The Jola people are an ethnic group predominantly found in the Casamance region of Senegal, as well as parts of Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. Although the Jola people practice a variety of religions, including Christianity and Islam, this article will focus on the traditional beliefs, mythology, and rituals of the culture. The Jola have a rich oral tradition, and their myths and legends have been passed down through generations, allowing for a vibrant and diverse understanding of their deities, heroes, and mythological creatures.


The Jola people believe in a supreme being called Emit, also referred to as Ata Emit or Emitai. Emit is the creator of the universe, and all other deities and beings are subordinate to him. Emit is considered to be remote and does not directly interact with humans, but he is often invoked for protection and guidance.

Among the secondary deities, the most significant is the earth goddess, called Alapatisit or Apatik. Apatik is a powerful figure who is considered the mother of all living things, and she is invoked for fertility, protection, and healing. She is often associated with the harvest and is venerated for providing food and sustenance to the Jola people.


Jola mythology is centered around the creation of the world and the actions of their deities and heroes. According to Jola cosmogony, Emit created the world and then created a divine couple, a man named Jom and a woman named Bulab. The divine couple gave birth to a son called Nigogol, who became the first ancestor of the Jola people.

Nigogol was a great hero who taught the Jola people how to farm, hunt, and fish. He is often portrayed as a brave and wise figure who overcame numerous challenges, including battles against malevolent spirits and mythological creatures. Many Jola myths recount the adventures of Nigogol, and his actions often serve as moral lessons for the Jola people.

Mythological Creatures

Several mythological creatures feature prominently in Jola folklore, including the Kumpo, the Ekiney, and the Kankurang. The Kumpo is a forest spirit that protects the community from evil spirits and other dangers. It is often portrayed as a tall, masked figure covered in leaves and vines, with the power to transform into various animals. The Kumpo is usually associated with the Kumpo dance, a ritual performance that enacts the spirit's protective role.

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The Ekiney is a water spirit that inhabits rivers and other bodies of water. It is a shape-shifter that can take the form of a human, an animal, or a supernatural being. The Ekiney is both feared and revered, as it can bring both harm and prosperity to the community.

The Kankurang is a masked figure that represents a spirit of justice and order. It is believed to have the power to enforce societal norms and punish wrongdoers. The Kankurang is a central figure in initiation ceremonies for young Jola boys, as it represents the transition from childhood to adulthood and the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom.


Jola rituals often serve to maintain harmony between the human, natural, and spiritual worlds. Major ceremonies include agricultural rituals, initiation rites, and ancestor veneration. Agricultural rituals are performed to ensure a successful harvest and typically involve offerings to Apatik, the earth goddess. These ceremonies are led by a religious specialist known as a bukut or afir.

Initiation rites are central to Jola culture, as they mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. During these rites, young boys undergo a period of seclusion, during which they are taught the customs, traditions, and responsibilities of Jola society. The Kankurang plays a crucial role in these ceremonies, serving as both a protector and an enforcer of the community's values.

Ancestor veneration is another important aspect of Jola religious life. The Jola people believe that their ancestors continue to play an active role in their lives, providing guidance and protection. As a result, ceremonies are held to honor and appease the ancestors, often involving offerings of food, drink, and other items. These rituals are typically led by the family's elder or a spiritual specialist, who communicates with the ancestors on behalf of the community.

Unique Beliefs

A noteworthy belief unique to the Jola people is their concept of the "living dead." They believe that when a person dies, their spirit continues to exist in a liminal state, residing in sacred groves and forests. This spiritual presence is considered to be part of the natural world, and the Jola people often seek the guidance and protection of these spirits through rituals and ceremonies.

Another distinctive belief of the Jola people is their concept of the "soul double" or "kra." The kra is an individual's spiritual essence, which exists alongside their physical body. The kra is believed to be a source of power and strength, and maintaining a harmonious relationship between the physical body and the kra is considered essential for health and well-being. To this end, the Jola people perform rituals to strengthen and protect the kra, often under the guidance of a religious specialist.