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Last Updated: Monday, 17 January 2005, 09:34 GMT
Senegal celebrates the sheep
By Tidiane Sy
BBC correspondent in Dakar

With the Muslim celebration of Eid-el-Kebir approaching, Senegal's capital has been transformed into a farmyard, as sheep and rams fight for space in Dakar's streets.

Sheep and ram by a garage in Dakar, Senegal
During the run-up to Eid, Dakar looks like a farmyard

In the Muslim world, animals are slaughtered in the festival known in Senegal as La Fete du Mouton - or Sheep Festival.

It commemorates the ram substituted by God when the Prophet Abraham was told to sacrifice his son, and coincides with the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca later this week.

But the tradition is particularly strong in Senegal, where almost every adult Muslim man will try to slaughter a sheep and many pride themselves on having the biggest or strongest ram.

For the past three or four weeks the bus terminal in Terminus Liberte 5 has become one of the busiest places in Dakar, where thousands of rams are exhibited in the open air, before being sold for slaughter.

With all the smells, noise and crowds, you could easily mistake the bus stop for a farmyard.

Tough business

The sheep come not only from local breeders, but also from neighbouring countries.

This year, official sources indicate that more than 60,000 of these animals have trekked across the borders from Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

Ram in Dakar, Senegal
I can't say the prices are reasonable
Alioune Dione
For many cattle breeders and traders, Eid is a good business opportunity, but also a difficult time.

"Business is tough, it's really tough," says Moustapha, a young trader at Terminus Liberte 5.

"The customers aren't coming yet. They prefer to wait until the last days before the celebration," he complains.

He has 15 sheep here and is working with his friend who has 20 animals.

"We pay the fees together. But we have lots of expenses: to buy food for the animals and for ourselves, also, is expensive," he says.

His rams cost from 50,000 CFA francs ($100) to 150,000 CFA francs ($300).

Social pressure

Buyers feel these prices are high for a ram, but Moustapha believes that a well-treated ram has "no price".

Indeed, Moustapha's prices are reasonable compared to some traders who sell their sheep for two or three times his asking price.

Horse and cart in Dakar, Senegal
We are first and foremost Senegalese, we have to accept it
Mamadou Diallo
But, it is a sellers' market, as no matter the price, every family feels socially obliged to have a healthy, fat ram to slaughter in their house on the day of Eid.

In other Muslim countries, only the rich need slaughter a sheep, but in Senegal everyone tries to, whatever the cost.

"Sincerely, I can't say the prices are reasonable," says Alioune Dione trying to strike a deal at Liberte 5 - his black shoes totally covered with dust.

"I think I'll come back tomorrow. I need to come back every single day until I get one, because it's an obligation for me to have one."

It is the responsibility of most husbands and fathers to find the ram to be slaughtered - and recently married - Mr Dione is feeling the pressure.


Dakar residents not only accept the exorbitant prices, but the environmental inconvenience too.

Mamadou Diallo - who lives near Liberte 5 - does not complain much about the makeshift paddock almost on his doorstep.

Sheep traders in Dakar, Senegal
Traders believes a well-treated ram has 'no price'
"People are preparing for the celebration, the atmosphere is festive, and it's okay," he says, although he admits the traders can be a nuisance.

"When the traders come, there's too much noise at times. But we are first and foremost Senegalese, we have to accept it. I think that generally, we are coping with the situation," he says, smiling.

Others complain about the smell that sneaks into their houses and can remain for up to a month after all the sheep are sold; while some businesses complain about the dust and the litter.

But nobody wants the cattle or the breeders to leave now: The priority for everybody is to have their fat ram in time for Eid.

Country profile: Senegal
31 Dec 04 |  Country profiles
In pictures: Muslim feast of sacrifice
01 Feb 04 |  Photo Gallery


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