On our second day in St Louis, my friend and I toured a museum that exposed the history of St Louis, back to prehistoric times as well as the colonial period when St Louis was the capital of Senegal. It was interesting to see all the historical artifacts and some of the local art on display.
After the museum we returned to the beach in the middle of the fishing village on the adjacent peninsula. Our fisherman friend from yesterday was there as well and greeted us warmly. There was no surf again even thought the sea was agitated from the strong onshore winds. After exchanging pleasantries and general conversation I asked our fisherman friend to show me his pirogue (local fishing canoe) and explain to us how they fished in the area. Our newly minted guide excitedly led us down the beach and explained the different boats, fishing techniques, local species and many other aspects of his life as a fisherman in St Louis.
Our guide said he grew up on the peninsula and witnessed a huge decline in the local catch. Where 20 years ago the fisherman stayed relatively close to shore and caught as much fish as they wanted, now days they had to go far to sea to find the fish. What made it worse, according to our guide, were the three large international fishing boats working the waters within sight of the beach. Also in the past the fisherman were able to follow the fish as the migrated to the north during the summer into Mauritania, but now Mauritania strictly enforces a fishing license requirement, which the fisherman guide said was very expensive. He also compared it the recent killing of a fisherman in Senegal who was caught fishing in an aquatic reserve, expressing muted outrage that the fisherman was murdered instead of simply arrested.
|Fish processing area- some tubs still had really old fish|
Many boats were on the beach and our guide said most of the village wasn’t able to fish until the fish migrated south again in the fall. He then took us to the fish processing plant by the lighthouse under construction (now needed since the boats had to travel so far from shore to find fish). Adjacent to a large covered area that served as boat storage and the fish market was a huge outdoor area covered with large tubs and chopping table where the fish were washed, gutted, scaled and finned, then left in salt water baths for up to 15 days for preservation. The locals would keep the sardines and catfish for their own consumption but would sell all the shark and more valuable fish, which were then shipped to Dakar and other points. As the majority of boats weren’t working, the fish processing area just stank in the sun, waiting for the return of the fish.
Walking back along the beach we passed 5 young boys playing with a smaller pirogue, trying to launch it into the water. The guide explained that the boys were in training to become fishermen or were in a trade school right now, even though only being around 8 years old. He then expressed some regret that his three sons were not going to be able to be fishermen, but he was encouraged that they were trying to get an education to become something else because he did not see a good future for fishing. Our guide then led us off the beach into the village and among the several religious schools. The little kids sat in circles of eight in their brightly colored clothes with their instructors and sang songs and repeated the words of their teachers. Each group had children of roughly the same age and they seemed to be bubbly and giggly, full of joy.
Then we passed larger huts where older boys stood in the shade around motors and learned to how become mechanics or other skills. Our guide said that other students are sent away to learn other skills or for further education. There were some larger schools on the neighboring island, including a large music school, the fisherman said the locals from the fishing village didn’t feel comfortable there and would go elsewhere for school or business. The island seemed dedicated for tourism or the military as there are several large hotels and a couple military garrisons (there were several gendarmeries on the island but I didn’t see any in the village). The island is smaller and the streets are mostly empty, but the fishing village was the exact opposite with over 15,000 residents crammed into little huts and exploding with life on a narrow peninsula that separated the Senegal River from the Atlantic Ocean.
Everywhere we went on the island and peninsula we were surrounded by goats. There must have been two goats for every person, and it seemed like St Louis was a vacation village or resort for them as they were sleeping on the beach, wandering around the huts, in herds everywhere. Some boys would occasionally drive groups of goats along the beach or along the narrow paths among the huts, but for the most part the goats just hung out and enjoyed the warm sun and ocean breezes. Our guide said the goats were given as presents for marriage or other celebrations and were important as well to them for meat (but not milk or cheese- our guide thought the milk would not be safe). None of the goats had any markings to show if they belonged to anyone and the guide explained that they would use or butcher the goats as needed and if there were any disputes (if your neighbor complains you ate their goat) the problem would be taken to the village elders who would decide the issue and their word would be accepted and all would be settled and life would go on. Even though on the island a different form of government was established with a mayors office and official government buildings.
As we came to the end of the tour we visited a lot where older men were working on the banks of the Senegal River finishing two new 30' long boats. There were painting the boats in bright red, green, blue, and white colors with stylish graphics and words and phrases in Wolof and Arabic. When we tried to take pictures of their art the men started yelling and put their hands out for payment, but the guide calmed them and we quickly left the area. The guide pointed out that the wood from old boats was recycled and used in the construction of their huts and fences because they had a tradition if anyone was to die on a boat the boat would never be used again. He said there were many deaths and had previously shown us a large cemetery behind the fish factory. The guide added that since they had to travel so far now to find fish that if something were to happen they would drown as it was too far to swim to shore.
|St Louis Island streets|
At the end of our nearly two hour tour we gladly paid our guide 7000 CFAs (approx $14 US) and thanked him for showing us a side of St Louis we would never had seen otherwise. Our guide said that this money would allow him to feed his family for almost three days (he considered about 30 people as his immediate family and they all chipped in to support one another and work together on their boat, fix the nets, process the fish, etc...). He said he only had one wife, but three children of his own.
|more streets of St Louis|