and a special event in the Serer religious calendar. It is the time when the initiated Saltigue (Serer High Priests and Priestesses) comes together to literally predict the future in front of the community. These diviners and healers deliver sermons at the Xoy Ceremony which relates to the future weather, politics, economics, and so on. It is a very special event which brings together thousands of people to Holy Sine from all over the world. Ultra orthodox Serers and Serers who "syncretise" (converts to Islam or Christianity and who mix their newly found religion with the old Serer religion) as well as non-Serers such as the Lebou people (who are a distinct group but still revere the ancient religious practices of their Serer ancestors) among others gather at Sine for this ancient ceremony. Serers who live in the West sometimes spend months planning for the pilgrimage. The event goes on for several days where the Saltigue take centre stage and predict the future. The ceremony usually begins in the first week of June at Fatick.
The Raan festival of Tukar takes place in the old village of Tukar founded by Lamane Jegan Joof (or Lamane Djigan Diouf in French speaking Senegal) around the 11th century. It is headed by his descendants (the Lamanic lineage). The Raan occurs every year on the second Thursday after the appearance of the new moon in April. On the morning of Raan, the Lamane would prepare offerings of millet, sour milk and sugar. After sunrise, the Lamane makes a visit to the sacred pond – the shrine of Saint Luguuñ Joof who guided Lamane Jegan Joof after he migrated from Lambaye (north of Sine). The Lamane would make an offering to Saint Luguuñ and spends the early morning in ritual prayer and meditation. After that, he makes a tour of Tukar and perform ritual offerings of milk, millet and wine as well as small animals at key shrines, trees, and sacred locations. The people make their way to the compound of the chief Saltigue (the Serer high priests and priestess – who are the "hereditary rain priests selected from the Lamane's lineage for their oracular talent").
Courting for a wife is permitted but with boundaries. Women are given respect and honour in Serer religion. The woman must not be dishonoured or engaged in a physical relationship until after she has been married. When a man desires a woman, the man provides the woman gifts as a mark of interest. If the woman and her family accept, this then becomes an implied contract that she should therefore not court or accept gifts from another man whose aim is to court her.
Were a young man and a woman found engaged in premarital relationships, both were exiled to avoid bringing shame to the family, even if pregnancy resulted from that courtship.
Adultery is dealt with by the Serer jurisprudence of MBAAX DAK A TIIT (the rule of compensation). If a married woman engaged in adultery with another man, both adulterers would be humiliated in different ways. The wronged male spouse (the husband) was entitled to take the undergarment of the other male and hang it outside his house to show that the male lover had broken custom by committing adultery with his wife. The lover would be shunned from the Serer society; no family would want to marry into his family and he would be excommunicated. This was and is seen as extremely humiliating; many male Serers have been known to take their own lives because they couldn't bear the humiliation anymore. The public display of undergarments was not applied to women; when women marry in Serer society, they plait their hair in a particular style, which is restricted to married women - it is a symbol of their status, which is highly valued in Serer society. An adulteress' female relatives unplait her hair. This is so humiliating and degrading for a married woman that many women have been known to commit suicide rather than face the shame. The wronged man can forgive both his wife and his wife's lover if he chooses to do so. The adulterers and their respective families must gather at the king, chief, or elder's compound to formally seek forgiveness. This will be in front of the community because the rules that govern society have been broken. It is up to the wronged spouse to forgive. The doctrine extends to both married men and women. Protection is given to the wronged spouse regardless of his or her gender.
In the past, where someone kills another person, the victim's family have the right to either forgive or seek vengeance. Again, the murderer and his family will gather at a local centre headed by the Chief or the palace headed by the King. Before this judgement, the murderer's family will cook some food (millet) to be shared among the community and the victim's family. The victim's family will nominate a strong man armed with a spear with a piece of cooked lamb or beef at the end of it. This assassin taking his instruction from the victim's family will run towards the murderer who has now got his mouth open waiting for his judgement. If the assassin killed the murderer with his spear, then that is the end of it, the victim's family have made their judgment. After that, the food that had been cooked would not be eaten and everyone would disperse. From that day on, the families are strangers to each other. If on the other hand the assassin ran and gently feed the murderer with the piece of meat sticking at his spear, then that signals that the victim's family have forgiven the murderer. In that case, the community would enjoy the meal and the two families would be sealed as one and sometimes even marry off their children to each other.
