Located in West Senegal, Kaolack (Kawlax in Wolof) is the capital Kaolack Region. It is the administrative centre for the region. It is a port on the Saloum River and it borders The Gambia to the south. With a population of approximately 172,305 people, Kaolack is an important regional market town and is Senegal's main peanut trading and processing center. Brewing, leather tanning, cotton ginning, and fish processing are also important industries.
Kaolack is the successor city to Kahone, the historic capital of the kingdom of Saloum. Kahone, originally a place marked by a sacred tree on the right bank of the Saloum River, became capital of the mostly Sereer kingdom of Saloum in the early 16th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries it consisted of a number of distinct regions separated by open fields, each under the jurisdiction of a different dignitary.
One of these regions, Kaolack, was founded by two Sereer princesses from Baol. The other, Maka Kahone, was inhabited by Muslims and administered by clerics. Otherwise, the population of the town practiced traditional religion and court ceremonies centered on the river bank, Kouyong Island, and various monumental baobab trees.
French interests in the Saloum River increased in the early 19th century as legitimate goods of trade were sought to replace trade in slaves. By mid-century peanut production had been introduced to the kingdom of Saloum and, with the permission of its king, a fortified factory was established by the French on the river front at Kaolack.
Kaolack was more favorably placed for shipping than Kahone. Railway construction from the port to the Dakar-Niger line in 1911 caused the town to boom as a peanut processing and export center. Its population grew rapidly, rising from 5,600 in 1925 to 44,000 in 1934.
It is at this time that Kaolack became an important center for the Tijaniyyah Sufi order, with a first major lodge opening in Leona neighborhood in 1910. Tijaniyyah of Madina Baye is an international institution with disciples in many cities, including Kano, Nigeria, and Chicago, Illinois.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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