Oral History and Literature of the Wolof People of Waalo, Northern Senegal the Master of the Word (griot) in the Wolof Tradition

Author: Diop, Samba
This work (which springs from Senegalese and African oral cultures and traditions, and is the work of an observer and writer from within Wolof culture) provides new insights to the fields of oral and comparative literature. The epic tale contained in the manuscript, (The Epic Tale of the Waalo Kingdom) was collected in the town of Rosso-Sénégal from the griot Sèq Ñan (and the performance was recorded on videotape). Notes to the performance text treat various details relating to Wolof culture and history. The historic and mythic aspects are compared to other oral cultures, drawing from theories derived from ancient Indo-European (Gilgamesh), medieval European (the chanson de geste, Beowulf), classical European (Homer), Arabic and oriental (the Arabic Hilaliya folk tradition). Specialists and experts of Islamic studies will also find this book useful as there is a detailed study of Islam in Senegal and West Africa: the advent of Islam through trade and commercial exchanges between North Africa and Africa south of the Sahara desert; the mixing of Semitic, Islamic an Arabic motifs and inscriptions (the Old Testament, the flood myth, Genesis, the Qur'an) with indigenous African traditional beliefs, religions, and lore. A second oral text collected from Sèq Ñan, a genealogy of the rulers of Waalo, is provided in Wolof and English in an appendix, along with a Wolof text of the genealogy written in Arabic characters. There is also an interview (concerning the transmission of traditional knowledge) with the blind Wolof griot Ancumbu Caam and his son Magate Caam.


“Diop’s book has a lot to offer to those of us who teach African oral materials and hope for greater critical interaction between the scholarship of oral as well as written products – not raw materials - of African peoples’ imagination. The notes that explain the epic tale are very helpful, and the depth of fieldwork and bibliographic support demonstrated in the book is remarkable. . . .This book is an excellent teaching resource, and will repay a research-oriented interest as well.” – Research in African Literatures

“Of special interest is a facsimile of Ñan’s written version of the king list, written in Wolof with Arabic script. Many Senegalese griots keep such lists as a private, bare-bones record from which they develop their performances, but these writings are rarely transferred to others or made public. . . . Samba Diop has done an important service in providing a Wolof text and in making this oral tradition better known to an English-speaking audience. As an insider whose family has a longstanding patronage relationship with the griot performers, he is well positioned to mediate between a Wolof tradition and a Western one. Consequently, his notes and discussion are useful. . . . anthropologists interested in performance will find this account tantalizing.” – American Anthropologist