teranga: hospitality

Hospitality or teranga is a highly-prized traditional value in Senegal. It is not merely an option. It is a duty for every Senegalese to receive and honor strangers. The guest is to be seen as a relative and has rights to full attention (respect, comfort, food, shelter) from their host, in spite of all the material and financial problems and constraints encountered during these difficult times. For the traditional Senegalese, the meanest thing a person can do is say to a stranger “I don’t know you” (therefore “I owe you nothing”).

Teranga is more than a practice. It is a philosophical code. It is based on the belief that a mother who assists a foreigner or visitor (doxandéem) ensures that her children will never find themselves in a desperate situation away from home without help or support (tumuranke).

In traditional Senegal, conditions favored the development of teranga. People were self-sufficient in food and social solidarity was the rule rather than the exception. When receiving a guest, one could count on the support and assistance of the community. The group felt that the guest of any one member of the community was everybody’s guest. Even today, in most Senegalese villages, all the neighbors send food when someone is receiving a guest.

Adapted and translated from an article in The Soleil by Al Hassane Diahate and Gary Engelberg

What has teranga meant for me, here in Senegal? It meant that the moment I arrived in my house, I felt welcomed by my family. It means doors are always open, and that family friends will drop by my house at any time, walk straight on in, even late at night. It means that I can take forty-five minutes to walk home because the guards on the street or Baye Fall or my tailor all want to chat and give me advice and teach me Wolof. It means the fruit vendor inviting me to eat lunch with him and his family around their plate next to their fruit stand. It means the owners of the nearby boutik greeting me like old friends even though I only met them the night before with Nene. I am grateful for teranga because it has made me smile everyday, and it has made a sometimes strange new country feel like home.


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