It is a popular belief that the name “Senegal” stems from the local Wolof word “sunugaal,” meaning “our dugout boat” (Thiam). This suggests to the Senegalese people that they are all in the same boat, and reminds them to be careful not to capsize it. Senegal is one of the only places that never had a ‘coup d’état;’ the peace and stability of Senegal is achieved and sustained (for the most part) through this reminder and a number of other values, many of which are embodied in ‘teranga.’
What is teranga?
Translated directly, ‘teranga’ means ‘hospitality,’ but it is so much more than that. In Chef Pierre Thiam’s words, “it is the way you treat the guest, the way you treat the one who is not you” (Bourdain). If we zoom into the Senegalese bowl, we see that it is a microcosm of the country and its values. When you share your bowl, you will always be plentiful; you never lack by sharing. This is a country that “values the wealth of a person not by how much he has, but by how much he gives” (Bourdain).The bowl is not just about feeding oneself, it is the entire culture.
When you sit around the bowl, you follow specific rules that mirror ideologies of Senegalese culture. The most honored person or the guest sits next to the host as everyone gathers around the bowl. This person who you have invited to your bowl is the person with whom you have offered teranga. There will always be room for another at your bowl, because the other is bringing blessings. By sharing, you guarantee there will be more tomorrow (Kasper). Teranga teaches Senegalese people to have a high regard for strangers and guests alike who are always welcome for a meal. The value that comes with teranga illustrates a society that emphasizes the community over the individual.
In his book, Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes From the Source to the Bowl, Thiam lists the values that Senegal is bound to no matter who the guest is: “kersa (respect for others), tegin (good manners), mbokk (a strong sense of family), fayda (determination), jomm (belief in one’s self), and mougn (patience)” (Thiam). Each of these are Senegal’s “guiding principles,” many which are expressed through the way they share their food; welcoming others to sit around the bowl and eat. For example, at the bowl children are to be silent, and are not served from the middle of the bowl; this reflects kersa, tegin, and mougn. It teaches children to be satisfied with what they have, and to be willing to give. More rules include: only eat what is served in front of you (do not reach across or pick around the bowl), finish eating what is in your mouth before putting your hand in the bowl for more, do not rush at the food, keep your eyes lowered to learn self control, and hold the side of the bowl with your left hand (a sign of politeness and humility) (Thiam). Often times if you are the guest, the others at the bowl stop eating before you to make sure you have enough.
Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown, directed by David Holloway (2013; Senegal, CNN, 2015.), Television.
Bourdain, Parts Unknown. Senegal.
Lynne Rossetta Kasper. “Chef Pierre Thiam: ‘Teranga is the Word That Symbolizes Senegal the Best’.” The Splendid Table. August 28th, 2015.
Thiam, Senegal, 27.
Thiam, Senegal, 46.