Joal-Fadiouth is in the Thiès region of Senegal. The village and commune names are combined because the narrow peninsula of Joal is linked to the small island of Fadiouth. Fadiouth, also called Shell Island, is a name given from the pathways that are made entirely of clam shells. How did that happen? Centuries of indigenous people eating clams and throwing the shells on the ground caused island expansion.
A walking bridge connects Joal to Fadiouth, where 4,000 people call home. The locals rely heavily on selling livestock, fishing and tourism to support their economy.
In the past, tourists would get turned off from the overwhelming pressure to purchase crafts. The elders organized a tourist company to make the island visits more pleasant.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused financial loss to Joal-Fadiouth. The positive side is that they have not had any confirmed cases of the virus. When I was on vacation for Winter Break, Senegal had about 18,000 Covid cases making it safer to be there than anywhere else in the world.
The first thing I noticed on Fadiouth was the number of pavilions with built in seating. Each pavilion has a bell that someone rings to notify the surrounding community members. The business usually involves settling disputes between neighbors, death announcements, or other important news. We witnessed a bride’s family being welcomed to her husband’s family. They shared bottles of wine and other gifts.
The majority of Senegalese people practice Islam. The reverse is true in Fadiouth with it’s 90% Christian population. Jesus statues were prominent with a main one facing the largest baobab tree on the island. As mentioned in the Bandia Wildlife Reserve post, the baobab is considered a sacred jewel to the community.
Visiting Fadiouth Island on a Sunday allowed us to observe a church service. It was later in the day during a children’s worship time. There were sibling groups of children walking in their Sunday’s best to church. The teenage girls and women have mastered the method of walking on shells while wearing heels.
The Fadiouth way of life is very laid back and traditional in terms of preparing meals and using donkeys to haul grains. No motorized vehicles are on the island.
Another walking bridge leads to a popular cemetery where Muslims and Christians are buried. The burial grounds mirror the harmony that is shared amongst the living in terms of cohabiting in peace.
After walking around the cemetery, we took a pirogue around the Fadiouth mangroves. The tour guide was a championship wrestler in his prime. His strength was still on display as he used a single paddle to maneuver the dugout with four adults.
Fadiouth is the largest fishing port in West Africa, but they also consume grains to balance their meals. I admire the cleverness of building stilts to hold granaries to protect the store houses from flooding.
We have a lot to learn from this region of Senegal. Live and let live regardless of what a person believes or does not believe. We may end up meeting again in the afterlife.
“Maa Lekum Salaam”