Boucar Diouf

Boucar Diouf, CQ, scientist, teacher, writer, poet, storyteller, comedian and columnist (born 26 May 1965 in Fatick, Senegal). Diouf is beloved for his inspired, sincere and relatable outlook. In his books and monologues, Diouf explores the themes of immigration and integration into Quebec society. As an educator, Diouf manages to defuse controversial subjects by using humour and shining a philosophical light on them.

Childhood and Relationship with Nature

Boucar Diouf was born in Fatick, in the ancient kingdom of Sine, a territory in western Senegal populated principally by the Serer ethnic community. He was the sixth child in a family of three girls and six boys. Boucar’s mother, N’Dew Diouf, helped raise 30 children, however, because Boucar’s father, Amath, was polygamous and had four wives and many descendants.

Amath Diouf was a farmer. He ensured that his household was self-sufficient in food through extensive open-field farming. Working the land enabled Amath to grow peanuts and bush beans and cultivate plants such as papyrus.

Throughout his childhood, Boucar Diouf explored the African savannah while herding animals. He watched over the family’s livestock — zebus, goats, sheep and other animals — as he drove them to pasture. While doing so, he developed a special relationship with the plants and animals he encountered, including the baobab trees. One of these trees, which the family affectionately called Mpak Yaye (“Mother”), fascinated him and led to his interest in biology. It was in the shadow of this sacred tree that the young Boucar engaged in reflection and figured out who he was. He regularly shared his worries with the herd of cows, who were, in a way, his first audience, and he reinforced the lessons he learned at school by reciting them to the baobab trees. As a result, the young Boucar had a personal conviction that he was heard and understood.

University Studies in Senegal

Diouf’s father, who could not read or write, often said “illiterates are the blind of modern times.” To encourage his children to learn, he made them work in the peanut fields so that they viewed attending school as a holiday.As it turned out, many of Amath’s children, including Boucar, chose to pursue university studies. At the age of 15 years, Boucar entered the Faculty of Science at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop (formerly the University of Dakar). He later obtained his master’s degree there, as well as a certificate of advanced studies in plant biology.

Given Senegal’s ample coastline, Diouf was also passionate about marine sciences. He landed a scholarship for doctoral research and decided to pursue further studies in Quebec, in the oceanography program at the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR).

UQAR Rimouski
UQAR campus in Rimouski (courtesy UQAR).

Departure for Quebec and Discovery of a New Culture

In 1991, after having taken courses in Senegal on Quebec society and culture, Diouf arrived in Quebec. When he set foot there for the very first time, clad in his djellaba, the young African recited a traditional prayer that his grandfather had suggested Diouf address to his new adopted home: “I greet you respectfully and I beg for a non-aggression pact, as I come in peace.”

Despite an initial “thermal shock” upon experiencing winter, a season completely unknown to him at the time, he succeeded in adapting to life in Quebec and its customs except, perhaps, the food. Shortly after his arrival, Diouf was invited to a family dinner at which typical Québécois food was served. He discovered a culinary tradition quite different from his own, which made him nostalgic for food prepared with fermented spices such as soumbala, originally from West Africa and known for its powerful smell.

Teaching at the Université du Québec à Rimouski and Beginnings in Comedy

After five years of research at UQAR, Diouf obtained his doctorate in oceanography, on cold-resistance factors in rainbow smelt. Like many young researchers, he questioned whether his work had practical application and wondered about his future, especially coming from a country where the temperature often hits 40 degrees in the shade.

Smelt
A close up of smelt. Photo taken on: January 24th, 2010. 12840227 \u00a9 Valeriy Kirsanov | Dreamstime.com

Professor Pierre Blier offered Diouf his first teaching opportunity. For eight years, from 1998 to 2006, Diouf filled a number of teaching positions at UQAR in various fields including human physiology, genetics, adaptive and structural biology and energy metabolism.

The young teacher had a gift for popularizing science and making it fun for and accessible to his students. They enjoyed his lectures so much that they encouraged him to enter a contest put on as part of the Festival Juste pour rire (Just for Laughs festival). Diouf, who loves a challenge, accepted and prepared a humorous routine on the theme of cultural differences and his own experiences as an immigrant. In 2005, he won the Breakthrough of the Year award at the Grand Rire de Québec festival, and this encouraged him to present other shows and to continue in the comedy scene (see Francophone comedians) while pursuing his teaching career.

Comedy and Media

As Diouf’s success on stage grew, he was noticed by La Presse and Radio-Canada. He became a host on the shows La fosse aux lionnes, on Radio-Canada television, and Bazzo, on Télé-Québec. For six years, Diouf was the co-host of the summer show Des kiwis et des hommes alongside Francis Reddy. On the radio, he was the host of L’accent c’est les autres, Mon premier Noël au Canada and La nature selon Boucar, where he discussed subjects related to the sociology of integration.

Diouf considers his immigration to Quebec a rebirth. In love with his adopted homeland, while at the same time having a deep attachment to his past and his roots, Diouf has his own unique view of Quebec society that is both colourful and poetic. Handling the French language with humour, he generously shares with his audiences the teachings of his grandfather and of nature. For example, he likes to quote one of his thoughts inspired by the family baobab tree: “While our roots bicker in the soil, our foliage, branches and fruit touch, intertwine and embrace in the heights. It signals the beginning of harmony in a multicultural society” (Rendez à ces arbres ce qui appartient à ces arbres, 2015).

Science also plays a central role in his work. When he delivers monologues, he presents them as if he is teaching a science class. Thus, in his show Pour une raison X ou Y (2013), which received two nominations at the Gala Les Olivier, he explores ideas on the psychology of sexuality in a laid-back fashion. During the show he explains fertility, birth, and the changes that having a child brings to a couple’s relationship. He also relates moments from his personal life, such as the first time he met his wife, who is originally from the Gaspé Peninsula, and questions from his son on the mystery of human existence.

After presenting the shows L’Africassée (2010), D’hiver cités (2011), Pour une raison X et Y (2013) in Quebec and in other French-speaking regions of Canada, the comedian tackled his area of expertise, marine biology, in Magtogoek ou le chemin qui marche (2017); “Magtogoek” refers to the name that the Algonquins gave to the St. Lawrence River.

Still very attached to the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, where he spent 15 years of his life, Diouf now lives in Longueuil with his wife and their two children. He is pursuing a number of professional projects there, including writing books and shows.

Publications

Sous l’arbre à palabres, mon grand-père disait (2007)

La commission Boucar pour un raccommodement raisonnable (2008)

Le brunissement des baleines blanches (2011)

Rendez à ces arbres ce qui appartient à ces arbres (2015)

Boucar disait… Pour une raison X ou Y (2017)

Honours and Awards

  • Breakthrough of the Year, Grand Rire de Québec festival (2005)
  • Jacques Couture Award for the promotion of inter-cultural understanding, Quebec Ministry of Immigration (2006)
  • Prix Nez d’or Coup de cœur (for his exceptional work in hosting the Humour du monde gala), Grand Rire de Québec festival (2011)
  • Mérite du français en éducation, Association québécoise des professeurs de français (2011)
  • Charles Biddle Award, Quebec Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion in partnership with Culture pour tous (2013)
  • Pierre-Dansereau Award, Association des biologistes du Québec (2014)
  • Knight of the National Order of Québec (Ordre national du Québec) (2016)
  • Graduate award of excellence from UQAR (2016)