Mia Sogoba

A childhood in West Africa has drawn me, although neither historian nor ethnographer, to both the past and present of these cultures that have forever left their mark.

Garay Alphabet: a Wolof Script

Abstract graphic of the letters and numbers of the Garay alphabet.

or Garay is an alphabet created specifically for Wolof, a language widely spoken in Senegal and parts of the Gambia and Mauritania. Traditionally, Wolof was written with an adapted version of the Arabic script called Wolofal. While this is still a common writing system, the use of the Latin alphabet has steadily risen since Senegal …

3 Tales from the Ivory Coast

Korhogo cloth of the Senufo people, depicting characters from tales of the Ivory Coast.

Like most tales indigenous to West Africa, the allegories and traditional narratives passed down through generations of Ivorians enthrall and edify, startle and steer, recreate and reinforce the social values of their listeners. Through a panoply of characters — fantastical monsters, rebellious protagonists — ethical dichotomies unfold: the role of the individual, the stranger, the …

The Power of a Name

Black and white lithograph of a family sitting, backs turned, on a bench. There are three small children, and four adults. They are facing a woman who is embracing them all. The image is reminiscent of an African naming ceremony, where a child is given a name or several names.

To the Shakespearean question “What’s in a name?”, West Africa’s answer is “Everything”. In a world where even the act of speaking is infused with power, birth names ― whether protective or emboldening, proverbial or predictive, exalted or even seemingly indelicate ― are of the highest traditional significance. So, too, the ceremonies that surround them. …

West African Religion(s)

Top half of a painting in the primitivism style by Nigerian painter, Twins Seven Seven. It depics Shango, a Yoruba orisha, and lesser divinity in West African Religion, surrounded by worshippers during his dedicated festival.

Though a majority of West Africans have now adopted Abrahamic religions such as Islam or Christianity, there are still pockets of people who adhere to the spirituality of their ancestors. Even among those who’ve embraced imported religions, vestiges of their traditional beliefs systems remain manifestly visible in the masked dances, in the festivals and celebrations, …