Yoff is a small and peaceful fisherman village, laying in the northern part of the peninsula of Cap-Verde , about twelve miles from the Senegalese capital city, Dakar . A hundred years back, there was nothing to predict the prominent role the village was going to play in the overall history of the country; if not the pride of being one of the oldest places founded by migrants from the Djolof empire. Commonly known as the ancestors of the Lebu they left the North-Eastern part of Senegal to go south-Eastward and first established at the gates of Cap-Verde in Djander. Other groups of refugees seeking a safe place had joined them throughout the centuries. They left their homes mainly for political and insecurity reasons. In a nutshell, they came from all parts of Senegal.
At the beginning, they were scattered groups with no organic links. But with the rapid growth of the Senegalese population, almost all ethnic groups were represented and the Lebu had always been in a large majority.
As a matter of fact, villages emerged alongside the costs.
The Lebu whose main activities were fishing and farming, had such a sustainable economy that caravans came from the Northern part of the continent to fetch dried fish, salt….in exchange of scarce products.
Moreover, they were supplied with European goods by the ships going along the West African costs.
Village people who were subject to attacks by the troops of Damel, king of Cayor, had to organize their resistance. After a few battles, the Lebu were able to foil the plans of Damel to submit them. Consequently, the Lebu Republic was created in 1790 within the limits of Cap-Verde.
Like other villages of Cap-Verde, people of Yoff took it upon themselves to organize their own economic, political, social and administrative activities under the direction of leaders elected by the local people, among whom the Djaraf, Ndeye-Ji-Rew, Saltigue………….were outstanding figures.
Each village enjoyed self-government which allowed her to run her own affairs. Leaders of the biggest village finally ruled over others with a President (Serigne Ndakarou) asssited by ministers (Djarafs, Saltigues, Imam,). Besides these officials were two others outstanding dignitaries (with political and administrative power), the Ndeye-Ji-rew (a sort of Prime Minister) and the NDeye- Jambour, ( equivalent of the President of the National Assembly) whose is role is to control the action of the president. Both of them are directly elected by the people ;
For half (1790-1857) a century the Lebu ran their own affairs and were masters of their destiny. This period was marked by internal and external political troubles which showed the heroism and capacity of the Lebu to govern themselves. They had to organize a resistance in order to foil the imperialist plans of Damels from Cayor (building up of stone walls to close the gates of Cap Verde and to protect their fields).
The relations they had with the French, established in Goree Island , three miles from the South cost of the peninsula, were subject to crisis. In order to settle those problems treaties were going to be signed on October 10 th 1826 and April 22 nd 1830 and which resulted in the payment of taxes for ships alongside Dakar. Former archivist of the French West African Government wrote: "for forty years the relationships between Goree Island and the Cap-Verde were those between two foreign powers". During all this time the French had been planning to invade the peninsula. While the Lebu were celebrating the end of Ramadan, one of May 25 th 1857, Commander Protet and marines from Jeanne-d'Arc, landed in Dakar . The natives who always considered the French as friends, thought they just came to wish them a happy holiday.
>They did not react all. It was only after several days when the French refused to pay taxes accordingly to the above treaties that Lebu realized the loss of their sovereignty.
As a matter of fact, Lebu were under French authority and became at the same time overseas French citizens who were going to be enrolled in the French army to fight in the European wars. Besides, the first black MPs (Blaise Diagne) of the French National Assembly were elected in 1914 in Cap-Verde. However, the Lebu people kept up with their major traditions and electing members of their local Government which is up to now one their most outstanding heritage recognized by the State of Senegal.
After the setting up of the Lebu Republic in 1790, Islam became a State religion ruling all the sectors of life. The Imam was not only the chief of the Islamic worship, passing judgement according to the Muslim law, but he used also to be the President with the title of Serigne, referred to as a master in Islamic teachings.
The first French missionaries who arrived later in the peninsula noticed the devotion of Lebu to Islam and their tolerance towards Christians and other religions. His Lordship Benoit Ruffed wrote in a letter to the Archbishop of Chambery diocese, dated November 1847, few months after they arrived in Dakar,…" the Cap-Verde is where God has His first apostolic house built, is the place of Islam's most sincere and energetic followers of all.
