Sheikh Ibra Fall and the Bayefall Movement



Senegal is an arid place, where life has never been easy due to poor soils, drought, desertification and other problems common to countries lying just south of the Sahara. The republic has few natural resources, and certainly none greater than the creative resolve of its people. Realizing these condition, Khadimou Rassoul developed a philosophy – indeed, a phenomenology, an “exaltation”, and perhaps even a “cult” – of hard work for which mourides are wide removed. Following the saint’s teachings, “work becomes a privileged instrument for reinforcing the faith, a powerful tool for controlling passions and appetites, a source of spiritual elevation”; supporting one’s family is deemed more important than all else, and if toiling to do so occasionally or even regulary precludes one from the devotional responsabilities ordinary to muslum, so be it.


Serigne Touba, was however, above all a sufi mystic, and throughout his life he strove to remove himself from quotidian cares. As mourides say today, his was the realm of mediative thought and writing ,while the rigors of practice were assumed those who would follow his lessons. In this latter regard, none was or is more important than Sheikh Ibra Fall, often call by the affectionate nickname “Lamp”; he is the light of the mouride movement, and the central minaret of the Great Mosque of Touba is named for him. The relationship between the saint and his servant is thus given both architectural and literary play, for the word minaret is derived from the Arabic manarah, “Lamp”. The Lamp Fall minaret is so staggeringly tall that it seems to reach the sky, like “the cosmic tree” for which Touba is so aptly named. All mourides revere the memory of Lamp Fall, but some known as Bayefall demonstrate love for the man as the mission of their lives.

Lamp Fall was the first and most fervent disciple of Ahmadou bamba, and the saint conferred on him the honorific title of “sheikh” to recognize diligence and purpose following the prophet’s own. Yet bamba also offered Lamp Fall and those close to him specific dispensation from fasting and prayer, for hard work was “a means of praying better adapted to his temperament”. There is only one photograph of Khadimou Rassoul, and it is dressed in white denoting to mourides his state of grace; similary, there seems to be a single photograph of Lamp Fall, and like that of Bamba, it was published by the colonial administrator Paul Martyr in 1917; in the image, Lamp Fall is dressed in loose dark clothing now interpreted as reflecting his dedication to life of labor. Lamp Fall is remembered as possessing “ingenious versatility” and for being “ particulary energetic and entrepreneurial”. Indeed Cheikh Tidiane Sy has described him as a bourreau du travail – a french phrase that nowadays might be translated as “workaholic”. “Work upflits man”, one bayefall told us. “by working, man raised himself toward”. Lamp Fall’s portrayals in popular art often capture his dynamism. It is related that he could be so frenetic that some took him for mad. One suspected that Lamp fall defied all easy expectations because he was a culture broker who bested the French colonizers at their own game. While recognizing physical labor as a sacred responsibility, Lamp Fall was also literate in Arabic “remarkably intelligent” according to French authorities, and a most perceptive businessman who purchase urban properties with the freely offered tithes (addiya in wolof) collected from his hundreds of ardent taalibés. He is said to have been “one of the wealthiest Senegalese of his time, and his stunning financial success turned the colonial economy downside-up. In 1913, for instance, he owned thirteen properties throughout western Senegal from which he derived fifty thousand French francs that he offered to the saint as a token of his piety – a sum that equalled the annual salary of the governor general of French west Africa. It is ironic that even as colonial authorities restricted Amadou Bamba’s movement, Lapm Fall and a few other mourides managed to become such remarkably able capitalists within the emerging colonial economy.

Like Amadou Bamba, Lamp Fall is given a flourishing hagiography. it is said, for example, that he was recognised his peers as having “surpassed human capacities and evolved in spheres of which an understanding was inaccessible to simple mortals. “the same anonymous reporter suggests that lamp Fall was “in the category of Malamatiya. These are saints whose banal appearance  is a mask hiding their spiritual reality” as “confident of god”. The close relationship between the prophet and his African muezzin Bilal may find its parallel in the devotion that  the saint received from Lamp Fall. It should be noted that the detail of Lamp Fall’s formal history are virtually irrelevant to the development of such thinking.

Like other mouride leaders, Lamp Fall used his wealth and political to provide patronage and build urban infrastructure. Such a “big man” model persists among contemporary mourides, who feel that the strength of their community is based upon a pyramid of self-sacrifice and willful giving. Lamp Fall’s self-abnegating work and his equally energetic search for wealth inform today’s mouride way. Indeed, while only some mouride are Bayefall (with reference to the particular philosophy, religious affiliations, aesthetic, and lifestyle known by that name), in some sense all mourides are bayefall in their absolute dedicationto their families, their dahiras(religions community), their marbouts and their saint.

Becoming a bayefall reflects a degree of zeal as well as adoption of particular practices.

It is very common for young bayefalls to spend a number of year contributing to construction or other sacred project at touba, such as the building or maintenance of the great Mosque or toiling on the farms of Mouride holy men and women.

Marabouts are considered intermediaries between their followers and god, and bayefalls feel that when they offer their labor to their marabouts, they are working for God Himeself. Such activity follows the saint’s work ethic, recently restated by Abdoulaye Wade, President of the Republic of Senegal: “As Bamba always taught, one must always pray, but work and work some more”; indeed, president Wade has compared mouride and protestant work ethic, for as mouride says,”work is the the key to paradise”.

