As a result, on July 2, approximately 300 traditional priestesses entered the sacred forest, representing 21 villages—many more than we had anticipated. Their purpose was to formally undo the spiritual protections and vows that rebel fighters from their villages had taken on when they joined the fight for Casamancois independence, and to pray for the success of peace negotiations and reconciliation in their communities. The undoing of the vows is a critical step toward peace in the local culture, because it will make it possible for rebels to return to village life.
"We preached forgiveness and reconciliation so that those who are in the bush can return to their families. We asked those willing to come and meet with the government to find a solution to the crisis."
- Judith Diagne Ciss, quoted by the Agence de Presse Sénégalaise
A broad group of rebel combatants were present to hear the priestesses' message—older fighters who had been in the bush since the war's early days, and younger new recruits. Afterward, the rebels returned to their remote encampments with the knowledge that they will be able to come home to their communities.
The next big step will be for the rebel leaders and the national Senegalese government to enter into peace negotiations—and seek out an agreement that responds to the needs of the local population. In the meantime, we are told, people are hopeful.
We are grateful to each of you who donated to this project for making it possible.
Joachim Diene, a Senegalese conflict specialist and Karuna Center Peacebuilding Associate, led our work in Senegal to support the priestesses.
Read our original story: How 200 village priestesses are ending Africa's oldest war