WOLOF (WOLOFF, JOLOF), a Negroid people of Senegal, French West Africa. They occupy the seaboard between St Louis and Cape Verde and the south bank of the Senegal from its mouth to Dagana. Farther inland the districts of the Walo, Cayor Baol and Jolof (the last, the name of a chief division of the nation, being sometimes used as the national name) are almost exclusively peopled by Wolof. The cities of St Louis and Dakar are both in the Wolof country, and throughout the French Sudan no military station is without a Wolof colony, preserving national speech and usages. The name is variously explained as meaning speaker " or " black." The Wolof justify both meanings, for they are at once far the blackest and among the most garrulous of all African peoples. They are a very tall race, with splendidly proportioned busts but weak and undeveloped legs and flat feet.
The Wolof language is spoken throughout Senegambia, and numerous grammars, dictionaries and vocabularies have appeared since 1825. There is, however, no written literature. The Wolof preserve their national songs, legends and proverbs by memory, but have little knowledge of letters beyond the Arabic characters on their paper spells and amulets. Wolof, a typical agglutinating language, differs from all other African forms of speech. The roots, almost all monosyllables ending in consonants, are determined by means of suffixes, and coalesce while remaining invariable in their various meanings. By these suffixes the meaning of the words is endlessly modified.
Most Wolof are nominally Mahommedans, and some near the Christian missions profess Christianity, but many pagan rites are still observed. Animal worship is prevalent. The capture of a shark is hailed with delight, and family genii have offerings made to them, the most popular of these household deities, the lizard, having in many houses a bowl of milk set aside for it daily. The Wolof have three hereditary castes, the nobles, the tradesmen and musicians (who are despised), and the slaves. These latter are kindly treated. Polygyny is customary.
The old kingdom of Cayor, the largest of Wolof states, has been preserved by the French. The king is elected, but always from the ruling family, and the electors, themselves unable to succeed, only number four. When elected the king receives a vase said to contain the seeds of all plants growing in Cayor, and he is thus made lord of the land. In earlier days there was the Bur or " Great Wolof," to whom all petty chiefs owed allegiance. The Wolof are very loyal to the French, and have constantly proved themselves courageous soldiers.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)