Fifty years ago, Cap Verde violently seceded from the kingdom of Cayor whose king was somewhat indifferent to Alcoran practices. Since then, Cap-
Verde had become an independent theocratic kingdom with Ndakaarou, the place where I am presently established, as capital city. This Republic is the kingdom of marabous, the king and all the chiefs are marabous, and all influent heads of families are marabous. They spend half of their lifetime reading the Alcoran, reciting prayers and celebrating its holidays.
The righteousness, integrity, respect for marriage, and the submission of children to their parents and affection for their mother, as well as the patriarchal hospitality of the Wolof contrast with the European way of life. Murder, robbery and fraud are incredible things in the Peninsula of Cap-Verde;
When you preach to these calm and religious people, there is no need to prove them that God has sent them on earth to save their souls: all of them live this conviction which results in a collective bigotry.
These black people appreciate us a lot as they know we pray…" (the complete text of this letter is included in pages 92, 93 and 94 of "A History of the Peninsula of Cap-Verde and the origins of Dakar " by Claude Faure)
This Christian missionary was no doubt in touch with a learned elite deeply attached to a perfect Muslim orthodoxy, because among the majority of Muslim Lebu was a certain religious syncretism leading to the mixing of Islamic teachings with the cult of jinn referred to as "Rab" or "Tuur" . Up to the end of the nineteenth century, each Lebu family, except a few, owns a home-based altar to lodge the family protecting jinn for generations, likewise each village had jinni to worship.
Yet this worship was not as important as a religion, relationships between Jinn and worshipers were reduced to an utilitarian cult only : in order to be in the good grace of the Rab, periodical offerings (milk, cereal flour, sacrificed animal blood were poured on the altar…) were made in exchange, Rabs provide information for the future to fortunate-tellers or help in the healing process of a patient, in the outcome of an enterprise, or for having abundant rains. Some ceremonies may be impressive for any spectator especially the public dances and immolation of beast during a Ndeup ceremony which is organized to gain recovery for a patient.
The relationship between Rabs and men was all the time reassuring, as it could be like a sword of Damocles over their heads. In fact, those who used to have much faith in the protection of a jinni would always have a dread of its anger. At times, the Jinni may not appreciate offerings and worship acts to be neglected as a matter of fact, a severe punishment was brought on the guilty.
Such mentalities were to make people interpret calamities, diseases, drought, and the failure of an enterprise as signs of anger from family or village jinn.
When consulted, priests would tell what the Rab needs to calm down and then people would rush into doing satisfying it.
These magic practices which applied to a kind of divinity capable of intervening in a good or bad manner in the life of men, are way different from the Muslim orthodoxy.
In all circumstances, Islam requires that prayers should be addressed to a Unique God to Whom all power to satisfy our needs belong. Nothing can be achieved except, it is His will, therefore, He is the only God worthy of worship.
Yoff was a prominent center for the cult of jinn and the related magic knowledge ; the village jinni, called Mame Ndiare was well-treated the same way Leuk Dawour was in Dakar, Gorgui Basse in Ngor and Mame Koumba Lamba in Rufisque…
It is therefore not for granted that, the Saint Master, Seydina Limamou Laye's call first echoed in Yoff on Sunday Chaban 1 st 1301 after Hegira (Sunday May 24 th 1884) ( according to the consulted computer, May 24 th 1884 actually corresponds to Chaban 1 st 1301 after Hegira).
Declaring himself a prophet and messenger of Allah, he implored his fellow citizens and all mankind and jinn to answer Allah's call.
He invited them to dedicate a pure and sincere worship to Allah, to have faith in nobody but Him, and to perform Islamic rituals with care (ablutions, prayers, zakat, and social justice, the permanent invocation of Allah and prayer for the Prophet Muhammad…).
The widespread cult of Rab, and the new teachings in break with current Islamic rituals and traditional society characterized by social classes, and especially the reactions of the French Colonial power fearing a possible resistance from Seydina Limamou, made the then environment against a man who dared launch such a call.
One can easily guess the hardships and obstacles he was going to meet in his way, but also appreciate the perseverance and faith in Allah he showed in supporting with courage and serenity all kinds of mental and physical sufferings. He was not a man to give way in the face unavoidable ordeals.
What made him suffer the most was to see his fellow citizens wander from the salutary message he brought to them. So much so that he used to sit alone in one corner of the village and started humming
"O! people of mine, verily, I am a messenger of Allah unto you."