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The problematic portrayal of relationships on Senegalese Shows

Guest: Ken F.


As a Senegalese living abroad, one way that I keep in touch with  the country, and its happenings is through the various local shows that have sprouted up on TV in recent years.

These shows are popular with the Senegalese populace, and the Senegalese Living Abroad (SLA) especially, because they are set within our own socio-cultural contexts and realities. The actors speak the local language (although some of them do so with a heavy dose of French, and sometimes English for showoff purposes – Jojo with his “r’s” comes to mind). The shows are set in Senegal, in places which are familiar or at least recognizable to the average Senegalese (although here too, they tend to frequent lots of fancy places, which aren’t necessarily privy to the average Senegalese). They try to depict many socio-cultural aspects of Senegalese society, usually relationships between families and lovers. 8455295-13279679It is so great that we now have access to locally-made TV shows, which cater to our own realities, rather than the usual, but now less ubiquitous, Bollywood sappy love stories (anyone remember Vaidehi? Her trip to Senegal is #4 on the all-time Greatest National Shames list) or the 5-year long South-American soap operas (also remember when everyone used to say “capiche” after that one show I can’t even remember?). Plus, if you’re like me, the shows keep me entertained during my lunch hours when I don’t feel like socializing with anyone… All in all, the shows are the products of a great and commendable effort of local production companies, acting associations and actors to come together and make something original that is actually produced in Senegal.

All that being said, I have some major issues with the shows.

One of those issues is the professionalism aspect. I think there is a big amount of effort which needs to be made, to better the script writing, the scenarios, and also the skills of many actors. I think many shows have a lockdown on the visual aspects with the introduction of HD production (thanks Gelongal!), but everything related to the actual story and how its acted out, needs a bit more work… but this is for another day. For now,

I want to focus more on the content, especially how relationships are played out in the shows, using Wiri-Wiri as my example.

Wiri-Wiri has become a popular show, amassing thousands of views on YouTube. This popularity is very understandable as it mainly deals with the topic of marriage and the extended family’s outsized role in it in Senegalese culture. Needless to say, countless Senegalese women recognize themselves as a wife whose mother-in-law is the witch from Ndoumbelaan (in fact, said witch often lives with them).

That is why I think it is so important that shows like Wiri-Wiri, Buur Guewel, Un Cafe Avec should not just regurgitate social tropes in our society, but rather should all do a better job of portraying what good relationships should be, a mission I personally think they fail at.

Let’s take the example of Jojo and Soumboulou.

Scrolling down the comments after watching an episode of the show, I often see things like “Team Jojo”, “They are so great together”, “Jojo moo aam feeling rek”, but I am like “No, he’s a terrible husband”. Whenever Jojo gets angry, he mistreats his wife, calls her all sorts of name (including the T one), and reminds her of all the things he has ever done for her. He becomes emotionally abusive. He shuns her out completely, barely talking to her. Never mind the fact that he does not trust her one bit! What annoys me the most is how he has co-opted Soumboulou’s mother to always side with him, even when he is completely wrong (like when he accused Soumboulou of cheating with Cheikhouna)!

And talking about Soumboulou’s mother, that woman is the worst! No wonder both of her daughters are in very questionable relationships (Aby’s husband is always yelling at her, cheated on her with a white woman and rarely keeps her updated with his ongoings. Baye Fall has no respect for his wife, or her family. He constantly treats Aby as if she’s not her partner). hqdefaultAt first Soumboulou’s mom was so mistreated by her husband that she could not even house her daughter when she was divorced and the latter had to sleep in the streets! What kind of an example is this? Then, she suddenly transforms into this woman who shows no respect to her husband when she discovers his secret, yet expects Soumboulou to be all nice and quiet with her husband? Soumboulou’s mom is the prime instance of being a terrible example yet holding your offsprings to a higher standard. Actions speak louder than words.

You also have the witch, aka borom lamou doff, who is pretty much a psycho. She abuses her husband (yes, men can be abused), works (ligueye) her son’s wife, and is a pathological liar. Yet, through all this, Cheikhouna is supposed to show her respect because she’s his mom? I simply can’t you.. She also forces a girl (who may be underage), Aida, to be married to her son for revenge.

This is against the law and against all of the efforts that have been undertaking to protect young women.

I sincerely hope that before the show ends, it will address all these issues and see to it that everyone gets real consequences for their actions that is for mistreating their spouses and/or their children.

I understand that these scenarios are undergirded by sayings such as “wadiour xeer laa, dome di neene”, etc, etc, and “dieukeur sang laa”. Well, it is time to debunk these sayings, as they only are half-truths!

Parents need to respect their children and husbands their wives. It is such a role, that of a disruptor, instead of safeguards of the status quo, that these shows should play. These shows should make the people watching it question the veracity of these sayings and the dynamics of these relationships; they should make us skeptics.

Skepticism makes you question everything, an important quality which is often not valued in Senegalese society.

 

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12 Comments


  1. Aminata

    April 21, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    Wow this is AMAZING. She said it all. Belle analyse. And its all the way true.
    Cuz while you watching those tv shows the only thing you see is the bad side of a senegalese mariage! And worst thing about it people think that its absolutely normal like you will never be happy after getting married. Kind of sad. But you know senegalese woman looove to “defantei” and adoooore drama that they even might act like one of the charecters In their real life. A tv show where a mother in law is hella lovely and kind would be amazing tho so some would really understand that mariage is not always hell.
    But wait… how do i know tho?! Im single smh. *plays single ladies by beyonce*

    Reply

    • NK

      April 21, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      MDRRRr wa legui, you can give ur opinion if you want to!

