Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Mourides of Senegal (the diversity of Islam)

BBC has a number of posts (see below for some links) on the political and economic power of the Mourides of Senegal.  The Mouride Brotherhood is a Sufi Islamic order founded in the late 1800's by Chiekh Amadou Bamba, who emphasized "submission to the marabout and hard work, a departure from conventional Islamic teaching" (from Wikipedia-the entry is brief and worth a quick read).
I particularly enjoyed this little gem, which is illustrative of the way Senegalese leverage existing systems to their advantage. I've always admired how Senegalese appropriate the systems/expectations/assumptions of the rule-makers in the serious business of accessing scarce resources.  I also enjoy how the piece draws attention to the practical and instrumental value of Islam.  

Likewise, in my interviews, a pattern that emerges is that the ideological is often subordinate (or, at least, not intractable) to the practical necessities of earning a living and raising a family, e.g. women are increasingly working outside the home, with their husbands' approval, and contributing to the household in monetary ways, which is a departure from the traditional view that women should remain at home.  Presumably this would increase the autonomy of women, as well as the weight of their voices in household decision-making.

The take-away for development programming is, of course, that place matters.  The beliefs associated with this brand of Islam may provide, for example, the road to further emancipation of women.  I think development professionals tend to shy away from religion as an important part of development programming.  That's unfortunate since, in many places, religion is as important as clean drinking water.  Very often, cultural beliefs, far from being an obstacle to development, can be a conduit for it.

Some additional links:
The Mourides of Senegal (a 30 minute radio piece)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Place and Local Notions of Well-Being

In Senegal, the Wolof word "naat" refers to the vibrant verdure of a healthy garden or field.  A garden is naat when all the plants are growing and producing in abundance.

The word is also used to refer to the places where people live. A household is naat or has naatangue (well-being) if people are working and/or going to school, if there is enough to eat and drink, and if there are good relationships among household members. Parents see one of their responsibilities to their children as modeling harmonious relationships, which are cultivated via honest dialogue and respect for one another.

Naatangue in households leads to naatangue in the community.  In Wolof, the word "dekk" is used as a generic term to refer to all inhabited places.  So, a village is a dekk as are cities and countries.  A dekk that is naat means that it provides what it should for residents.  As described by respondents in my study, this means that there is enough work, enough food, schools, good roads, etc.  

One of the respondents in my study, whose digitized voice I've been listening to, referred to her neighbors and friends as "naatango."  I love this.  By referring to them in this way, she is assuming that all of them together are improving their dekk.  The word seems to suggest that people, in general, are good for other people and that everyone is working towards a common goal.  It is particularly striking when I listen to her while sitting in the US, where strife, discord, and civic disengagement seem to be the order of the day, and where neighbors often have very little to do with each other.