Khoudia Diop dons traditional Senegalese garb and talks about her Wolof heritage, in her latest photo series entitled NYENYO. Until now, the unique beauty hasn’t spoken much about her Senegalese heritage, and wants to change that with this ode to her family and culture in this latest photo series. We asked her some personal questions about her family, Senegalese (Wolof) culture and what it was like growing up in Senegal.
The series is titled after the name of the caste her family is from in Senegal. NYENYO, also known as “teug” or “ngengo”, are the blacksmiths and metalworkers of the Senegalese caste system. In her family’s case, they are jewelry makers and gold workers. A fact Khoudia is very proud of. Although caste systems are used as a stringent class system, and cultural identifier to maintain hierarchy in many different cultures in parts of the world, Khoudia embraces her NYENYO heritage and doesn’t see the label as a hindrance. Rather, she sees it as part of the fabric of her identity, her family’s history and the overall story of her people.
NYENYO Q&A with Khoudia Diop of The Colored Girl:
-Where is your family from in Senegal?
My family is from Dakar. We are Wolof and we’re from a cast called “Teug” or Nyenyo.
-What is NYENYO?
Nyenyo is a caste in Senegal; the blacksmiths also called gold workers, this is my family’s caste.
-Are Teug (Tegg) and NYENYO the same caste? Please explain:
Teug and nyenyo are the same caste. Both mean the same thing in Wolof.
-An interesting NYENYO fact about your family story of Senegal .
My grandfather helped build a huge horse monument, called Malaaw in Dakar! The monument is a giant horse and represents loyalty between the kings and their animals (horses).
-You moved to Paris at 15, USA at 17… What do you remember about most about Senegal?
What I remember most, is the diversity within the Senegalese culture (cultures, traditions, beliefs). I also remember the great pride we have for our traditional clothing; while still loving to wearing modern fashion. Very inspiring! Oh, and also the food. I love Senegalese food! My mom makes some of the best. My favorite dish is “thiebou djeun” (fried fish and rice). So yummy… Everyone should try it!
-What is life like in Senegal?
Life is very relaxed in Senegal. Basically, we don’t worry about many things, and it’s called the country of “teranga” (welcome) where everybody cares about their neighbors.
-Describe Senegalese Wolof women…
Senegalese Wolof women are mostly dark skinned, beautiful, respectful, joyful and hardworking! We also love music, dancing and dressing up!
-How do your Senegalese roots, inform your beauty standards?
I was taught to carry myself as a Senegalese woman… with respect for her elders & heritage; honor, and really about the woman you are, and how you carry yourself and treat others. This is why I think beauty is much more than appearance… It’s the way you care about yourself and others .
-What do these traditional Senegalese clothes you wear in this campaign represent?
They represent the Muslim side of Senegalese women… what queens used to wear. And for nyenyo, the jewelry was so they could be identified as wealthy, and attractive or sexy. Also, the black tattoo lip was a trend that use to take place at the middle of a village. It was a sign of beauty, bravery and “obedience”! You would dishonor your whole caste, and family if you ran during the painful process of getting the tattoo. Some women were even beaten by their parents to get it done! It’s seen as a sign of respect, value and beauty.
-What is the significance of this series/campaign?
My Senegalese roots mean so much to me… it’s very personal. I love my country, my culture, my heritage. It is home and also a major part of who I am. I discovered so much about myself, and my culture has had a huge impact and importance, on my journey to self-love… From loving my upbringing, to the bullying then seeing the world outside of Senegal. Are there things I would change? Sure, but there are also certain things that I cherish about being Senegalese (Wolof woman).
-What does Senegal Independence mean to you?
It means a lot to me… we’re freed from certain restrictions placed on us, and can do what we dreamed about as a people, and most importantly really express and be ourselves!
-Tell us about an interesting Senegalese tradition:
In my (Nyenyo) caste, women only get piercings done with gold, because they say other metals don’t heal! And babies that are pierced with gold are called BÉTÉ-BÉTÉ, which means : pierced with gold.
-Name some Senegalese women you look up to:
Mariama Ba, author and feminist, and the “NDER” women. The NDER women defended their village when enemies attacked because their men were gone!
-How do you want to impact current Senegalese culture?
I want to make women realize the power they have, and not let any beauty standards make them change who they are. We are all beautiful!
-What do you want the world to know about Senegal?
Senegal is much more than the “teranga” (“welcome” or welcoming) country. We are proud of our culture and heritage and have so much to offer.
Model/Muse: Khoudia Diop, @melaniin.goddess
Photographer: Joey Rosado, @islandboiphotography
MakeUp Artist: Moshoodat Sanni, @moshoodat
Creative Direction/Agency: The Colored Girl, @thecgirlinc
Written by: Victory Jones, @srvj
PR: Tori Elizabeth, @stylebytori