Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mame Coumba Bang (Senegalese River Goddess), Information & Comments

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is Part III of a three part series on the name "Coumba" in Senegalese culture.

This post features an excerpt of and my comments about a 2007 university paper by Michelle Margoles, 2007 about the Saint Louis, Senegal river goddess Mame Coumba Bang.

An Addendum to this post also includes a Senegalese traditional dance video with a title that includes the name "Coumba".

Click for Part I of this series.

Part I showcases a sound file of Orchestre Baobab's song entitled "Coumba". That song is also featured in a video of Dakar, Senegal's street life. Information about orchestra Baobab and comments from those video's viewer comments threads are also included in this post.

Click for Part II of this series.

Part II showcases a video of a song by the Senegalese singers Baaba Maal & Ndeye Coumba Dia – Gilli and a video of a song by the Senegalese singer Coumba Gawlo Seck. While I'm delighted to have found these videos, and showcase them on this blog post, I confess that part of my delight was that these videos added to the information that I began gathering about the name "Coumba". As part of that search, the Addendum of this post includes information from a Wikepedia article about the Senegalese King Kumba Ndoffene Joof II.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

To make a long story kinda short, I learned that Coca Cola's Super Bowl XLVIII ad featured people of different races and ethnicities singing "America The Beautiful"* in various languages. One of the languages featured in that ad is Senegalese-French.** I then found out that Coca Cola also posted complementary videos that focused on each of the people singing in those other languages, including a video of the young woman taping the Senegalese-French portion of that ad. The inclusion of the Senegalese-French language in that Coca Cola video prompted me to find out how a traditional Senegalese language sounds.

*This is a correction of the wrong title that I gave this song in my original post.

Since I wasn't sure about which languages are traditionally spoken in Senegal, the first website that I visited was
where I red this information:
"Senegal...officially the Republic of Senegal (République du Sénégal, IPA… is a country in West Africa...

French is the official language, used regularly by a minority of Senegalese educated in a system styled upon the colonial-era schools of French origin (Koranic schools are even more popular, but Arabic is not widely spoken outside of this context of recitation). Most people also speak their own ethnic language while, especially in Dakar, Wolof is the lingua franca[citation needed]. Pulaar is spoken by the Fulas and Toucouleur. The Serer language is widely spoken by both Serers and non-Serers (including president Sall, whose mother and wife are Serers); so are the Cangin languages, whose speakers are ethnically Serers...

Senegal has a wide variety of ethnic groups and, as in most West African countries, several languages are widely spoken. The Wolof are the largest single ethnic group in Senegal at 43 percent; the Fula[37] and Toucouleur (also known as Halpulaar'en, literally "Pulaar-speakers") (24%) are the second biggest group, followed by the Serer (14.7%),[38] then others such as Jola (4%), Mandinka (3%), Maures or (Naarkajors), Soninke, Bassari and many smaller communities (9%). (See also the Bedick ethnic group.)"
Then I started a YouTube search and happened upon a video of Senegal's Ochestre Baobab's Coumba (given as Example #1 in Part I of this series). And since I'm interested in names & name meanings, I began to started a Google search for the meaning of the word "Coumba". If I had continued on YouTube, I would have found the video given as Example #2 in Part I of that post. That video (which is actually a sound file), includes a comment that indicates that "Coumba" is a rather common name in Senegal and Gambia. But prior to finding that video & reading that comment, I found the paper on the river goddess Mame Coumba Bang (that I subsequently featured in Part III of this series), information about a Senegalese king whose name was Kumba, and the videos that are featured in this post.

All together, I would say that I've had a great time learning something more about Senegalese culture, all because of that Coca Cola Super Bowl (American football) ad.

Coca-Cola - It's Beautiful - Official :60, Coca-Cola - It's Beautiful in Senegalese-French; and for a listing of the other languages spoken in that commercial, with special emphasis on the Tagalog language.

By the way, some conservatives in the United States are up in arms about that Coca Cola video, complaining that the national anthem shouldn't be sung in any language but English (Note: "America The Beautiful" isn't the United States' official national anthem".) But I like that ad because of its content, and because it led me to this cultural research about Senegal, West Africa which I am now sharing with you.

