Kingdom of Sine

The Kingdom of Sine (also: Sin, Siine or Siin in the Serer-Sine language) was a pre-colonial Serer kingdom along the north bank of the Saloum River delta in modern Senegal.[1] The inhabitants are called Siin-Siin or Sine-Sine (a Serer plural form or Serer-demonym, e.g. Bawol-Bawol and Saloum-Saloum / Saluum-Saluum, inhabitants of Baol and Saloum respectively).


Medieval to 19th century[]

Carte des peuplades du Sénégal de l'abbé Boilat (1853): an ethnic map of Senegal at the time of French colonialism. The pre-colonial states of Baol, Sine and Saloum are arrayed along the southwest coast, with the inland areas marked "Peuple Sérère".
19th-century junjung from Sine.

According to the historian David Galvan, "The oral historical record, written accounts by early Arab and European explorers, and physical anthropological evidence suggest that the various Serer peoples migrated south from the Fuuta Tooro region (Senegal River valley) beginning around the eleventh century, when Islam first came across the Sahara."[2]:p.51 Over generations these people, possibly Pulaar speaking herders originally, migrated through Wolof areas and entered the Siin and Saluum river valleys. This lengthy period of Wolof-Serer contact has left us unsure of the origins of shared "terminology, institutions, political structures, and practices."[2]:p.52

Professor Étienne Van de Walle gave a slightly later date, writing that "The formation of the Sereer ethnicity goes back to the thirteenth century, when a group came from the Senegal River valley in the north fleeing Islam, and near Niakhar met another group of Mandinka origin, called the Gelwar, who were coming from the southeast (Gravrand 1983). The actual Sereer ethnic group is a mixture of the two groups, and this may explain their complex bilinear kinship system".}[3]

The actual foundation of the Kingdom of Sine is unclear, but in the late 14th century Mandinka migrants entered the area. They were led by a matrilineal clan known as the Gelwaar. Here they encountered the Serer, who had already established a system of lamanic authorities, and established a Gelwaar led state with its capital in or near a Serer lamanic estate centred at Mbissel.[2]:p.54[4]

Father Henry Gravrand reports an oral tradition that one Maad a Sinig Maysa Wali Jaxateh Manneh (many variations: Maysa Wali Jon; Maissa Wali Jon; etc.), fleeing with his family from Kaabu following a battle in 1335 which he calls The Battle of Troubang, was granted asylum by the Serer nobility of Sine.

Charles Becker notes that Gravrand had not recognised that this is actually a description of the 1867 (or 1865) Battle of Kansala although he agrees that the migration of the Guelowar can probably be explained by a war or a conflict of succession.[5] Serer oral history says that after Maysa Wali assimilated into Serer culture and served as legal advisor to the laman council of electors,[6] he was chosen by the lamans and people to rule.[7] Almost a decade later he elected the legendary Ndiadiane Ndiaye (many variations: Njaajaan Njie or N'Diadian N'Diaye)and founder of the Jolof Empire to rule the Kingdom of Jolof. He was the first Senegambian king to voluntarily gave his allegiance to Ndiadiane Ndiaye and asked others to do so, thereby making Sine a vassal of the Jolof Empire.[8] It is for this reason that scholars propose the Jolof Empire was not an empire founded by conquest but by voluntary confederacy of various states.[9][10] Around early 1550, both Sine and its sister Serer Kingdom (the Kingdom of Saloum) overthrew the Jolof and became independent Kingdoms.[11] Serer oral tradition says that the Kingdom of Sine never paid tribute to Ndiadiane Ndiaye nor any of his descendants and that the Jolof Empire never subjugated the Kingdom of Sine and Ndiadiane Ndiaye himself received his name from the mouth of Maysa Waly.[12] The historian Sylviane Diouf states that "Each vassal kingdom—Walo, Takrur, Kayor, Baol, Sine, Salum, Wuli, and Niani—recognized the hegemony of Jolof and paid tribute."[13]

The rulers of Sine as well as Jolof continued to follow the Traditional African religion. On 18 July 1867, the Muslim cleric Maba Diakhou Bâ was killed at The Battle of Fandane-Thiouthioune (also known as The Battle of Somb) by the King of Sine Maad a Sinig Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof while he was trying to take control of Sine and make it a Muslim land.[14] The rulers of Sine retained their titles (Maad a Sinig) throughout the colonial period and did not lose all official recognition until 1969 after the death of Maad a Sinig Mahecor Joof (the last King of Sine, reigned: 1924 - 1969).[15]

