Obituary of Professor Issa Laye Thiaw

born. 1943 (Sanghe, Jooɓaas, Senegal)
died. 10th September 2017 (Senegal)
buried. Sanghe, Jooɓaas, Senegal


Our special tribute to Professor Issa Laye Thiaw

By The Seereer Resource Centre, Seereer Radio and Seereer Heritage Press 
Published: 11th September 2017 
Last edited: 13th September 2017

It is with great regret that the Seereer Resource Centre (SRC) and Seereer Radio find themselves having to announce the passing of our colleague and old friend Professor Issa Laye Thiaw. Professor Issa Laye Thiaw, also known as Mbañik Caw (his Seereer name, Thiaw is spelled Caw in Seereer) was a brilliant historian and author, and a very proud Seereer and African. A true guardian of Seereer tradition, religion, culture and ethics. He was a gifted and wise man who was always generous with his knowledge and time. The Seereer Community, the Senegambian community, and Africa have lost a great man. 


Professor Issa Laye Thiaw worked diligently over his long career to document and preserve Seereer culture, history and religion into the pages of history. 

He was a brilliant scholar and author of Seereer religion (A ƭat Roog) and history, but perhaps better known for his work on Seereer religion and culture. His work has been cited by several internationally renowned scholars writing about Seereer religion and culture. A son of a saltigi (a Seereer high priest), he understood exactly the danger of Africans demonising the traditional religions of their forefathers such as the Seereer religion.  African history and culture are deeply rooted in the Traditional African religions and one cannot love the history and culture yet despise the religion the history and culture derived from. As an intelligentsia, Professor Thiaw was well placed to know this. Therefore, along with his writings, he spent years as guest speaker on several inter-religious dialogues between the Abrahamic religions (Islam and Christianity) and A ƭat Roog.  

He is the author of that celebrated book La femme Seereer,  Sénégal, (2005), Sociétés africaines et diaspora. Edition L'harmattan.  This book addresses the role of the Seereer woman in Seereer society. A great masterpiece full of information about Seereer religion, religious laws and customs.  It was the first book to be reviewed by the Seereer Resource Centre and featured on its website on 1st September 2013 Other works include :  La religiosité des Seereer, avant et pendant leur islamisation [in] Éthiopiques, n°. 54, volume 7, 2e semestre 1991; and Mythe de la création du monde selon les sages seereer, p. 45–50, 59-61 [in] "Enracinement et Ouverture" – "Plaidoyer pour le dialogue interreligieux", Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (23 and 24 June 2009). 


Over the years, Professor Thiaw collaborated with the Seereer Resource Centre and Seereer Radio to share his knowledge generously without asking for anything in return. Indeed, he had kindly donated his land to the Seereer Resource Centre in order to build a complex that he was working on for years - a learning centre for Seereer history and culture that will incorporate a Seereer museum titled The Seereer Resource Centre and The Temple of Initiated Women. (SRCTIW) which he named himself when visited by our founder Tamsier Joof in 2015 accompanied by Demba Sene. That video can be found on Seereer Radio's website. It is so sad that whilst the SRC was still constructing a page on its website for that project before asking members of the Seereer community to help support this great initiative, we received the sad news that Professor Thiaw, the man who has been working on this project for years will not be here to witness its completion. The Seereer Resource Centre will endeavour its utmost to bring this project to fruition and ensure that the legacy and wishes of this great man comes to fruition with the help of the Seereer and Senegambian community who truly value what this great man was trying to achieve. Along with this noble project, we the SRC were collaborating with Professor Thiaw to publish some of his unpublished works (to which there are many)  with our imprint and publishing house Seereer Heritage Press - and ensure that his huge volume of works relating to Seereer culture, history and religion are preserved and documented before they become lost to history. 


The great work done by Professor Issa Laye Thiaw in the documentation and preservation of Seereer culture, history and traditional religion (A ƭat Roog) will be made known to those master's students writing their dissertations on these subjects, as well as to those scholars interested in such subjects.  His work has inspired many young Seereers academics and revolutionaries such as our founder Tamsier Joof, Demba Sene and Lance Johnson (Dimlé Sène). His volume of work; his long effort in bringing pride and dignity to every Seereer, Senegambian and African in their own history and culture; his dedicated effort in speaking up for Seereer religion when few people in Senegal will publicly utter any good word about it and other Traditional African religions; and his kind-heartedness, generosity and willingness to share his knowledge without expecting nothing in return; this, in our view is his legacy.  We the SRC, Seereer Radio and Seereer Heritage Press, whilst we still continue as going concerns, will endeavour our utmost to preserve the legacy of this great man. And if/when we cease to be going concerns, we will put mechanisms in place to protect this legacy - whether that means bringing his books to market and/or erecting structures in his name like the SRCTIW  project described above. This is our promise to his family and to ourselves. 