      Reply

  2. DG

    April 21, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Bravooooooo! Bien dit. Les femmes en plus sont souvent entretenues dans les séries comme si c’était ce qu’il fallait pour vivre une “vie de rêve”.
    Merci pour cet article.

    Reply

  3. Yass

    April 21, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    You said EVERYTHING. I mean in Senegal we have such real issues that we have to settle in TV shows. Ladies are all “khéssalisé” like it was the only way to look pretty then they have a “good and rich” man who gives them everything (#melni yayam sonoul thie mom) just because of their fake “beauty”. It’s not about being jealous but i just want people to remind our strong values like loving and believing in the way you are no matter the colour of your skin and the fake things you wear like #sameu cheveux brésilienne bi 300000 fcfa… If only they could fix that because young girls have started now acting like them in their real life and this is so sad. Dieul lep wék ko thie apparence…such a big mistake
    Contane thie yaw NK!!!!

    Reply

    • Mary D.

      April 21, 2016 at 4:23 pm

      Preach Yass ! Preach ! U said it all

      Reply

  4. Fif

    April 21, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    People portray mariage as à battlefield for women. Accepting bullshit from your husband supposedly make You a “good” woman. “Taaru djiguene moy sey” = it doesnt matter how shitty your mariage is, Nothing is worst than being a single woman.

    Those shows portray toxic relationships because thats the society we live in. I honestly dont expect much from sanex’s troop but hopefully one day, there will be people who are socially aware and willing to change people’s views.

    Another thing to look at is how we are always having these convos Within our circles. Like, this article is written in english, who will it reach ? People who probably already had this opinion or the #teamjojo #jojoIsRomantic type ?
    Sanekh &co targets the same audience we never care about talking to.

    Reply

  5. May nd.

    April 21, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    That’s all true! And another thing that shocked me in this show is that the main topic is about a man who is doing his possible , even involving Lady Justice, to get back His wife he just ditched like garbage ! Like she’s his “thing” and belong to him! Terminus de l’oeil! Last but not least that same wife who happen to be married to another guy witthaout getting legally devorced from her previous husband! Pourtant djangue nga deh, bigne kay takk tamit ct devant Mr le juge!diomi la def!

    Reply

  6. Mary D.

    April 21, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    This is just why I never watch these shows ! Seriously ! I mean this is so not what I want my life to look like when I’ll be married. Just hearing people talking about how the women are treated in this show makes me sick & wish I never get married. So I’ll pass my turn

    Reply

  7. Ndeye

    April 21, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    I stop watching that shit… Cant stand Cheikhouna… I sued to watch the thing with my husband and be so mad urghhh***… Total BS debut beu fin. Now I don’t torture myself anymore. Everytime I see Soumboulou I want to kill her… What kind if stupid women is she? Anyway… Grat post-)

    Reply

  8. Michelle

    April 21, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    I like what you say. I have stopped watching Sénégalese show a long time ago because they are too much in everything. And they treat women like the worse. But I have a question: what are the other four national shames of Sénégal a part from Vaidehi’s visit

    Reply

  9. Astou

    April 30, 2016 at 3:04 am

    BRUHHHHH you took the words right out of my mouth ! i had to stop watching un cafe avec because even my 3 year old brother could be more creative. i honestly think that they didn’t even bother caring if the show made sense to the viewers at one point. wiri wiri on the other hand * takes deep breath* The way women are abused on the show irks my SOUL!!!! It is never ever ever evaaa *smokey voice* okay to advise your homeless daughter to spend the night in jail because you’re too scared of your husband. WHERE THEY DO THAT AT?! our culture makes shit that should never fly in any book OKAY /acceptable and call it “mougne”. By the way How come not ONE wife has a legit job the show????They all 100% depend on their husbands….im tired of our shows stop putting female characters in a position to take their husband’s BS . is getting a female leads with a bit olivia popeishh attitude too much to ask ?! the poor girl that was going to school was forced to marry her cousin and drop everything like its NORMAL. Theres so many issues that need to be addressed i could go on and on but let me stop lol my mom doesn’t even want to watch the show with me anymore because i I’m constantly criticizing it.

    Reply

  10. rikmow

    November 8, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Don’t you think Wiri Wiri portrays a set of abusive relationships because they actually exist as a common experience in senegalese society? Women suffer all sort of physical and psychological violence and have little to no means to act against it when a coalition of “husbands” “mothers” “wider family” and “mothers-in-law” keep her on the place that arranges them the most. Soumboulou is just that, a woman with nowhere to turn.

    I agree that the portrayal of relationships is incredible demeaning for women, but this is a wider issue in all media in Senegal, and in social life too. Social commentary tends to place women as negative signifiers.

    Why would Wiri Wiri be different?

    Then there’s the focus on melodrama, which is possibly also a consequence of the past “indian” and “mexican” references for series, because “novelas” are indeed always melodramatic and very little concerned with raising more complex issues, or treating them with sensitive an intelligent approaches. Look at the question of class, seldomly adressed in “Un Cafe Avec” “Wiri Wiri” or any other senegalese fiction whatsoever.

    Wiri Wiri is not playing out a senegalese story, but a story which could be in any other melodramatic soap opera, through senegalese type back and forth (wiri wiri) and social relations. It lacks many layers of social and cultural … and it lacks experience in script writing.

    Reply

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