The Serers also have an ancient knowledge of herbalism which is passed down and takes years to acquire. The Senegalese government has set a school and centre to preserve this ancient knowledge and teach it to the young. The CEMETRA (Centre Expérimental de Médecine Traditionnelle de Fatick) Membership alone consist of at least 550 professional Serer healers in the Serer region of Sine-Saloum.
Several traditional practices linked with land and agricultural activities are known, two examples are described below:
As the old pagan festivals are borrowed and altered by Christianity which came later, the names of ancient Serer religious festivals were also borrowed by Senegambian Muslims in a different way to describe genuine Islamic festivals in their own language. The Serers are one of very few communities in Senegambia apart from the Jolas who actually have a name for god[s] which is not borrowed from Arabic but indigenous to their language. Tobaski (var : Tabaski) was an ancient Serer hunting festival; Gamo was an ancient Serer divination festival; Korite [from the Serer word kor] was a male initiation rite; Weri Kor was the season (or month) Serer males went through their initiation rites. Gamo (comes from the old Serer word Gamahou, variation : Gamohou). "Eid al kabir" or "eidul adha" (which are Arabic) are different from Serer Tobaski, but the Senegambian Muslims loaned Tobaski from Serer religion to describe "Eid al Kabir". Gamo also derives from Serer religion. The Arabic word for it is "Mawlid" or "Mawlid an-Nabi" (which celebrates the birth of Muhammad). Weri Kor (the month of fasting, "Ramadan" in Arabic) and Koriteh or Korité ("Aïd-el-fitr" in Arabic which celebrates the end of the month of fasting) also comes from the Serer language.
The dead, especially those from the upper echelons of society were mummified in order to prepare them for the afterlife (Jaaniiw). They were accompanied by grave goods including gold, silver, metal, their armour and other personal objects. Mummification is less common now especially post independent Senegal.  The dead were buried in a pyramid shaped tomb. The Serer griots play a vital and religious role on the death of a Serer King. On the death of a Serer king, the Fara Lamb Sine (the chief griot in the Serer Kingdom of Sine) would bury his treasured drum (the junjung) with the king. His other drums would be played for the last time before their burial in the ground facing the east. The griots then chant ancient songs marked by sadness and praise for the departed king. The last time this ceremony occurred was on 8 March 1969 following the death of the last king of Sine – Maad a Sinig Mahecor Joof (Serer: Maye Koor Juuf).
The cult of the Upright Stone, such as the Senegambian stone circles, which were probably built by predecessors of the Serer, were also a place of worship. Laterite megaliths were carved planted and directed towards the sky.
One of the most important cosmological stars of the Serer people is called Yoonir. The "Star of Yoonir" is part of the Serer cosmos. It is very important and sacred and just one of many religious symbols in Serer religion and cosmology. It is the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. With an ancient heritage of farming, "Yoonir" is very important and sacred in Serer religion, because it announces the beginning of flooding and enables Serer farmers to start planting seeds. The Dogon people of Mali call it "Sigui", whilst in Serer it is called "Yoonir" - represented in the form of the "Pangool" (interceders with Roog - the Supreme Deity) and "Man". It is before this event where the Serer High Priests and Priestesses known as Saltigue gather at the "Xoy" annual Divination Ceremony where they predict the course of the winter months among other things relevant to the lives of the Serer people. The Pangool (singular : Fangool) are ancestral spirits (also ancient Serer Saints in Serer religion) represented by snakes.