The Seereer Resource Centre, Seereer Radio, Seereer Heritage Press, Tamsier Joof, Demba Sene, Mamadou Fall, Dimlé Sène and all team members of the SRC and Seereer Radio would like to offer their heartfelt and sincere condolences to his family and friends. This is a huge lost as expressed by colleagues below.


In paying tribute to Professor Thiaw, Tamsier Joof wrote on his Facebook page : 

I have had the honour of interviewing Professor Issa Laye Thiaw on numerous occasions for the Cosaan Seereer programme. It is so sad to be waken by the sad news that this great man passed away last night. Words cannot explain how I feel. He was not just a colleague of mine, but someone I regarded as an uncle and truly respected as a scholar and a great human being. The Seereer Resource Centre's post says it all. He was indeed a great man and my sincere condolences goes out to his wife, children and immediate family. On our side, I also offer my condolences to the Seereer Resource Centre and Seereer Radio teams. He was indeed someone we all looked up to and respected. Sad as it may be, it is now down to us to preserve the legacy of this great man. The work starts now. May his soul rest in perfect peace.

On  Dimlé Sène's Facebook post, Tamsier went on to write :

We the younger generation now owe it to him to preserve the legacy of this great man. Our door is open to anyone who wish to work with us and ensure that the legacy of Professor Issa Laye Thiaw is preserved and never forgotten. What this man has done very few people have done so in the Senegambia region. His generosity and willingness to share his knowledge without aspiring for rewards was just so typical of his character. It is so sad that he will not be here to witness one of his greatest wishes (the erection of the SRCTIW building).  We will endeavour our utmost to bring that project to completion and work on things that I agreed with him when I last visited him in Senegal. If anyone wants to know who Professor Thiaw was, he was a man who was passionate about preserving Seereer / Saafi culture and traditions in the pages of history, and defending the old Seereer religion in public when few, if any would do so publicly especially in Senegal. My sincere condolences to his immediate family, and to us at the Seereer Resource Centre and Seereer Radio because we saw him as an uncle and part of the family. May Roog Seen open the gates of jaaniiw and let him enter.

Demba Sene, who regarded Professor Thiaw as a father figure paid tribute in the following terms :

The Seereer people have lost the greatest historian and researcher of Seereer culture and religion. Professor Issa Laye Thiaw grew up in Jooɓaas from two Seereer  families. His mother's  family were Seereer-Siin and his father's family Saafi-Saafi. This enabled  Professor Thiaw to be fluent in both Saafi-Saafi and Seereer-Siin. That special ability contributed to the position of Professor Thiaw as the most remarkable historian and researcher from the Seereer community. 

As you may know, the Seereer people didn’t write to preserve history. They used to sing the stories during initiation, farming, gum tattooing, etc. In order to understand the true meaning of the history that is preserved in songs, you have to understand the meaning of the songs, and Professor Thiaw was a native and could understand most of the Seereer languages. When reading his books, you can see that he was using many of the Seereer languages. 

You might as well call him a Muslim marabout for mastering the Quran and the Islamic religion. His ability to speak fluent Arabic was very helpful when he made comparative studies between the Seereer religion and the Abrahamic religions. He spent most of his time researching Seereer related topics. Travelling from village to village to meet people and attending Seereer rituals. In the last few years of his life, even with a weak health, he kept on researching, reading and writing. He has completed several important and unpublished works like the meaning of Seereer and Arabic names; a collection of Seereer ritual songs; the meaning of humming birds according to Seereer tradition;  animal symbolism/totemism  according to Seereer tradition; a collection of Seereer tales, etc. He has so many unpublished works. 

His last project was to build a Temple of Initiated Women. He proposed to collaborate with the SRC and he agreed to offer a huge land to host the project. More than 5 hectares - in an area where people are selling small plots of land for a lot of money. Professor Thiaw always said : "A true Seereer never sells land because it is the property of God. We just use it to grow food and live on." 

