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Entry Into Union, Endogamy, Polygamy, Impact Of Westernization

Marriage patterns in contemporary Senegal derive from Islamic, Western, and local traditions. This situation, which has prevailed for centuries, results from secular borrowings from the Arab world and European colonizers. Senegal embraced Islam more than a thousand years ago, mainly through early contacts with traders from Northern Africa. The trans-Saharan trade did not survive French colonization, but its effects on the Senegalese society's religious landscape prevails to date. Although less than half of the Senegalese population was Muslim at the turn of the century, now more than 90 percent are. Scholars of Senegalese sociopolitical history recognize that the country's local social, political, and educational systems are at the crossroads of European and Islamic civilizations (Gellar 1995).

Before Senegalese independence from French colonization in 1961, marriage law followed an Islamicized Wolof custom—that is, a set of rules and regulations drawn from both Islamic law and local traditions. However, Senegalese with French citizenship were allowed to rely on French marriage law (Sow 1985). Customary and civil marriage still co-exist in Senegalese society, and neither is more valued than the other, although the educated elite is more likely to opt for the latter. These two forms of marriage differ mainly in that customary marriage does not require any registration through the official legal system, while civil marriage does. In addition, there are various forms of consensual unions that are often not considered as marital unions in official statistics. Current Senegalese marriage laws allow men to opt for either monogamy or polygamy, but the wife's consent is required. In either case, marriage is the only socially accepted context for sexual relations and procreation.

Current Senegalese marriage patterns reflect diverse influences. These shape the contours of entry into union and the prevalence of endogamous and polygamous marriages. However, Westernization, through rising levels of education, urbanization, and the diffusion of modern ideas, is likely to induce new forms of marriage that depart significantly from the prevailing ones.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural Aspects