The peak of the Star (top point) represents the Supreme Deity (Roog). The other four points represent the cardinal points of the Universe. The crossing of the lines ("bottom left" and "top right" and "top left and bottom right") pinpoints the axis of the Universe, that all energies pass. The top point is "the point of departure and conclusion, the origin and the end". Among the Serers who cannot read or write the Latin alphabet, it is very common for them to sign official documents with the Star of Yoonir, as the Star also represents "good fortune and destiny".
While most Serers converted to Islam and Christianity (specifically Roman Catholic), their conversion was after colonization. They and the Jola people were the last to convert to these religions. Many still follow the Serer religion especially in the ancient Kingdom of Sine. Senegal and the Gambia being predominantly Muslim countries.
The Serers have also battled many prominent African Islamic jihadists over the centuries. Some of those like Maba Diakhou Bâ is considered a national hero and given a saint like status by Senegambian Muslims. He himself was killed in battle fighting against the Serer King of Sine - Maad a Sinig Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof on 18 July 1867 at The Battle of Fandane-Thiouthioune commonly known as The Battle of Somb.
At the surprised attacks of Naodorou, Kaymor and Ngaye, where the Serers were defeated, they killed themselves rather than be conquered by the Muslim forces. In these 19th-century Islamic Marabout wars, many of the Serers villagers committed martyrdom, including jumping to their deaths at the Well of Tahompa. In Serer religion, suicide is only permitted if it satisfies the Serer principle of Jom (also spelt "Joom" which literally means "honour" in the Serer language) - a code of beliefs and values that govern Serer lives.
<ref>tag; name "Issa Laye Thiaw" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
The Diourbel Region (Serer and Cangin: Jurbel) is a region of Senegal. The regional capital is the city of Diourbel. The region corresponds roughly to the precolonial Kingdom of Bawol and is still called by that name. Bawol (or Baol) is an ancient kingdom formerly ruled by the Joof family, one of the members of the Serer ethnic group found in Senegambia. Inhabitants of the area are called Bawol-Bawol which takes its name from the Serer mode of pluralisation, other examples being : Sine-Sine or Siin-Siin (inhabitants of Sine), Saloum-Saloum (inhabitants of Saloum), etc. The population is primarily comprised by the Serer people especially those from the Cangin group, the Safene in particular. The Serers are believed to be the original inhabitants of this area. The Wolof and other ethnic groups are also present. The Diourbel Region is rich in history and it is where the Cekeen Tumulus are located. Some scholars such as Charles Becker, Henry Gravrand, Victor Martin among others, suggests that, these monuments were built by the Serer people and form part of the Serer tumulus of Baol (see also Senegambian stone circles). They are some of the most sacred sites in Serer religion. The Département of Mbacke also includes Murid Islamic Sufi order's holy city of Touba. The installation of this order in Serer country is a controversial one, especially among those Serers who adhere to the tenets of Serer religion (see Serer history (medieval era to present). However, some Serers are also Muslims and have headed this religious order.Henry Gravrand
Father Henry Gravrand (France, 1921 - Abbey of Latrun, Palestine, 11 July 2003) was a French Catholic missionary to Africa and an anthropologist who has written extensively on Serer religion and culture. He was one of the leading pioneers of interfaith dialog and believed that African religion was the "'first covenant between God and man". His works about the Serer people are cited by other historians and scholars writing on Serer history, religion and culture, for instance Martin A. Klein, Charles Becker, Alioune Sarr, Marguerite Dupire, Issa Laye Thiaw, etc. Papa Massène Sene argues that his approach lacks scientific rigor and include fundamental linguistic and historical errors. Alioune Sarr noted that Gravrand reported an oral tradition describing what he called the "Battle of Troubang", a dynastic war between the two maternal royal houses of Ñaanco and the Guelowar,an off-shot and relatives of the Ñaanco (Nyanthio or Nyanco) maternal dynasty of Kaabu, in modern-day Guinea Bissau. According to Charles Becker, Gravrand is confusing a description of the 1867 (or 1865) Battle of Kansala.Incarnation
Incarnation literally means embodied in flesh or taking on flesh. It refers to the conception and birth of a sentient being who is the material manifestation of an entity, god or force whose original nature is immaterial. In its religious context the word is used to mean the descent from Heaven of a god, deity, or divine being in human/animal form on Earth.Issa Laye Thiaw
Issa Laye Thiaw (born 1943 at Sangué, Thies region of Senegal, died 10 September 2017, Senegal) is a Senegalese historian, theologian, and author on Serer religion, Serer tradition and history. Born into a Serer family, himself the son of a Serer High Priest (Saltigue), Thiaw is a specialist in the Serer religion. He was a former researcher at the Centre d’études des civilisations (CEC) de Dakar (Centre for Studies in Civilizations of Dakar).Some of Thiaw's works include:
Issa Laye Thiaw. La femme Seereer, Sénégal, 2005, Sociétés africaines et diaspora. Edition L'harmattan, ISBN 2-7475-8907-2
Issa Laye Thiaw. La religiosité Seereer, avant et pendant leur Islamisation." Dans: Ethiopiques, No. 55 (1992)Junjung
Junjung (various spellings, including Jung-jung, gungun also dyoung-dyoung etc.) is the name for the royal war drum of the Serer people in Senegal and the Gambia. It was played on the way to the battlefield, on special State occasions as well as on Serer religious ceremonies.
