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Wodaabe – Never still

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B2Wodaabe’s culture is a culture of transhumance. One of the myths of origin tries to explain why the Wodaabe are always on the move. The nomadic Fulani, it says, are the descendants of one unlucky boy. His parents had a quarrel and the mother, in a fit of anger, abandoned the boy in the bush. He was guilty of looking like his father. The boy wandered for a while, then he got tired. He was alone, in a dangerous country. A good spirit was passing by and noticed him. Once he heard the story, the spirit promised the child to make him very lucky. He simply had to follow the spirit’s instructions. “If you promise me to be always roaming in the bush, you will be very wealthy. So, now go to the river. When a group of cattle will emerge, go to the beginning of the single file and do not look back. All the animals that will come out of the river will be yours to keep”. The boy did as he was told. Indeed, as soon as he reached the river, a long file of cows and bulls emerged from the raging waters. He immediately took the lead and the cattle followed him. Yet, the boy failed to follow the instructions and, to check the herd he was amassing, look behind his shoulders. Just then, the most beautiful bull was emerging from the waters, but did not follow the boy. Since then, the Wodaabe wander in the savannah without ceasing, hoping to get that beautiful bull, one day.
B3There are different kinds of journeys. The ‘great move’ is called perol. The perol is usually decided for political or environmental reasons. It is a migration of the whole people and it is decided only in exceptional cases. The last perol was decided in 1910 and, in a few years, part of the Wodaabe moved into the Kawlaa region in south-east Niger. The seasonal migration – baartol – is instead an annual event and follows the ecology of the different areas. This movement foresees the transhumance towards better pastures, but also the return to a somehow fixed homestead.
Njakake is the northbound journey during the rainy season, while djolol is journey back south. The goonsol is the trip between two grazing ground within the same region. Shorter than the goonsol is the dimbdol, a journey between two water points.
ThB4e most important unity of the social and economic life of the Wodaabe is the family, either the nuclear group or the extended one. A family is formed by a man, his wife or wives, and their children. Each family has a heard. The ideal for every Bodaado is to leave in heritance a larger number of cattle than what he received from his father. Cattle are the true centre of interest for all Wodaabe. Cattle are slaughtered very rarely. Milk and its products are instead used by all. “Without milk we are dead”, they say. At times, a bullock or a cow can be bartered for other goods obtainable from the peoples the Wodaabe meet in their wandering.
Cattle may belong to men and women alike. Each woman receives a number of cows as a dowry at the time of marriage. These animals are to support her, especially even if the marriage does not work smoothly. The relationship with animals is indissoluble. Every child receives a calf when still very young. So every child learns how to leave in contact with the herd. Every animal has a name, and every person is given the name of an animal.
B5The Wodaabe marry almost exclusively within the ethnic group. There are two kinds of marriage. The most prestigious form is the koogal. Two families arrange the marriage of their children when these are still infants. They are declared ‘promises spouses’ and will celebrate their wedding once they reach puberty. Usually the wife to be is sought within the family of the father-line, and often she is a cousin of the husband to be. The koogal requires the exchange of many cattle and goats, and it is the most practiced form of marriage.
The second form of marriage is the teegal, the free contract. This is usually chosen by divorced or widower men who are looking for a new wife or a second or third spouse. In this case, the woman can be chosen from any family and even be a non-Wodaabe. Love and passion are certainly part of the teegal marriage, at the same time there is an element of hostility. The new wife is considered ‘stolen’, and it is considered improper if this happens between families that share family ties.

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