Cultural Festivals in Senegal: Archives of Tradition, Mediations of Modernity

Ferdinand de Jong

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Cultural Festivals in Senegal are staged in various contexts. Ranging from village reunions to tourist attractions, these festivals serve a wide array of local, national and international audiences. Most remarkable, however, in their variety, is the range of purposes these cultural festivals are mobilised for. By staging cultural performances ranging from sheep-herding, capoeira, and gigs by world music stars, cultural festivals are said to promote peace, development, cultural metissage and a host of other modernising tropes. In all of these contexts, culture is performed as cure. As these cultural performances claim to have their origins in tradition and are presented as panacea against the ills of modernity, culture is here represented as both source and resource. As the tensions that might be expected to arise from such a dual conceptualisation of culture remain largely disavowed, cultural festivals are uninhibited to call upon local cultural archives and embed their uses in a range of modernising discourses. Paradoxically, these cultural performances often owe their format to the performances that the colonised staged at colonial exhibitions. But by presenting the cultural performances as having their source in local culture, this established origin in colonial relations is carefully disavowed. Thus, acknowledging a genealogy of cultural performance that openly claims to have its origins in ‘tradition’ in order to cure the ills of modernity, this article demonstrates how these cultural festivals draw upon a cultural archive of performances and present them in different repertoires for a range of modernising purposes. The article argues that the Senegalese independent state has reclaimed the format of the colonial exhibit for a modernist agenda by deliberately forgetting the colonial origins of its cultural archive.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar 1966
Subtitle of host publicationContexts and Legacies
EditorsDavid Murphy
PublisherLiverpool University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9781781383162
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016

Publication series

NamePostcolonialism Across the Disciplines 20
PublisherLiverpool University Press


  • Festivals
  • Archives
  • Pan-Africanism
  • Tradition
  • Modernity
  • Senegal
  • Africa

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