Some bayefalls live like monks so given to labor that it is said that their marabouts must take great care to oblige them to stop for meals and sleep for otherwise they might work themselves to death. These are joyous time of intense solidarity when young men visit villages singing khassaides, playing drums, and dancing to beg for sustenance. They often bear and wear images of bamba and ibra fall to bless whose who give thel alms, and they sometimes carry clubs. As Sheikh Tidiane Sy recunts, such objects recall the founding of touba. When the saint received divine inspiration as to where he should pray, Lamp fall planted a stake(kur) of the sort used to frame a round house; when serigne touba indicated where he would be buried, another post was set in the ground. At the death of Khadimoul Rassoul in 1927, Lamp Fall took up and carried the latter post until his own passing three years later. Then it was planted at the head of his own tomb in Touba, where it can still be seen. The carved clubs of bayefall honor his history, and as the devoted dance, they sometimes use them to thump themselves dramatically as an acte of penace and to demonstrate their great physical endurance.

If many bayefalls model themselves after Lamp Fall, it should come as  no surprise that they play especially important roles in the informal economy of urban Senegal and, indeed, of cities the world over where hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit are altogether necessary for survival. For example, deep in the heart of the sprawling junkyard in colobane, an industrial neighborhood of Dakar, one finds men like “Carlos” engaged in the tedious labor of making trunks from recycled materials. As carlos says,” I figure out how to do things, so that I will not steal and defile the name of my mother and father, because before a man can have dignity, he must work. When you have worked well, no one will say anything. The policeman will leave you alone, and any troublemaker lacks the dignity to stand beside us, and this is why I work. Carlos is a blacksmith, and as a result of years of diligent labor, he is proud to be able to send his five sons to catholich school; they will remain muslum, and he intends to teach them to be blacksmiths when they have finished their formal education.

Carlos’s sentiments are echoed by a bayefall named Mbaye Fall – in this case “Fall happens to be his family name. “I work for my family”, Mbaye Fall state. “ I earn an honest living, and as long as I have good health, I will always work. People sometimes ask me if I take vacation; no, life is very short, and every minute counts. We have very little time on earth. But through AmadouBamba, through his teachins, I am ready for him, I can reach the saint through my work. I have only know work.” Mbaye Fall makes colourful model minibuses from recycled materials, and he sells them in a shop filled with tourist art and located near the swimming pool of a major downtown hotel in dakar. He is actually aware of how fortunate he is to hold this concession, and he thanks the saintby writing “Bamba” on the back of his toy vehicles, for this is “ where we have been.” Similarly, he writes “Touba” on the front, as reference to the holy city and gateway to paradise “where we are all going”. As Mbaye Fall adds, many people visiting his shop don’t know who Bamba is, but when they see how he has written the saint’s name on his work, they ask who this is, and such question allow Mr Fall “the true meaning.”

There is an expressive side to the bayefall subculture, for their work is performed to the choreographies and cadences of the khassaides and other writings of Amadou bamba. Over the years, bayefalls have developed an “antifashion” that distances them from the mundane preoccupations and crass consumerism  of contemporary society. As anthropologist Deborah Heath has written, “at the edges of the dominant system of sartorial expression in urban Senegal, a process of recuperation and symbolic reappropriation is at work. Women give bayefalls scraps of used fabric to sew together into colourful patchwork clothing. Such creative work is one of many aspects of bayefall culture that deserves closer scholarly attention than it has received, for bayefall patchwork may refer to the coat of many colors worn by Joseph or may have been similar to “patched cloaks” that the Archangel Gabriel presented to the Prophets Abraham and Muhammad.

That bayefall patchwork “dances to a different drummer,” as Heath suggests, may be reflected in the play of colors and shapes that “can be profitably compared with off-beat phrasing in music and dance. As Robert Farris Thompson tell us tells us “the structured of the pulse in African music is more complicated than syncopation”, and their may well be an aesthetic  shared between music and the “staggered and suspended pattern” of bayefall fabric design. Their patchwork pants call “pants of fortune.”

A further possible allusion arises in the juxtaposition of squares in some patchwork and the resulting play of figure and ground within the composition.

Michele Stobel Banginski state that bayefall clothing is “loaded with amulets” to complement the talismanic leather necklaces they wear to reflect their attachment to their marabouts.

Finally, like quilts in an early America, bayefall patchwork is archival, created from memories of gift, sympathy, and support. The sculptor Alison Saar has said that recycled materials have “wisdom” as well, and as mouride, bayefalls would probably say that such is the stuff of Baraka – the divine intentionality of love.

As if to stress their difference from other Senegalese, some bayefalls wear their hair in dreadlocks. The photograph of Lamp Fall does not illustrate such a coiffure, but it is said that his long hair is what bayefall seek to imitate; because of their dreads, visitors to Senegal sometimes mistake bayefalls for Rastafarians, and “younger bayefalls frequently proclaim an identification “ with them as well. A distinction is to be drawn, however, between such person and those whom the late T.K Biaya described as “Baay Faux” – a pun on the French word for “false.” “these epicureans of poverty deck themselves out in the attributes of real bayefalls who beg for alms but hide their mendacity by joining bayefallism with Rastafarianism.


From A Saint in the city, Sufi arts of urban senegal

By Allen F. Roberts and Mary Nooter Roberts                         



cheikh ibra fall
cheikh ibra fall


cheikh ibra fall
cheikh ibra fall