The Livelihoods of Traditional Griots in Modern Senegal

This article offers an overview of the activities of members of the ‘gwl’ caste, or Wolof griots, in present-day Senegal. The author is mainly concerned with those griots who have managed to find or to create a new kind of occupation that still seems to fit the traditional griots’ ethos, adapting the art of their ancestors to modern requirements and possibilities. She pays attention to the griots’ attitude towards work, their role as go-betweens and historians, their customers (traditionally the nobility (‘ger’), but today also politicians and members from the business class), their involvement in ‘showbiz’, and the content of griots’ texts. She shows that ‘gwl’ have kept their institution alive in modern-day Senegal and many traditional artists have learned to cope with the use of mass media. Though they descend from a caste which in traditional culture held no political power and was excluded from land ownership, today’s ‘gwl’ are not a downtrodden marginal group but have managed to keep their former central role alive in modern society, and have even succeeded in strengthening their political influence. As far as their economic situation is concerned, a fair number of ‘gwl’ are among the better-off families of the country, as they have various sources of income. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French.

Title: The Livelihoods of Traditional Griots in Modern Senegal
Author: Panzacchi, Cornelia
Year: 1994
Periodical: Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
Volume: 64
Issue: 2
Pages: 190-210
Language: English
Geographic term: Senegal
External link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1160979
Abstract: This article offers an overview of the activities of members of the ‘gwl’ caste, or Wolof griots, in present-day Senegal. The author is mainly concerned with those griots who have managed to find or to create a new kind of occupation that still seems to fit the traditional griots’ ethos, adapting the art of their ancestors to modern requirements and possibilities. She pays attention to the griots’ attitude towards work, their role as go-betweens and historians, their customers (traditionally the nobility (‘ger’), but today also politicians and members from the business class), their involvement in ‘showbiz’, and the content of griots’ texts. She shows that ‘gwl’ have kept their institution alive in modern-day Senegal and many traditional artists have learned to cope with the use of mass media. Though they descend from a caste which in traditional culture held no political power and was excluded from land ownership, today’s ‘gwl’ are not a downtrodden marginal group but have managed to keep their former central role alive in modern society, and have even succeeded in strengthening their political influence. As far as their economic situation is concerned, a fair number of ‘gwl’ are among the better-off families of the country, as they have various sources of income. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French.