We have good news! Thanks to your support, this project will go forward beginning on December 28, 2016!
Brief background on the project: After 34 years of fighting, rebel factions in the Casamance region of Senegal are ready to engage in a peace process, and the people want a negotiated settlement that will bring an end to war. However, the villages' independence fighters assumed sacred vows and spiritual protections at the beginning of their cause. Breaking these vows is widely believed to bring about death for the fighters or their loved ones.
Traditional village priestesses also want to see an end to the conflict, and they are ready to act as peace leaders. But releasing so many fighters from their sacred vows all at the same time is a large undertaking, involving hundreds of women, dozens of villages, and very specific rituals. In the local context, the cost is expensive. This project supports village priestesses and women of the bois sacré (sacred forest) to formally “undo” the fighters' vows, purify the combatants, and release them from their obligation to fight. Through rituals and community meetings, they will help free the rebel combatants to return home to their communities, begin the work of rebuilding their lives, and enter into peace negotiations. With a small investment of funds, a significant obstacle to peace can be lifted.
We look forward to sending you a full report on program activities in January. For now, we have three key updates as we prepare to go forward this month:
1. Increased community involvement is offsetting costs:
As you may be aware, our goal for this program was to raise $8,500; we didn't quite get there, and we are proceeding anyway. Since the program needed to go forward immediately—without the full amount needed to cover costs—many of the people who will be involved in this program have pooled their resources to offer in-kind support. Program participants and peace advocates are bringing their own bags of dry rice and other goods in order to help feed the hundreds of people who are expected to attend. Others have come together to offer the women rides to the program site to lower transportation costs. Our program coordinator, a highly skilled peacebuilding expert and facilitator, is also donating time. (In order to make sure hard costs are covered, Karuna Center is not taking money to administer this program.)
With this impressive surge of community support, the program will go forward beginning on December 28.
2. The shifting political context means we should act right away:
The bordering nation of the Gambia experienced a stunning electoral upset on December 1, 2016. This event is having an impact on the Senegalese peace process. The Gambia’s incumbent President of 22 years has ties to the Casamance and shares an ethnic background with many of the Casamance independence fighters; many of the rebel combatants who will be engaged in our program are actually living in the Gambia.
Now that the incumbent Gambian President has been defeated, the Senegalese rebels living in the Gambia have a more uncertain future. They feel a more urgent need to return home to their villages in the Casamance and begin the process of reintegrating into village life—but without the priestesses’ intervention, they will be unable to do so.
Meanwhile, our program coordinator has been reporting from meetings within the Casamance that the priestesses are eager to implement the project in December. During one local peace network’s meeting with combatants and villagers at the end of November, the rebel combatants themselves reiterated their desire to return home to their villages as soon as possible and enter into dialogue with the state.
3. Our action builds on previous success, but will be culturally specific to the Blouf area:
This project comes on the heels of a very successful initiative that we organized in the nearby area of Oussouye, Casamance. That initiative brought together 500 priestesses and women leaders to free the combatants of that zone from their obligation to fight. As a result of the priestesses' actions—which included “undoing” the vows, and holding community meetings to move the peace process forward—rebel raids on villages that area stopped. At the end of their activities, the women of Oussouye urged the women of the Blouf area to do the same. Because each area of the Casamance has its own specific cultural traditions, only the priestesses of a given cultural area can lift the oaths of combatants in that zone.
This project will take place in the Blouf area, home of rebel faction leader Salif Sadio (who has been more reluctant to negotiate) and many of the independent movement's most committed fighters. The combatants originally took their oaths in the village center of Djimande, where a central priestess presided over all of the rituals. For the ceremonies beginning on December 28, the central priestess will preside, assisted by 2 or 3 other priestesses, in the presence of a large number of women leaders representing a total of 23 area villages. Though these women are not formal "priestesses" they are each representative of their village and play a core traditional spiritual role.