Until now, Khoudia Diop hasn’t spoken much about her Senegalese heritage and she wants to change that with the photo series Nyenyo, an ode to her family and Senegalese (Wolof) culture.

The series is named after 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 – Khoudia is very proud of this. Although caste systems are used as a stringent class system, and cultural identifier to maintain hierarchy in many different cultures all over 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.

Where is your family from in Senegal?

My family is from Dakar. We are Wolof and we’re from a caste called ‘Teug’ or Nyenyo. They are the same caste. Both mean the same thing in Wolof.

Tell us an interesting fact about your family story.

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 horses.

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.

You moved to Paris at 15 and the USA at 17… What do you remember about most about Senegal?

What I remember most, is the diversity within the Senegalese culture (of 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 and honour. It is 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 the 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 (a 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!

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 realise 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
Make-up Artist: Moshoodat Sanni, @moshoodat
Creative Direction/Agency: The Colored Girl, @thecgirlinc