Portuguese explorers in the 15th century referred to Sine as the kingdom of Barbaçim, a corruption of 'Bur-ba-Sine' (Wolof for 'King of Sine'), and its people as Barbacins (a term frequently extended by early writers to Serer people generally, while others insisted that Serreos and Barbacins were completely distinct peoples.) Old European maps frequently denote the Saloum River as the "River of Barbacins/Barbecins" [16] It has now been acknowledged that the terms "Serreos" (Sereri) and "Barbacini" (a corruption of Wolof "Bur-ba-Sine") were actually a corruption by Alvise Cadamosto - the 15th-century navigator. Alvise mistakenly distinguished between the "Sereri" (Serer people) and the "Barbacini", which seems to indicate that he was referring to two different people when in fact, the Kingdom of Sine was a Serer Kingdom where the "King of Sine" ("Barbacini") took residence. Since he had never set foot in Serer country, his accounts about the Serer people were mainly based on what his Wolof interpreters were telling him. "Barbacini" is a corruption of the Wolof phrase "Buur ba Sine" (also spelt: "Bor-ba-Sine" or "Bur-ba-Sine") meaning King of Sine, a phrase the Serers would not use.[17][18]


The economic base of Sine was agriculture and fishing. Millet and other crops were grown. Sine was very reluctant to grow groundnut for the French market, in spite of French colonial directives. It was less dependent on groundnut than other states. Deeply rooted in Serer conservatism and Serer religion, for several decades during the 19th century, the Serer farmers refused to grow it or when they did, they ensured that their farming cycle was not only limited to groundnut production. Their religious philosophy of preserving the ecosystem affected groundnut production in Sine. Even after mass production was later adopted, succession struggles in the late 19th century between the royal houses hampered production. However, the Kingdom of Sine was less susceptible to hunger and indebtedness, a legacy which continued right up to the last king of Sine - Maad a Sinig Mahecor Joof. It was very common for people from other states to migrate to the Serer kingdoms of Sine and Saloum in search of a better life. The inhabitants of Sine (the "Sine-Sine") rarely migrated.[19]

Social organisation[]

Some of the king's government (or the political structure of Sine) include: the Lamanes (provincial chiefs and title holders, not to be confused with the ancient Serer Lamanes); the heir apparents such as the Buumi, Thilas and Loul (in that order); the Great Farba Kaba (chief of the army); the Farba Binda (minister of finance, the police and the royal palace) and the Great Jaraff (the king's advisor and head of the noble council of electors responsible for electing the kings from the royal family).[20][21]

Political structure of Sine[]

The following diagram gives a condensed version of the political structure of Sine.[21]

Political structure of Sine
            .....................................................Maad a Sinig 
            │                                                   (King of Sine) 
            │                                                           │
            │                                                           │
     _______│______________                                             │
     │Heir apparents      │                                             │
     │____________________│                                 ┌───────────┴───────────────────────────────────────┐
            │                                               │                          │                        │
          Buumi                                             │                          │                        │
            │                                       ________│_____________             │               _________│________
          Thilas                                    │Central hierarchy   │             │               │Territorial     │
            │                                       │____________________│             │               │commands        │
          Loul                                              │                          │               │(The title      │
                                                            │                          │               │ holders)       │
                                                            │                 _________│__________     │________________│
                                                            │                 │Royal entourage   │               │
                                                            │                 │__________________│               │     
                                                            │                          │                         │
                       _____________________________________│                          │                       Lamane
           ┌───────────┴───────────────────────────────────────┐                       │                    (Title holders 
           │               │                │                  │                    ___│                   and landed gentry)
    Great Jaraff           │                │               Lingeer                 │
(Head of the noble council │           Farba mbinda      (Queen regnant. Head of    │
           and             │     (Minister of finance)    the female court)         │
     Prime Minister)       │                                            ┌───────────┴────────────────────────────────────────┐  
                           │                                            │                                                    │
                   Great Farba Kaba                                    Kevel                                             Family
                  (Chief of the army)                               (or Bour Geweel.
                                                      The griot of the king. He was very powerful 
                                                           and influential. Usually very rich)

See also[]


