Senegalese Regatta A day of friendly feuds – and fun

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        <span class="t-location">Saint Louis (Senegal) (AFP) - </span>Coty Niang has competed in regattas in St. Louis for 20 years, but this year's competition, which took place on Saturday in Senegal's second largest city, was the "best day" of his life.        </p><div>

        <p>Niang—who, like all his teammates, is a fisherman from the port city's Guet N'dar neighborhood—was captain of one of three winning boats that ended a five-year hot streak for a rival team in this year's fishing boat race, a traditional event dating back generations.

“Everyone who lives (in my community), Duck, feels like royalty today,” said the 43-year-old proudly radiating and draped in the red and green of his team’s flag.

The regatta held annually in the former capital of colonial French West Africa, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) north of Dakar – sees hundreds of men riding long wooden boats for a two-and-a-half kilometer race across the estuary where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

City fishermen have been racing recreationally for more than a century, but the event became more formal in the 1950s, according to the head of the organizing committee, Alhaji Mokhtar Ghayi.

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The event sees hundreds of fishermen race across the estuary where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean John Wessels, AFP
    </div>"There are a lot of people out there now, and it's more formal," said N'Deye Seck, 75, a tailor at N'dar Market. 

Her father and siblings were involved when she was young, and she remembers attending former French President Charles de Gaulle in 1959, months before Senegal’s independence.

Grandparents’ loyalties

On the eve of this year’s event, Guet N’dar – one of the most populous neighborhoods in Africa – was brimming with nervous energy.

Men in traditional boubou jackets for Friday prayers and women in elegant “Mossore” head wraps crowd the streets with cheerful children, horse-drawn carts and stray cattle.

On the river bank, an old man cut planks for oars, while younger men covered them with red and white paint.

The St. Louis fishermen are divided into three teams, each representing a geographic section of the Old Quarter. Groups of 50 to 70 people from each team compete in one of the three race categories.

Separate races are also held for fishermen from other places around the country.

Saint Louisian fishermen have been racing recreationally for over a century
Saint Louisian fishermen have been racing recreationally for over a century John Wessels, AFP

It’s a feeling of exhilaration when we win,” said Yunus Diaye, a rower with the Bondo Khouli team who has been competing in regattas for more than a decade.

He said he trained for 10 days before the race.

At sunrise on Saturday, young men played wooden tam tam drums, spectators danced and blasted plastic whistles as the 15-20-meter narrow fishing boats set out into the water.

The previous day’s jerseys were replaced by colorful sports jerseys, with NBA player LeBron James’ number 23 jersey ubiquitous in the Pondou Khole community, coloring his team yellow and blue.

Nearby, a seller sold bucket hats and ties of the same colors.

“blood dripping”

Along the riverbank, in the Dak community, spiritual leaders burn incense and smash ice packs where boats are launched.

“This is the only truly local sport here,” said Asane Diaw, a former competitor whose family has been racing for nearly 100 years.

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Spiritual leaders would burn incense and break snow bags as the boats set off
Spiritual leaders would burn incense and break snow bags as the boats set off John Wessels, AFP
    </div>"We have football teams, but the berroge race is unique in St. Louis."

He said that his grandfather’s generation competed in the same boats they used for fishing, but nowadays teams use custom-made racing boats.

And about the award, he said: “The love that people have…it is the blood that flows.”

By the afternoon, tens of thousands of spectators gathered along the river.

Young men shouted at the arches of the Vidherbe Bridge, which connects the island city to mainland Senegal, for a better view.

Cheerful Duck fans jumped into the river as their team won the first and second races, and the winners waved their oars and banged their chests before overturning their boats and drowning themselves.

Halfway through the final event, tensions heightened when Bundo Khouli – the current champ – began squabbling with Duck’s rowers in the water.

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By the afternoon, tens of thousands of spectators gathered along the river
By the afternoon, tens of thousands of spectators gathered along the river John Wessels, AFP
    </div>But nothing could dampen Captain Niang's mood, or the glare in his eyes as he sat quietly with his family in the old town that evening.

“Guet N’dar is a village where everyone lives together—we share everything,” he said, as the sun set behind him with a thundering sound.

“We are one and indivisible team – all three teams are really a family.”

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