In Senegal, one of the most religious countries in the world, the marabout shapes society from the realm of the neighbourhood up to national level. This series portraits the neighbourhood marabout as a Koranic teacher, mediator, and sometimes as a spiritual guide with esoteric powers.
The Senegalese government does not pay for religious education, so the marabouts rely on donations. Sometimes the community provides these funds, yet more often the talibe, the Koranic students, have to gather daily contributions for tuition and board. Although laws against forced begging exist, attempts to regulate the Daaras, the Koranic schools, have so far been unsuccessful. As no minimal set of either educational or hygienic standards is in place, the situation of the talibe depends entirely on the marabout’s goodwill.
The marabout system facilitates Sufism among the very young. Islam is seen as an overriding guiding principle, and all the marabouts I met were keen to present their effort as a way to create a peaceful framework for society.
Some Senegalese marabouts have gained national reputation and great wealth. “Le Grand Marabout” gives a face to the unknown local marabouts, who create, maintain and control a community, who constantly have to balance their own desire for prosperity with the ethical canon of Islam. They are keenly aware of the power of photography, as images of past great marabouts are worshipped as icons in Senegal. The portraits in the series reflect the stature required for this role within the spiritual framework. At the same time they offer a glimpse at the reality of the marabout’s field of influence.