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.  

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