[Michelle Margoles, 2007; Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for Senegal: Arts and Culture, SIT Study Abroad, Fall, 2007]
"In Saint Louis, Mame Coumba Bang is the goddess of the river. She watches over the city, and protects the inhabitants from harm such as sickness, death, drowning, and troubles during pregnancy and giving birth. She is said to bring luck and to accompany the inhabitants in time of trouble or hardship but she does not cure. .. “She protects your from people looking negatively on you and speaking badly about you. (M Niang, 2007). In order to ensure one’s safety, however, one has to please the goddess by giving sacrifices….curdled milk will [sic] sugared, some couscous, some cola […] so that the city is happy, and to have peace. [Diop, 2007]. If one doesn’t do this, she becomes angry and punishes the city...

Among Saint Louisians, Mame Coumba Bang is real-she is ...a true reality. [Dieng ,2007)...

Mame Coumba Bang is not alone in protecting the city, however. She has a large family of gods and goddesses who live in the river with her...

Although they live in the river, Mame Coumba Bang and the other spirits do not stay in the water all of the time... “Every morning, well before sunrise, she would come to sit at the edge of the river to take advantage of the fresh air. When the sun starts to rise, she would go back to her home . (Le Soleil, 22 August 1990, 8). Saint Louisians would see her every morning in the same spot , with the same bench, and say “There is Mame Coumba with her bench”. This explains how she got her last name Bang which is Wolof for “bench.”...
This paper provides much more information about Mame Coumba Bang, including the information that all her offerings are the color white, and including the theory (credited to Iba Gueye Issakha) that the French colonizers promoted the resurrection of the traditional legends about Mame Coumba Bang as a means of weakening the force of Islam in Senegal, since the Muslims were against the French colonization.

it seems to me that it is important to note that the French didn't create the legend of Mame Coumba Bang, although her name was "Frenchified" as a result of that European colonization - prior to the French coming to Senegal, the Senegalese people believed in water deities.

The historical belief in water gods and goddesses is worldwide. Traditional water deities in Africa include "Tano" (Akan, Ghana) and "Oshun" & "Yemanya" (Yoruba, Nigeria). "Poseidon" (Greek), "Neptune" (Roman), and Ganga (India) are also water deities.

Click for more names of water deities throughout the world.

Also, visit this Wikipedia page:
That page indicates that "Mami Wata (Mammy Water) is venerated in West, Central, Southern Africa, and in the African diaspora in the Caribbean and parts of North and South America. Mami Wata spirits are usually female, but are sometimes male."
Included on that page is a chart that list the names of water deities in numerous African and Caribbean nations. It's interesting that no information is included in that chart for Senegal or for the Saint Louisian, Senegalese deity Mame Coumba Bang. [I don't know how to add to that Wikipedia page. Hopefully, someone will do so, in part, as a result of this post.]

Until I read that page on Mami Wata, I didn't realize that the word "Mame" in the name "Mame Coumba Bang" meant "mother". I thought it was a title like "madam".

Incidentally, this website indicates that the Wolof word for mother is "ndey" / "ndeɪ". I haven't been able to find the word for "mother" in other traditional Senegalese languages. However, now that I recognize the connection of "mame" with the now offensive word "mammy", I realize that the word "Mame" in the name of that Senegalese river goddess was of French derivation.

I'm still searching for information about the meaning of the Senegalese name "Coumba" and whether it's only (or mostly) a female personal name (Note: Via Google, I've also found "Coumba" used as a surname).

Does anyone reading this know what the names Zandi, Coumba, and Kumba mean in Senegal and the Gambia? If so, I'd appreciate you sharing that information in the comment section below.

As somewhat of an aside, I happened upon this information via Google search:
“Hotel Coumba Bang is located just a 3-minute drive from Saint Louis City Centre.(Senegal)”.
Saint Louis, Senegal is where the worship of the goddess "Mame Coumba Bang" was and still is centered.

My search for the meaning of "Coumba" also led me to this YouTube video:
Coumba Am Ndeye...Coumba amul Ndeye

MrGim01, Published on Mar 28, 2012
Theatre Sorano
At .013 of that video the sub-title both times the word “Coumba” is given as “Kumba”.

Click for a praise poem for a new child by Coumba Toure. Coumba Toure's biographical statement describes her as a "Senegalese feminist changemaker, artist, publisher and educator."

Thanks to the Michelle Margoles for her well written, interesting, and informative paper on Mame Cuomba Bang. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post, and thanks to the dance troupe whose video is featured in this post.

Thanks also to the producers of those Coca Cola commercials which started me on this particular cultural journey.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Mame is grandmother or grandfather in Wolof and is used as term of respect and veneration. Hence Coumba becomes Mame Coumba Bang. Seydina Limamou Laye is referred to as Mame Limamou.

    1. Thanks for that information, unknown.

      I really appreciate it!