Recycling

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Wolof peoples, Senegal, recycling mural. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts, Allen F. Roberts.

While contemporary African culture-builders everywhere use System D to cope with the incongruities of modern life, they do so in intriguingly different ways based on their own indigenous philosophies and religions. In cities of Senegal, the image of a Sufi saint, Sheik Amadou Samba, adorns the walls and thresholds of businesses, workshops, and junkyards. Samba oversees and inspires the hard work and labors of those engaged in recycling, for Samba was a martyr, a mystic, and a passive colonial resister who has become a symbol for freedom and sacred nationalism. Through his saintly deeds and words, hardworking people find purpose in life, despite the difficulties of life in contemporary Africa. Senegalese recyclers believe that just as the saint enacts miracles like praying on the waters, so may they—in  transforming things—transform their lives through the hard work that Samba sanctified.