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In Photos: Senegal's Joyous New Year's Celebration, the Fanal

Take a look at the long-running tradition that commemorates the rich cultural history of Senegal.

Saint-Louis, locally known by its Wolof name, Ndar, is a city in northern Senegal. It has a rich and layered history as the former colonial capital of Senegal and Mauritania. Along with the Sine-Saloum, Dakar, Touba, Cap Skirring and the beaches of Petite-Côte, Saint-Louis brings a significant amount of tourism to the country. The Jazz Festival, Le Maggal des Deux Rakaas and the newly opened Le Musée de la photographie de Saint-Louis (MuPho) have made Saint-Louis a significant point of attraction.

One long-running tradition that takes place at the end of the year is the Fanal. During the last week of December, Saint-Louis becomes extra festive. Buildings, roundabouts and parks are decorated with lights, there are evening Sabar dance parties and fashion shows, which all lead up to the grand finale: a parade of lights that celebrate the cultural history of Senegal.


The tradition of the Fanal goes back to the 18th century, when Saint-Louis was the colonial capital of French West Africa. As the history goes, the signare, who were usually biracial, would attend midnight mass. The signare, who were often married by common-law to French colonials, held a complex station as liaisons between the French and Senegalese—they also played a significant organizational role in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The signare would walk to the cathedral, elegantly dressed, as they usually were, and accompanied by servants carrying lanterns who would announce their parade down the street. As the Fanal developed into an annual tradition, the districts of Saint-Louis (Sor, Lodo, Guet Ndar, etc.) would informally compete in who would create the most festive floats and atmosphere.

Today, the weeklong festivities concludes on the last day of December. The nocturnal parade that commences around midnight and is preceded by a theatrical performance of the history of Senegal. The focus is around the unity of the many ethnic groups that encompass this West African nation.

The organizer of the event, Marie Madeleine Diallo of Jallore Productions, introduces the event and welcomes revelers. This year, singer Baba Maal made a guest appearance in one of the skits. The highlights of event is usually paying homage to famous people from Saint-Louis and those who have recently departed. The floats that make up the procession are usually replicas of the local architecture or recent and forthcoming accomplishments. This year's parade included floats erected to represent the newly improved local airport, a new stadium on the Dakar outskirts and a cargo ship. Dance and song troupes are enlisted to sing the praises of president Macky Sall for spearheading the opening of Léopold Sédar Senghor's dream, the Museum of African Civilizations and the Blaise Diagne International Airport.

Take a glimpse at Fanal 2018 below.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2018. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2016. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2016. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

From Fanal 2016. Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

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