I can remember his words when he was encouraging us for the work we are doing to preserve Seereer culture. He said : "Keep on [going] and preserve what is left of Seereer culture and religion. You will be lonely in this field but just keep on because the truth must come out."

A true Seereer priest you were, even if you never wanted to be called a saltigui. I believe in Seereer wisdom and I'm sure you can witness what is happening now. I will miss your songs, I will miss your stories. Professor THIAW. 

"Whilst you are wandering in your beautiful garden in Jaaniiw, we keep on working to leap Seereer people out of that darkness -  as you tried." 

Your Son, your follower, 

Demba

It is with great sorrow to announce that Professor Issa Laye Thiaw passed away last night. He was a family to the Seereer Resource Centre as well as to Seereer Radio, and over the years we have had the privilege of interviewing him on numerous occasions on matters relating to Seereer history, culture, religion and ethics. Our sincere condolences to his family and friends. May his soul rest in perfect peace. Goliŋ!

In paying tribute, Seereer Heritage Press wrote : 

We are saddened to learn about the passing of Professor Issa Laye Thiaw. He was a highly respected scholar, writer and narrator. His knowledge of Seereer culture, history and traditional religion is second to none. Seereer Heritage Press was in the process of collaborating with Professor Issa Laye Thiaw in order to publish some of his works. The world has truly lost a great scholar and author. Our sincere condolences goes out to his entire family. May his soul rest in perfect peace.

Babacar Diouf, former Director of Ndef Leng, writing on the SRC and Seereer Radio's tribute post wrote :

Paix à son âme et perpetuons son oeuvre immense. Merci à seereer radio pour votre engagement et votre veille permanente

Mamadou Ndong, President of the Cosaan Sereer Association of  France sent a personal  email to Tamsier Joof (founder of the SRC, Seereer Radio and Seereer Heritage Press) expressing his condolences. He wrote :

Dear  Tamsier and dear members of the Seereer Resources Center


I and the seereer community of France are saddened to learn of the passing of Pr. THIAW.

We wish to extend our deepest sympathy to you and to all the members of the SRC.
Our sincerest condolences.

R.I.P  the Big and  Great man who did a lot of things for the seereer culture.

Mamadou Ndong
President of the Cosaan Sereer Association
France

Professor Issa Laye Thiaw was not just a proud member of the SRC and Seereer Radio, but a family. We the Seereer and Senegambian community owe it to this great man to help support his works and family by buying his book La femme Seereer which is filled with great information as anyone who have read the book can testify. We hope when the time comes for us to ask for the community's support in bringing to life the SRCTIW project, the Seereer community, other Senegambians, Africans living in the continent and those in the Diaspora will rally behind us and help us preserve the legacy of this man. For those who knew him, this project has been one of his best wishes that he wanted to give to the Seereer, Senegambian, Africans in the continent and those Africans living in the Diaspora who were separated from their motherland due to the horrible history of slavery. It is sad that he will not be here to witness the completion of this project, but we can unite and ensure that one of his greatest wishes comes to fruition. 


To quote the great African philosopher Amadou Hampâté Bâ : "In Africa, when an old man dies, it's a library burning." In the name of Roog, the ancestors and the pangool, may his beautiful soul rest in eternal peace and enter that great kingdom known in the Seereer tongue as Jaaniiw. May Roog accept our prayers and open the gates of Jaaniiw and let him enter. Goliŋ!  


A true guardian of the old religion and a true defender of the faith.  Gone but will never be forgotten. 


Note: The Seereer Radio team will be paying a special tribute to Professor Thiaw on Monday, 11th September 2017 at 10 pm BST (9 pm Senegambian time). This special tribute will replace the scheduled Open Mike Show. The show will be anchored by Tamsier Joof, and  he will be joint by the Seereer Radio team including: Demba Sene, Mamadou Fall, Doudou Diouf, Moussoukoro Sidibé, Laity Sene, and the Radio Ndef Leng team.  

More pictures of Professor Thiaw  with the SRC and Seereer Radio Team

See our Photo Gallery for more pictures.


Video and Podcast


See our Video and Podcast pages for Professor Thiaw's videos and audios.

Buy your copy of La femme Seereer here



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