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Photo 14: Pond (weendu)

Adecisive factor in the Wodaabe’s understanding and perception of ecology is their classification of landscape into sandy dunes and clayey plains (Table 2). These two concepts are applied on two levels of analysis:

1. geo-morphological elements within a landscape composed of several geo-morphological elements;

2. whole landscape types that are characterized by the occurrence of the respective elements and that are prototypically named after them.

These two landscape units correspond to the two most important geographical units into which the Wodaabe divide their pastoral world (Figure 2). For the greater part of the year they occupy the vast clayey plain immediately west to the northwestern shore of Lake Chad. This is the region they call the ‘bush’ (ladde) or the ‘plain’ (karal) of Kawlaa and which constitutes their land of affiliation (ladde meeden ‘our bushland’). West of this plain begins the land of the sand dunes (ladde ýoolde), which the Wodaabe move towards during their rainy season migration (baartol). These two regions are bordered by the Komadougou Yobe River (maayo) to the South. On both sides of the river, farmers cultivate legumes under irrigation. When there is a pasture shortage the herders cross the river to Borno, Nigeria. Two other zones of retreat are Kanngarje, part of the dry Lake Chad basin, immediately south of N’ Guigmi and Saadi, a more southern and vast part of Lake Chad beginning in Nigerian territory.


The Wodaabe consider the clayey plains of Kawlaa as excellent rangeland. Here, in a typical transect, one can find a hollow that forms a puddle or pond (weendu) during the rainy season (Photo 14). Around this depression there is a comparatively dense vegetation of trees, herbs, creepers and climbers. The hollow leads to a flat plain consisting of hard, compact and dark loam. This is what the Wodaabe mean by karal. It is either bare (karal buulal) or covered with gramineae (geene) and trees. The terrain then rises gently with a sand layer that can be of different sizes and is accordingly named ýoolde (bigger dune area) or ýoolel (smaller dune) (Photo15).


SANDY DUNES (ýoolde)


Geo-morphological element

dune (ýoolde)

clayey plain (karal)

dune valley (ýeengol)

dune or layer of sand (ýoolde, ýoolel, tilel)

sandy plain (baaringo)

pond (weendu)

basin (luggere)

woody depression (luggere)

Table 2: Landscape types

To a large extent the Wodaabe attribute the high quality of pasture found in this region to soil quality. With the concept of mbaawu - ‘power’ they refer to the fact that the loam (loopeeri) and the dark soil (lesdi baleeri) of the plains proper as well as the sand layers found on them, are rich in salt and minerals. This view has been proven by pedological analysis (cf. Schareika et al. 2000). The Wodaabe compare the soil to the natron (kawwa) they buy when pasturing on sandy soil, and consequently they call it kawwaari.

It is in these soils that the fodder plants grow which the Wodaabe prefer for their cattle, partly because of their characteristics, and partly because of their high salt and mineral content (Table 3). Among the grasses figure the soft and delicious Chloris prieurii (geenal dimal), the energy rich Panicum laetum (kaasiyaari) and Echinochloa colona (sabeeri ngonngorsa); among the trees, the particularly salty Salvadora persica (kasassi).

The surface quality of the plains produce four ecological consequences which the Wodaabe consider as advantageous for them. Compared to sand, the clayey soils have a higher water storage capacity and a lower surface infiltration rate. This means that:

1. after the beginning of the rains, the grass sprouts slower and therefore later than in the sandy dune areas;

2. during the rainy season ponds fill with water that is easily accessible to cattle, and therefore not only liberates the herders from hard work at the wells, but also the herds from having to frequent the well as a fixed point;

3. water running over from the ponds remains on the low level plains to form flood plains on which Panicum laetum (kaasiyaari) and Echinochloa colona (sabeeri ngonngorsa) grow (Photo 16);

4. particular herb species (Table 3) emerge from the soil which is soaked with water, and remain green even when the rains have stopped or become scarce by the end of the

Another characteristic of the clayey plains is very important to Wodaabe herding. When the rains come to an end prematurely, the grass that stands on somewhat elevated plains where surface water tends to run off cannot complete its vegetative cycle. It stops growing at the stage of tillering and becomes fodder of highest quality. The Wodaabe call it kundeeri then: grass that remains short, carries no ear, and has a reddish gleam. This sort of grass stores energy and nutrients, so to speak, for the benefit of cattle, instead of using them for its own reproduction.

Photo 15: Clayey plain in the bush of Barowa



SANDY DUNE (ýoolde)


Energy feed

Chloris prieurii (geenal dimal)
Echinochloa colona (sabeewal)
Panicum laetum (kaasiyaari)

Cenchrus biflorus (hebbere)
Eragrostis pilosa (saraawal)
Andropogon gayanus (raýýere rimre),
nearly extinct
Commelina forskalaei (balaasa), isolated

In case of scarcity

Aristida adscensionis,
A. funiculata (selbiwal)


Supplement to grass

Colocynthis citrullus (layol gunaaru rimru)
Indigofera hochstetteri (jaa’oomaahi)
Cucumis melo (yamburuuwol)
Heliotropium ovalifolium (yaharehi)
Ipomoea verticillata (amaseekel)

Zornia glochidiata (dengeere)
Alysicarpus ovalifolius (gadaji’irehi)

In case of scarcity

Tribulus terrestris (tuppere)
Achyranthes aspera (kebbel-jaawle)
Corchorus tridens, C. olitorius (laalo)
Gynandropsis gynandra (gaasaya)
Portulaca oleracea (takkal-siilal)


Supplement to grass

Salvadora persica (kasassi)
Maerua crassifolia (senseni)
Cadaba farinosa (karatiiyel)
Calotropis procera (bamammbi)

In case of scarcity

Cordia sinensis (dornohi)
Boscia senegalensis (anjahi)
Acacia raddiana (silukki)

Table 3: Fodder plants

Photo 16: Swamp (karal maawam) with Panicum laetum rainy season.


It is clear from the description above that the clayey plains are the preferred range of the Wodaabe herders. In fact, when there is sufficient grass, they stay on the plains for the greater part of the year, notably from the end of July until May or June of the following year. During the short period at the beginning of the rainy season, however, they move into the sandy dune areas to the west (Figure 2; Photo 17, 18).

The sandy soil there is not as rich in salt or nutrients as the clayey plains; it lacks what the Wodaabe call mbaawu. Its surface does not retain water so that it is often difficult to find places where the animals can drink. Thus, sometimes, the herders need the wells even during the rainy season. According to the Wodaabe, a prominent feature of the dunes and valleys is that on their sandy soil grass sprouts earlier and quicker than on clay. As will be seen, this is of great importance to their herding scheme.

One of the fodder plants appearing first after the dry season, Tribulus terrestris (tuppere), grows on sand. It grows alongside the leguminous herbs Zornia glochidiata (dengeere) and Alysicarpus ovalifolius (gadaji’irehi), as well as some other quick growing herbs. The grass Cenchrus biflorus (hebbere) also sprouts on sand; cattle like it when it is soft and young but it develops disturbing spiky fruits at a later stage of growth.

Photo 17: Sandy dune area (ladde ýoolde) of Maine Soroa; cow feeding on natron from a bowl

Photo 18: Bush of sandy dunes (around a depression) north of Issari

Photo 19: Treating a cow with a medicinal plant, after swallowing sand while grazing

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