Saint-Louis is located in the ancient state of Waalo, a territory belonging to the storied Jolof Empire. To its north was the Moorish empire of Trarza, and to its east was the region inhabited by the Fulani ethnic group called the Futa Toro. Here, photographer Laylah Amatullah Barrayn presents a portrait of the city, once colonized by the French, that lies north of the country’s capital, Dakar.
The city also has its own intricate photographic history. There were photographers like Mama Casset, Meïssa Gaye and Oumar Ly in Saint-Louis. Pierre Tacher, one of several French photographers who documented Senegalese life, has also massed a significant archive of colonial photography. Tacher’s portraits help sort the ethnicity and social class of the city’s residents, and give a fascinating glimpse into life in Saint-Louis in the early 1900s.
Currently, even though Saint-Louis is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the city struggles with infrastructure issues. It served as the capital of Senegal and Mauritania for nearly 100 years and is one of the oldest colonial cities on the continent.
Economically, its fisheries provide a significant amount of seafood for much of Senegal’s interior, Mali and southern Mauritania. However, Barayn said, there is a need for greater safety of fishermen at sea as traditional fisheries compete with industrial fisheries.
As the city prepared for Niari Rakas, an annual celebration for Bamba, questions remain about its future. With Asian corporations increasing their investment in Africa, the Internet making for a more connected world, and the rise of religious fundamentalism, it is unclear what new legacies Saint-Louis will receive a century from now.