From warrior dancing and wrestling contests to great feasts and spiritual rituals, the Fête du Roi (Festival of the King) is an annual tradition in southern Casamance. Bringing together local villages to celebrate the King of Oussouye, the Fête du Roi instils peace and solidarity in a community once known for conflict. Here’s everything you need to know.
Who is the King of Oussouye?
To understand the Fête du Roi, you need to understand the Roi, as the King of Oussouye is not your traditional monarch. The Oussouye royal family (the earliest recording of which dates back to 1903 but is thought to be many centuries old) doesn’t adhere to a customary line of succession, instead choosing its kings on merit. On the death of the previous king, village elders will meet to determine whether there is a worthy replacement amongst the three main families in the Kingdom. If unconvinced, there is no king (Oussouye was king-less between 1984 and 2001), but if somebody is chosen, they cannot refuse or later resign; being the King of Oussouye is a job for life.
The current king, Sibiloumbaye Diédhiou, had previously been a mechanic and hotel security guard called Olivier before he was chosen by the elders in 2001 to lead a completely different life. A life, the king admits, is “more difficult now than before”.
What is the King’s role?
This ‘difficulty’ likely emerges from the many tenets and customs of the King’s role. On the one hand, he is a spiritual leader: the conductor of animist traditions and rituals, he is understood to collaborate with the animist god Ata Emit and his spirits by interpreting signs in nature and relaying the messages to his people. On the other, he plays the role of local mediator. The Oussouye Kingdom encompasses 100,000 people in 17 Diola villages across Casamance, and the King presides over any conflicts, helping to preserve peace and social cohesion.
Traditionally clad in red robes and a red hat (no-one else in Oussouye wears red), accompanied by a straw broom, the King holds court from a sacred wood on the outskirts of Oussouye town; his fittingly humble ‘Royal Palace’. From here, he sets the Kingdom’s agenda to ensure harmony and prosperity, such as setting the dates for ceremonies and allocating lands to farmers. Rice cultivated on the royal paddy fields is used to feed his people during the feasts of the Festival, as well as nourish the poverty-stricken year-round.
What is the Fête du Roi and why is it important?
In short, the King of Oussouye is a pretty big deal, so each year toward the end of the rainy season in Senegal, the villages of the Kingdom come together to celebrate him during the month-long Fête du Roi, known as ‘Le Houmabeul‘ in Diola. Like many festivals, it is a time of thanks and praise. A chance to thank Ata Emit for bringing the rains and pray for a good harvest and peace. A celebration of unity and community, where diplomatic relations take place between village elders, as well as religious and political leaders.
It’s also an explosion of colour and noise with local Diola warrior dancing and chanting happening on an almost nightly basis. Each village will don their traditional garb and challenge the others in amicable contest, the most prized of which is wrestling. Fighting for pride, contestants are split according to age, gender and build to ensure even contests, before grappling with one another until a head, bottom or back touches the ground beneath their feet.
Tips for visiting
With its verdant forests, mangrove-filled backwaters and white sandy coast, the Oussouye Kingdom is one of the most beautiful areas of Senegal. Getting there is relatively easy from Dakar with direct flights to Ziguinchor or Cap Skirring (25 and 20 miles (40 and 32 km) from Oussouye town respectively), as well as an overnight ferry.
Geographically stunning all year round, visiting Oussouye during the festival sheds light on an ancient African society in action in the modern world. Roads to Oussouye town may be more congested than usual, village shops may close a little early, but on the whole the Kingdom does not stand still during the celebrations. However, with it taking place in early September – October (September 15 – October 15 in 2018), the heat can be stifling, so only pack light, breathable clothes. Just make sure they’re not red.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.