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THE LION KINGS OF MEDINA - SENEGAL (64 photos) Send this reportage Send this reportage
To be a "boy Medina", a local youth, is at the same time an honor and a duty. An unknown good-for-nothing would fast be tracked down, the Baye Fall stay up ! Medina also has its Kings : "Simbel" or "Gaïndés", the lion-kings. Every time they invest a sector, fear, joy, jubilation, even madness spread into the streets. All began with a legend, a myth, a story like some griots tell in the villages of the bush.
© C. Béné./
Categories: Art, Environment, Human & Ethnology, Tourism, Travel, Offbeat, Culture, News, Scoop, Social, Show, Big Story, Summer, Spring
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The Medina, populous district of Dakar, Senegal capital-city, was built on a former lébou village, the local ethnos, at the beginning of the XXth century. Human melting pot it has its own character, rules and a particular population, mostly poor but active. The high number of children gives it the aspect of a brasilian favela.
At night, as life is still palpitating in the dark streets of Medina, security and order are assumed by a group of «Baye Fall», an islamic congregation devoted to give help to people and keep moral rules observed. Tourists hardly come here, and they are wrong not to, as Medina is a very safe place and interesting in many ways.
Here are based the «Faux Lions» , fake lions, a troup of men celebrating an ancient legend.
Long ago, in Senegal, in a village lost in the Bush, a man left his family to hunt a prey in the deep forest. Suddently he met a ferocious lion charging at him. He invocated his whole spiritual power and physical strength came to him. He fighted the lion and killed the big cat before fainting.
After that each time he got angry he would turn into a lion.
This extraordinary strength was, by miracle, transmitted to his heirs till now.
This inheritage is still alive and the ceremony take place, from time to time, at the crossroads of Medina. During three days, from 5PM to 9PM, the “Fake Lions” roam in Medina.
They are strong men, heavily built, wearing lions skins and colored make-ups. The purpose of the ceremony is to demonstrate their powers. The Lions can walk on burning ashes, dance with velocity, break chairs and benches, run after spectators and punish those who did not pay their tickets. These tickets are sold for little money by the women of the area who have organised the show and will pay the Lions.
Singers, dancers, griots and drummers appears in the show together with the so-called Lions Wives (men dressed in girls clothes) the only ones able to temper the Lions furor.

When the noise and furor end, people go quietly back home. Once more the rite has been accomplished ! Some kids only keep the Lions in mind, dreaming of being one of them in the future, dreaming of the strength and powers of their land, Africa.