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Wolof Tribe in Gambia

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The Wolof ethnic group (or Jollof, Jolof as they are sometimes known) in Gambia make up 16% of the population and are the third largest ethnic group. They are to be found in fairly large numbers in the areas of Jokadu, Baddibu, Saloum and Niumi but the vast majority are to be found in Senegal.

The Wolof are primarily engaged in the occupations of business people, traders or farmers. Most people in the urban areas of Greater Banjul and the Kombos have adopted the Wolof language as the Lingua Franca.

The men and in particular the women tend to dress flamboyantly with plenty of gold jewellery (budget allowing) especially at special occasions. They are renowned drummers (sabarr) and dancers such as the Zimba dance and modern Mbalax (Ndaga) music such as that played by their most famous son Youssou N'Dur of Senegal.

Traditional Social Structure:
The tribe has traditionally had a rigid social caste structure though it has become slightly less so in the modern age as education and wealth have become increasingly important as a status symbol. Your status did not change throughout your life irrespective of any change in occupation.

There are 4 basic classes: Royal, Noblemen, Free-born and 'Slaves' with further sub-divisions in each caste and marriage is strictly within each group. The common or freemen are known as Gorr or Jambur and the peasantry were termed Badola. The lower social group were divided into occupations i.e. Black Smiths, Gold Smiths known as Tega, those who worked with leather are know as Ude, griot-like praise singers known as Gewel and finally the 'slaves' known as Jam.

The Gewel held a valued position in society as an oral historian and entertainer. There job was to praise their master in public while reciting his family lineage, advise his master on his family traditions and generally provide entertainment for visitors.

Though the metal workers were of low status they had traditionally been held in high regard a they made weapons of war such as spears and knives as well as agricultural tools. They were often used as go-betweens between quarrelsome Wolof states.

The slaves were of 2 types. Household slaves who often stayed with the same family for many generations and were seen as nominal members of the family and those caught in war who were less well treated and were treated as personal property to be bought or sold.

Political Structure:
Each state of the old Jolof Empire was almost free from central government control but they did cooperate with Burba Jollof (ultimate ruler of the empire) on issues of mutual interest such as trade, state defences and payment of royal taxes. The line of succession for such local leaders was through the male descendants of the original state founders after a casting of ballots from members of the nobility.
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