  1. ^ Martin A. Klein, Islam and Imperialism in Senegal Sine-Saloum, 1847–1914, Edinburgh University Press (1968). p 7
  2. ^ a b c Galvan, Dennis Charles, The State Must Be Our Master of Fire: How Peasants Craft Culturally Sustainable Development in Senegal Berkeley, University of California Press, 2004 p.51
  3. ^ Van de Walle, Étienne (2006). African Households: Censuses And Surveys. M.E. Sharpe. p. 80. ISBN 978-0765616197.
  4. ^ Klein, Martin A. Islam and Imperialism in Senegal. Sine-Saloum, 1847-1914, Stanford: Stanford University Press.[1] ISBN 978-0804706216 p.8
  5. ^ Sarr, Alioune, Histoire du Sine-Saloum (Sénégal) Introduction, bibliographie et notes par Charles Becker. 1986-87, p 235
  6. ^ For more on Serer Laman see: Dennis Charles Galvan, The State Must Be Our Master of Fire: How Peasants Craft Culturally Sustainable Development in Senegal. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2004
  7. ^ Ngom, Biram : "La question Gelwaar et l’histoire du Siin", Université de Dakar, Dakar, 1987, p 69
  8. ^ Cheikh Anta Diop & Egbuna P. Modum. "Towards the African renaissance: essays in African culture & development", 1946-1960, p28
  9. ^ Charles, Eunice A. Precolonial Senegal: the Jolof Kingdom, 1800-1890. African Studies Center, Boston University, 1977. p 3
  10. ^ Ham, Anthony. West Africa. Lonely Planet. 2009. p 670. (ISBN 1741048214)
  11. ^ West Africa, Issues 3600-3616. West Africa Pub. Co. Ltd., 1986. p 2359
  12. ^ Diouf, Niokhobaye. Chronique du royaume du Sine par suivie de Notes sur les traditions orales et les sources écrites concernant le royaume du Sine par Charles Becker et Victor Martin. Bulletin de l'Ifan, Tome 34, Série B, n° 4, 1972. p706
  13. ^ Diouf, Sylviane, Servants of Allah: African Muslims enslaved in the Americas (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 19
  14. ^ Diouf, Niokhobaye. "Chronique du royaume du Sine." Suivie de notes sur les traditions orales et les sources écrites concernant le royaume du Sine par Charles Becker et Victor Martin. (1972). Bulletin de l'Ifan, Tome 34, Série B, n° 4, (1972). pp 727-729
  15. ^ Klein, Martin A. Islam and Imperialism in Senegal, Sine-Saloum, 1847–1914, Edinburgh University Press (1968). p X
  16. ^ Teixeira da Mota (1946: Pt. 1, p.58). For a detailed 16th-century Portuguese description of the Kingdom of Sine, see Almada (1594: Ch.2)
  17. ^ Boulègue, Jean. Le Grand Jolof, (XVIIIe - XVIe Siècle). (Paris, Edition Façades), Karthala (1987), p 16
  18. ^ Alvise Cadamosto, the 15th-century explorer in modern day Senegambia had never set foot in Serer country. His ship proceeded to the Gambia after one of his Wolof interpreters sent to negotiate slave terms with the local Serer community living in the Cayor border was killed on the spot by this Serer community. Neither Alvise nor any of his party left the ship. The ship proceeded to the Gambia. Since Alvise had never entered Serer country, most of his opinions about the Serers were coming from his Wolof interpreters. The Wolofs of Cayor were in constant war with Serer community living on their border and were fearful of these Serers as narrated by Alvise himself. In Kerr, Alvise refer to the Serers as without kings. However, these Serers were those living on the Wolof Cayor border and refused to submit to the kings of Cayor. Alvise did not know that the Kingdom of Sine was actually a Serer kingdom, where the Barbacini - (a corruption of the Wolof "Bur Ba Sine" which means "king of Sine") took residence. See: Boulègue, Jean. Le Grand Jolof, (XVIIIe - XVIe Siècle). (Paris, Edition Façades), Karthala (1987), p 16. Also:
    • Robert Kerr. A general history of voyages and travels to the end of the 18th century, p238-240 Published by J. Ballantyne & Co. 1811
    • Frédérique Verrier. Introduction. Voyages en Afrique noire d'Alvise Ca'da Mosto (1455 & 1456). Page 136. Published by: Chandeigne, Paris, 1994
    • Peter E. Russell. Prince Henry 'the Navigator': a life. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2000, p-p 299-300
  19. ^ Klein, pp 134, 203-4
  20. ^ Sarr, pp 21-30
  21. ^ a b Klein, Martin A. Islam and Imperialism in Senegal, Sine-Saloum, 1847–1914, Edinburgh University Press (1968). p 12