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Photo 1: Wodaabe herder with his cattle

The geographic area of this case study is the southeastern corner of the Republic of the Niger, a region of the Sahel immediately west of northern Lake Chad. It is part of the department of Diffa, and is called Karal Kawlaa (‘the plain of Kawlaa’) by the Wodaabe themselves. This clayey plain inclines gently towards the Komadougou Yobe River, which forms its southern border. To the east it is bordered by the shores of Lake Chad which stretches from Bosso to a point somewhat south of N’ Guigmi, to the north by latitude 14°10’, and to the west by an imaginary line at N’gagam-Kinzayde (see map).[1] Average rainfall during the years 1960 - 1996 was 280 mm in Diffa, 350 mm in Maine Soroa, and 194 mm in N’Guigmi.[2] Groups of Wodaabe are found in several parts of the Niger, in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and the Central African Republic. Originating from the central parts of today’s Republic of the Niger, some of these groups immigrated to Kawlaa in several waves of historic migration that broke off from 1910 onwards (cf. Bonfiglioli 1982). The French colonizers who, from 1904, held a base at N’ Guigmi, encouraged infiltration into Kawlaa by the Wodaabe, by driving its former inhabitants, the Daza Wendala (a group ranked among the Tubu), northwards (see Schareika 2003b; Thébaud 1999: 216-17).

Figure 2: The pastoral zone

The Wodaabe divide into agnatic kinship groups at different levels of inclusion.[3] First, there are the two principal groups, the Degerewol and the Alijam. These are divided into clans (lenyol), which are again subdivided into lineages (taarde). Of the clans, one regularly meets the Suudu Sukayel, Jiijiiru (both Degerewol) and Bii Ute’en (Alijam) in Kawlaa. The group represented in this case study are the nomadic families of the Siiganko’en lineage of the Suudu Sukayel clan. As culture and pastoral economy can vary among different Wodaabe groups, we emphasize that the term “Wodaabe” (sing. Bodaado), used here applies to the study group and not to all of the Wodaabe people.[4]

The simple or complex family (wuro) with its herd of Zebu cattle is the most important unit of ordinary economic life and decision-making. The family household typically consists of a man, his wife or wives, and their children. Beyond this there are households consisting of a) two generations of married men, i.e. father and son with their wives and children, or b) married brothers living together. On average a Wodaabe family disposes of 44 head of cattle and 11 sheep (Thébaud and Nomao 1987: 79). The household units are, in fact, created by decisions concerning marriage and naming of children at the lineage level. However, the existing households are independent in their pastoral decisions and move with complete freedom. They join forces in migratory groups (wuumre), but do not hesitate to leave these when their pastoral strategies diverge.

Photo 2: Joodi

Photo 3: After the river-crossing

Photo 4: Pile sorting exercise with voucher specimens

[1] In the local literature (Nachtigal 1879; Tilho 1910; Zakari 1985: 19) this region is named Kadzell (alternatively Kadschel, Kazal).
[2] Calculated from data of the Direction de la météorologie nationale, Niger, Niamey.
[3] Details on Wodaabe social organization are found in Dupire 1996; Bonfiglioli 1984, 1988.
[4] Ethnographic description of the Wodaabe in southeastern Niger (Departement of Diffa) is found in Bovin 1985, 1990, 2001; Paris 1997; Thébaud 1999; Schareika 2001, 2003a, 2003b.

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