Who are the Serer People?

Senegalese wrestling is traditionally performed by the Serer people.  Editorial credit: Watch The World / Shutterstock.com
Senegalese wrestling is traditionally performed by the Serer people. Editorial credit: Watch The World / Shutterstock.com

The Serer people are an ethnoreligious group hailing from the western part of Africa. In some parts, these people go by other names such as Sereer, Sérère, Kegueme, Seereerm, Serere, and Sarer. They live in a number of countries in West Africa although major populations live in Senegal and Gambia. In Senegal, estimates place the Serer population at 1.84 million, making up about 15% of the country's population. Some of the related tribal groups include the Wolof people, the Lebou people, and the Toucouleur people.


About 85% of the Serer people are Muslims with the remaining 15% being Christians. Although the Serer people resisted the expansion of Islam by the Wolof people during the 19th century, conversation accelerated after the French colonization of Senegal. By the early stages of the 1910s, almost half (about 40%) of the Serer people had converted to Islam. A small percentage still adhere to traditional religious beliefs including ƭat Roog meaning 'the way of the Divine,' in which Roog is the Supreme Deity.


As stated earlier, these people mainly live in Senegal, especially in the western central region all the way from Dakar to the border with the Gambia. Their distribution spreads to the Gambia where they occupy places like Nuimi, the Gambian Kombo, and Baddibu. Their population of 31,900 in the Gambia makes up for 2% of the national population. In Mauritania, the estimated population is around 3,500 people.


The exact meaning and origin of the word “Serer” are unclear although there are a number of theories. One such theory states that the name stems from the word “reer,” which is Serer Wolof for misplaced, as in, misplaced people who doubt Islam. Another theory suggests the phrase “seer reer,” which is Serer Wolof for finding something lost or hidden. Other theories suggest that the word stems from Arabic or Pulaar.


The majority of people who self-identify as Serer are speakers of the Serer language. This language is so widely spoken in Senegal that the country uses it in the national curriculum. Other places it is spoken include Sine-Saloum, Dakar, Gambia, Kaolack, and Diourbel. The language would probably be more popular today if the Serer people of the past were not so unwilling to open themselves up to other people. This unwillingness is actually the main reason why the Wolof language is dominant in the country.


The culture is unique in all things ranging from food to sports. For example, Chere is their favorite food, which is a type of millet couscous. In sports, they engage in a number of activities although wrestling (Laamb) is highly popular. In music, the drum or Sabar is a popular instrument. In fact, some of the older styles are still in use today such as Tassu traditions.


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