Group of women in African dress selling brooms
People,  Senegal

To market, to market … a morning at Nguéniène Market

Nguéniène would be a fairly unremarkable Senegalese village were it not for the huge scale of its weekly market, which draws people from many miles around. As we drove towards the village with our local guide Cheikh, we could see many others on the roads, mostly in traditional horse carts, all converging on this one spot. The women were colourfully dressed as always here, as were many of the men; and the carts were piled high with produce to sell.

Horse-drawn cart on a sandy track
On the way to market

To market, to market …

We parked on the outskirts of the village and walked along a few lanes between the houses to reach the main market, which was already a hubbub of activity.

People come to buy or to sell of course, but also, it seemed to me, to meet and gossip. A visit here is a popular outing for tourists; but still they are hugely outnumbered by the locals and it is a totally authentic experience.

Group of women in African dress and one man erecting poles
Setting up a stall

The general market

In fact there are two markets here – one for animals and one for everything else – and I mean everything! We started our explorations in this general market and among many other things, we found for sale the following:

  • fruit and vegetables
  • cooking pots and tripods on which to stand them
  • tools – large knives, penknives, wire-cutters, screw drivers
  • tobacco, and tiny metal pipes in which to smoke it
  • cola nuts, which Cheikh assured Chris were as good as Viagra!
  • colourful traditional fabrics sold by the metre
  • heaps of second-hand clothes imported from Europe
  • (poor) replica football strips – mainly Barcelona and the big names of the English Premier League
  • trainers, flip-flops and gym shoes
  • live chickens
  • dried fish
  • baobab fruit, hibiscus flowers and other juice flavourings
  • herbs and spices
  • mobile phones and accessories
  • children’s toys
  • huge sacks of grain and rice
  • little fried millet balls, a bit like churros, which Cheik bought for us to sample
  • colourful woven baskets
  • pottery bowls and other objects
  • animal feed

What to buy?

We saw only a few tourist-oriented stalls, one selling sand paintings and wood carvings, a couple with simple jewellery; I bought a bead necklace for 1,000 CFA (about £1). I also bought two metres of one of the fabrics, planning to make it up into a sarong or skirt; however it is still sitting in a drawer at home, untouched, five years later!. This cost 2,000 CFA, after some hard bargaining by Cheikh.

As well as helping us to get good prices for our shopping, Cheikh insisted on buying various snacks for us to try, not all of which looked appetising! The little fried balls of millet dough were a bit like Senegalese churros, I guess, but rather dry inside and tasteless. I turned down the proffered cup of tea, not being a tea drinker; but I enjoyed tasting a fruit, Saba Senegalensis, which Cheikh called madd, its Wolof name. This consists of a large seed which we sucked to eat the pleasantly sharp (to my taste) fruit around it.

Young lady in colourful orange turban
A face in the crowd

I found that I had to be a little discreet to get my photos here. Most people didn’t mind me photographing the goods on sale, and some of the men were happy to be in my photos; but on the whole the women preferred not to be photographed. If they asked me not to, I put the camera down; but I have to admit to shooting a few of my pictures ‘from the hip’!

The animal market

After spending some time in the main market, we moved on to the animal market on the other side of the village, travelling between the two on a traditional horse cart. Here there is a much narrower range of goods on offer: goats, sheep, cows, donkeys and horses. Until very recently, Cheikh told us, all business was done here by exchange; two goats for one sheep, five sheep for one cow and so on. Nowadays people are more likely to use cash, but some exchange trading still goes on.

Cheikh was keen to point out the best animals, especially in the area devoted to cows, and a little disappointed I think that our untrained eyes were not very good at judging them (it’s not a skill much called-for in urban London!) He was firm in his belief that you should never buy a fully-grown well-fattened cow, but instead look for one that was basically sound and healthy, but which would benefit from feeding up. That way you could sell it on for a profit – a bit like buying a ‘doer-upper’ property!

While the men we saw were obviously here to sell, it also seemed to me to be a great excuse for them to catch up with friends as there was a lot of standing around chatting going on. I found that they were more relaxed and generally seemed less bothered by my camera than in the busy main market.

Our morning at Nguéniène market was one of the highlights of our stay in Senegal; for its authenticity, for the colour, and for the photo opportunities it provided.

I visited Senegal in 2016

19 Comments

  • Simone

    I always love a good market and try to include at least one on every trip I make! Wonderful as usual Sarah, you captured the colourfullness (is that a word, lol) of the market well. I really like the shoe stall, so fun! I saw a similar type shoe stall in Madagascar 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      You would love it here Simone – possibly the best local market I have visited on my travels, certainly from a photography perspective 🙂 And yes, colourfulness is absolutely a word 😀

  • rkrontheroad

    You have found some very interesting places to explore! Colorful dress and textiles and great portraits (even if by stealth). As a potter at times in my life, I would have taken home some small pots with intricately painted patterns.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 😀 Some of the pots were lovely but I tend to steer away from fragile souvenirs – textiles are a safer choice when you’re as clumsy as I am AND packing for a flight 😆 But I do have a gorgeous tiny tea cup from Kyoto and an equally gorgeous and tiny plate from Acoma Pueblo, so I do take the risk occasionally!

  • lisaonthebeach

    Sarah, I think your photos are amazing! Did any of the food make you sick? I always wonder about that. I got sick from a trip to Mexico once (just a day trip across our southern border). But I long to travel around the world to see our similarities and differences. That is one reason I love to watch “The Amazing Race”. Thank you for almost making me feel like I was there. I would so have enjoyed that visit!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you very much Lisa 😀 No, I was fine after eating the little bits I tasted here. I can be prone to an upset stomach while travelling but usually it catches me unawares, when I eat in what seems to be a perfectly safe restaurant rather than sampling the odd bit of street food! I’m very happy you enjoyed this market visit so much!

  • starship VT

    Terrific set of photos, Sarah! I like all the colorful images you have captured of the market and the interesting people there. I can easily see why it was one of the highlights of your visit to Senegal!

  • wetanddustyroads

    Beautiful … all the colours in your post! Cola nuts … interesting fact (or not?)
    Had to laugh at your remark of “to meet and gossip” at the market … there must be some truth in that. When I was very small and lived in a (even) smaller town, there was a market day once a week where the woman of the town could buy fresh veg & fruit … my mom always used to say, after one of these market days, that she is now “on top of all the news” in town 😉.
    Lovely photo’s 💌.

  • margaret21

    As usual, a vibrant and absorbing account. I wish markets were a more usual way of trading in Europe still. What I notice – everywhere – is that once you discount any tourists, the average shopper is middle aged or older. Even in cultures still more market-aware than we are here, like Spain, many markets have either closed or reduced their trading area, selling the resulting space to … a supermarket.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Margaret 🙂 I agree it’s a shame to see market die out, but I don’t know if it’s a general problem across Europe. Even here in the UK, I see markets in parts of London that are busy with shoppers of all ages, and not just trendy Borough Market. And in Italy and Paris I think you see a reasonable number of younger shoppers, but that’s something I’ll have to check for myself when/if I get to revisit those places!

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Don’t you just love wandering through authentic markets – it’s one of the great pleasures of visiting an “ordinary” (that is, non touristy) town. This one looks so colourful and full of character.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, I love a local market. It’s a perfect ‘way in’ to learning about other cultures – how they dress, what they eat, how they interact … 🙂 This was one of the best we’ve visited – authentic but not in the slightest bit daunting for an outsider!

  • Oh, the Places We See

    Your photos of the people at the markets are marvelous. It’s hard to take them not knowing how people will react to your doing so. This is a fascinating post —colorful and reflective of life there.

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