Tabaski Week Recap

Russell Bollag-Miller - Senegal

November 23, 2011

This was the week of the Senegalese holiday Tabaski. At a glance, the week fostered an absurd amount of new experiences for me. Ram slaughtering, wrestling matches, onion farming, Islamic praying, hitchhiking with Moroccan legume salesmen, African dance parties, outrageous fun. Enough cultural exploits for at least five separate blog posts. I’m going to talk about most of them in one.

Praying With Muslims

I’m an atheist. Though I am not religious, I find religions fascinating. During my last year in high school I even went to a number of different church services to learn about the different beliefs and practices. So when I was asked to pray at the local Mosque with the men from my village, I was thrilled to say the least.

Before coming to Senegal I knew very little about Islam and even less about how to pray like a Muslim, so I had a few friends give me a crash-course before attending. On the surface, the event was what one would expect. Rows of men murmuring in Arabic while standing, bowing, then kneeling and repeating; the scene resembling a synchronized yoga class. But I loved every minute of it. I left with a clear mind, peaceful demeanor, and feeling a deepened connection with the people I’m living amongst.


I was pretty upset about missing Halloween. Even if I probably wouldn’t be trick-or-treating in college, I was going to miss the costumes and the kids walking around with pillowcases of candy. However, it turns out that Tabaski nights are, for all intents and purposes, a streamlined Halloween. Everyone is in crazy, newly bought outfits with outrageous patterns and fabrics. Costumes check. At night everyone walks from house to house greeting people, chatting, and eating. Trick-or-treating check. And all the children walk around in packs and ask for small amounts of money. Candy check?


In an earlier blog post I mentioned that Senegal’s national sport is a form a wrestling called Lutte (Lamb ji in Wolof). Lutte features two men wrestling in diaper-esque attire around a circular ring.  The match continues until one person ends up on his back. Up until this week, I’d only viewed matches on TV. My neighbor Mamadou (who is the champion wrestler in my village) had a match the last night of Tabaski, which I attended.

In short, my experience contained a lot of dancing and a lot of fighting (both in and outside of the ring). It was awesome. The one downside was that my neighbor lost and afterwards people everywhere were sobbing. I was worried that my village would be depressed for days. Thankfully I was wrong, which leads me to my final micro-blog post.

Dance White Boy Dance

When I arrived back in my village, I expected a somber mood to have enveloped Mberes. Houses dark, no one talking, that sort of thing. But, I came home to the sounds of music blasting and loud drumming. “That’s rude of them. He lost and people aren’t letting him sulk in peace,” said my American thought process.

I followed the music to find the entire village having a dance party on the town soccer field. It was a celebration for Mamadou. This baffled me. At home when someone loses something they usually like to be left alone at least for a little while. But not even an hour after the match, people had shifted from bawling messes to energized dancing maniacs. And almost everyone was very, very good.

My particular breed of human (the white male) is not typically thought to be one that produces talented dancers, and I don’t find myself to be an exception. So after watching the madness for a few minutes I attempted to slink home unnoticed, sparing myself the embarrassment. Not a chance. I was quickly accosted and thrown into the middle of a vacant dance floor with a solid 150 people staring at me. I had no choice but to comply with the general will

I wasn’t that bad. Of course people laughed, but it was more out of shock that I had some sense of rhythm. I was quickly joined in the center and proceeded to dance for most of the night.

Final Thoughts on Tabaski Week

Amidst the praying, wrestling, and dancing I was also able to begin working on my father’s onion farm and at the local Poste de Sante (hospital). After witnessing the deaths of 5 rams, wearing crazy looking clothes, and eating my body weight in food, I can confidently say that (aside from the hoofed population of the village) a wonderful time was had by all.


Russell Bollag-Miller