It is also the progenitor of the music of the same name found in the Caribbean.Kokh Kox
Kokh Kox (or Koh, as pronounced in Noon) is the creator god of the Noon people. The Noon are members of the Serer ethnic group of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania. Kokh Kox is one of the main deities in Serer religion. The Noon people refer to the supreme being as Kokh Kox rather than Roog, the name the majority of Serers refer to the supreme being in the Serer-Sine language. The name Kokh Kox derives from the deity Koox, the name the Saafi people regularly use to refer to the divine.Kopé Tiatie Cac
Kopé Tiatie Cac (also Koh and Koope; in Ndut language, meaning god grandfather or god the grandfather) is the Supreme Creator in the Serer religion. Kopé Tiatie Cac is the name used by the Ndut people to refer to the Supreme being. Among the Ndut and followers of Serer religion, Kopé Tiatie Cac is associated with death and plague (pisti).Lamane
Lamane or laman (also laam or lam) means "master of the land" in the Serer language. The name was also sometimes the title of chiefs or kings of the Serer people of the Senegambia region which includes modern day Senegal and the Gambia. This title was also used by some kings of the Wolof kingdoms. The title is sometimes used interchangeably with the old title Maad. After the Guelowars' migration to the Sine and the foundation of the Kingdom of Sine, "lamane" denotes a provincial chiefs answerable to the King of Sine and Saloum.Although the later lamanes were always descendants of the Serer village and town founders (the original lamanes), and their families ruled the Kingdoms of Sine, Saloum and Baol etc., the power they previously enjoyed as lamanes diminished they continued to make up the land-owning class. Though their power was somewhat diminished, their economic and political power was intricately linked to Serer custom, Serer history and Serer religion. As such, they were extremely powerful if not as true kings as guardians of Serer traditions and beliefs and could dethrone a reigning monarch if threatened.The lamanes were the guardians of Serer religion. They created sanctuaries and shrines in honour of the Pangool (Serer ancestral spirits and Saints).Louis Diène Faye
Louis Diène Faye (born 13 February 1936 at Joal) is a Senegalese anthropologist, author and scholar of Serer religion, history and culture. Himself of Serer heritage, he undertook his secondary schooling at Thiès (in Senegal) before proceeding to study religious sciences and audio-visual at the Catholic University of Lyon.Faye has authored several books and scientific papers and quoted by many scholars who interacted with him. Some of his famous work include :
"Mort et Naissance, le monde sereer", Le Nouvelles Editions Africaines (1983), ISBN 2-7236-0868-9
"Éducation et mariage: le monde seereer" - tradition orale, Nouvelles Éditions africaines du Sénégal (2006), ISBN 2723614662Ndut initiation rite
The Ndut is a rite of passage as well as a religious education commanded by Serer religion that every Serer (an ethnic group found in Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania) must go through once in their lifetime. The Serer people being an ethnoreligious group, the Ndut initiation rite is also linked to Serer culture. From the moment a Serer child is born, education plays a pivotal role throughout their life cycle. The ndut is one of these phases of their life cycle. In Serer society, education lasts a lifetime, from infancy to old age.Njuup
The Njuup tradition is a conservative Serer style of music rooted in the Ndut initiation rite (a rite of passage that young Serers must go through once in their lifetime as commanded by the Serer religion).Pangool
