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Trip of the month: Saloum Delta, Senegal

My Magazine 2022/11
5 min
The significant part of the Saloum Delta, which covers 180,000 hectares, is a part of UNESCO World Heritage. It is a valuable bird breeding ground with extensive biodiversity, hosts a marine protected area, and a burial ground with many sacred artefacts.

The Saloum river embraces more than 200 islands, and the isles are covered in mangrove forests and swamps and dissected by saline channels and lagoons. The animal world of the delta is notable as it gives shelter to many mammals, four species of turtles and numerous species of birds, amongst which are Great White Pelicans and even greater flamingos.

The area is scarcely populated, and the main sources of income apart from tourism are fishing, salt production, groundnut farming and oyster collection.

Delta holds a long history of human presence as it hides 218 shellfish mounds, which have been found in many coastal areas around the world as remains of past cultures' settlements. Many, as well as the ones of the Saloum delta, also had a sacred role – the burial ground. There are 28 burial mounds located in the Saloum Delta area.

Much research has been done about the purpose, age and formation of individual cases of shell mounds around the globe. It is, in many cases, still a matter of debate whether the shell mounds were simply formed through the years of harvesting and depositing unedible parts of the shellfish or whether it is an indication of early production sites purposed for intensive trade. Were the shell mounds actually formed for architectural purposes, or were they built to prevent the erosion of the river and sea?

Many shell mounds worldwide have been dated from the late Mesolithic to the early neolithic period when nomadic people settled as farming began.

The fact is that shell mounds helped stabilise river paths and created unique cultural landscapes. Some of the islands in the delta are entirely man-made. Decorated by the vegetation and presence of magnificent baobab trees, they give an astonishing and powerful view.

The area, however, is a fragile marine environment, which would need solely sustainable practices to prevent the overexploitation of the resources and risk of losing bio marine species.

There have been many initiatives to encourage sustainable practices in the area, one of which is on Sipo Island. There has been extensive fishing for years, causing many species to vanish from the area.

In 2002, Toubacouta, Soucouta, Sipo, Bettenti, Nema Bah, Dassilamé and seven other villages united and unanimously deliberated on the first Community Marine Protected Area, endorsed by presidential decree in 2004. Fishing was banned, although that meant a big sacrifice to the Serer people, who predominately lived in the area. Since then, the marine biodiversity started to grow; more than thirty new species of fish invaded the area, the size of fish increased, and due to the building up of biomass, the area was even graced by the presence of a dolphin, who is capable of going up the rivers in hunt of his catch.

The area is operating as a strongly connected and committed unity towards the new practices in sustainable tourism. Extreme hospitality and friendliness can be guaranteed for the region. New initiatives such as eco-lodges, fishing competitions, boat trips and birdwatching attract many visitors looking for a relaxing moment with picturesque views.

Due to the geographical barriers, transit through the areas is limited by land, so the best means of transport is a boat. The river's calmness and the mangrove forests' views are breathtaking. The accessibility is the reason why there are still many intact and undiscovered spots in the delta. One of them is Ile de Dionewar. The island without a car. Although few motorbikes are present nowadays, most of the commuting is still done by horse cart. Life on the island is unspoiled, and such is the beach as well. Sandy, paradise looking, private and never crowded. It can give a feel of spending time on a lonely island.

The intriguing part of the island is not only the nature itself but more the lifestyle of the people living here. Most of the people belong to Serer ethnic group. Through a visit to the villages of Dionewar and Niodor, a visitor can get a deeper insight into the culture and traditions.

Ladies of the village work in community gardens as the sun slowly sets into the sea, creating a magnificent painting on the sky. With the power of the night comes the power of the wrestlers, portraying their raw strength and readiness to defeat an enemy. Wrestling tradition is strong among Serers, and although it used to be a brutal and violent form of preparation for the war amongst the warrior class in the kingdom of Sine, the practices are still kept today solely for entertainment. One can feel the ancestral energy’s presence accompanied by sabar drums and traditional dance.

Join us on an exploration of the nature and culture of Saloum Delta. 

 
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