Fadiout, Senegal

The island town of Fadiout (also sp. Fadhiout and Fadiouth) is a spectacular jewel on Senegal’s Petite Côte. The town was the main port of the Kingdom of Sine (thrived 1550s-1880s). It is situated in the Mamanguedj Lagoon, at the mouth of the Mbissel marigot, and is protected from the Atlantic by the Joal Penninsula. Its situation in the lagoon resembles that of Venice.

Joal-Fadiout and the Mamanguedj Lagoon

On the map above the lagoon is shown at high tide. At low tide (Google Earth screen capture below) much of it, the tann (salt and mud flats interspersed with mangrove), lies above water and only the channels that cross it remain navigable by pirogue (dugout canoe), a common means of transportation. The inhabitants of Fadiout use pirogues to fish in the lagoon or out at sea, to get to their millet fields on the mainland, and to access their reserves of grain and firewood. These are stored in sheds raised above the tann on stilts in order to secure them from the fires that used to ravage the town.

Mamanguedj Lagoon at low tide

The town of Fadiout occupies an artificial island, a “kitchen midden” of seashells left behind by the fishing communities that inhabited the Mamanguedj Lagoon over two thousand years ago. There are dozens of such seashell middens scattered across the lagoon, but Fadiout is the largest of them–mostly because the inhabitants of the town have expanded the original island by adding seashells obtained from other middens.

Fadiout and its cemetery occupy two shell middens in the lagoon

In the northern neighborhood of Ndionghème there is a historic baobab tree, the gigantic Baak no Maad or “King’s Baobab,” which is listed as a national monument. At the center of Fadiout is the octagonal Saint Farnçois-Xavier Church. Most of the inhabitants of Fadiout are Catholics. The town’s Muslims worship at the mosque at the southern extremity of the island. Whether Christian or Muslim, many inhabitants of Fadiout remain strongly attached to traditional beliefs regarding the spirit world. Spirits, pangol in Sereer, reside at specific sites, either built shrines within town or at certain trees or stones located on islands in the lagoon, or else in isolated spots on the mainland. People address themselves to a pangol for a specific purpose, having to do with pregnancy and childbirth perhaps, or relating to agriculture.

Diotyo Cemetery

Whether Christian or Muslim, the people of Fadiout are buried together in the cemetery of Diotyo which occupies a separate shell midden. Diotyo is a beautiful cemetery (Google Earth screen capture above). It is dominated by over a dozen ancient baobabs in the midst of which a tall crucifix has been erected. It is linked to Fadiout by a footbridge (a causeway for cars links Diotyo to the mainland). A longer footbridge, recently replaced, links Fadiout to Joal, the colonial-era town to which it is administratively attached. Joal will forever be famous for the poems of Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegal’s first president.

I have not returned to Fadiout since first visiting it in March 1988. Tourism continues to develop there as it is within easy reach of the Petite Côte beaches.

About ericrossacademic

Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
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