Pangool (in Serer and Cangin) singular: Fangool (var : Pangol and Fangol), are the ancient saints and ancestral spirits of the Serer people of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania. The Pangool play a crucial role in Serer religion and history. In a religious sense, they act as interceders between the living world and the supreme being Roog or Koox. In a historical sense, the ancient Serer village and town founders called Lamanes were believed to be accompanied by a group of Pangool as they travelled in search of land to exploit. These Lamanes became guardians of Serer religion and created shrines in honour of the Pangool, thus becoming the custodians of the Pangool cult.There are several Pangool in Serer religion and each one is associated with a specific attribute, have their own sacred place of worship, means of worship, etc. The symbol of the Pangool is the serpent, represented by two coiled snakes.Roog
Roog or Rog (Koox in the Cangin languages) is the Supreme God and creator of the Serer religion of the Senegambia region.Saltigue
Saltigue, sometimes spelt Saltigué or wrongly Saltigui, are Serer high priests and priestesses who preside over the religious ceremonies and affairs of the Serer people, such as the Xoy ceremony, the biggest event in the Serer religious calendar. They usually come from ancient Serer paternal families. Such a title is usually inherited by birthright. The term "Saltigi" is also adopted by the Fula people. They were the leaders of the Fulas in some Fula areas, belonging to the Denianke Dynasty of the Empire of Great Fulo founded by Koli Tengella Bâ in the 16th century. It is proposed that the word "Saltigi", used in reference to the Fulas, comes from the Mandinka language, in which it means "master of the road", used in reference to their neighbors who are Fulani herders and tenders of the flock, the traditional activity of Fulani leaders. In Serer country, Saltigue, not to be confused with Saltigi, are always diviners. In Wolof areas, they were the assistant chiefs. The scope of this article deals only with Saltigue or Saltigué – "diviners" (the high priests and priestesses) and termed by some scholars as "the ministers of the religious cult"; "pastors of the people" or within the remits of these definitions.Serer-Laalaa
The Serer-Laalaa or Laalaa are part of the Serer ethnic group of Senegambia (Senegal and the Gambia). They live in Laa (var : Lâ), the Léhar Region, which comprises eighteen villages north of Thies and whose inhabitants are Serer-Laalaa. Although the people are ethnically Serer, their language Laalaa (or Lehar) is not a dialect of the Serer-Sine language, but—like Saafi, Noon, Ndut and Palor, one of the Cangin languages.Somb
Somb (in Serer, also Som or Sombe) is a town in Senegal situated in the west of the country.Takhar
Takhar or Taahkarr (in Serer and Cangin) is a demi-god in the Serer religion worshipped by many Serers (an ethnic group found in Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania). Takhar is the god of justice and vengeance in Serer religion and worshipped at the foot of certain trees in the forest deemed to be sacred. The Serer priestly class play a crucial role in the evokation of the demi-god and the implementation of its laws that devotees adhere to.Tiurakh
Tiurakh (variations : Théourakh, Thiorak or Tulrakh) is one of the demi-gods of the Serer people of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania. In the Serer religion, Tiurakh is regarded as the god of wealth or property. Like his adversary Takhar (the god of justice), they are both venerated and worshipped at the foot of the tallest trees in Serer country.Yaboyabo
Yaboyabo (Serer, variations : Yaabo-Yabo, Yabo Yabo, YABO-YABO or Yabo-Yabo) is an ancient village in the rural community of Séssène (var : Sessene), in the Thies Region of Senegal.
See also: Afro-American religion