Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Photo 25: Children happy after a rain shower

Seasonal factors are of utmost importance to pastoralism and pastoral decision-making in the Sahel. The Wodaabe dispose of a detailed seasonal calendar that describes the ecological changes occurring from one season to the other. Although very precise, this is in fact not an objective description of ecological processes but of these processes in their relation to the pursuit of cattle herding. As these processes are of existential importance to herders (and to farmers too), the Wodaabe have strong feelings about the different seasons.


Although more detailed, the calendar makes a first and crucial distinction between the dry period seedu (nine months from October until May or June) and the wet period ndunngu (three months from June or July until September). When the Wodaabe use these concepts as parts of this dual classification, seedu stands for hardship, barrenness, drought and the danger of animal death; ndunngu by contrast is joy, fertility, freshness and life (Box7, Photo 25). Its colour is green and anything that resembles sprouting grass, e.g. trees that come into leaf during the dry season are appreciated as ‘like the fresh matter period’ (kama ndunngu).

Although precipitation is at the core of the concepts seedu and ndunngu, they first and foremost refer to the state of the vegetation. Thus they are best translated as ‘dry matter’and ‘fresh matter period’. Both are states within which a herder finds himself and not particular periods of time. The two sets - time of the year and state of vegetation - are strongly but not perfectly related; e.g. when during the rainy season parts of the bushland stay dry, they will be described as seedu.

The two seasons do not alternate reliably. There is always the fear that the dry season will deviate into two - sometimes overlapping - diversions from the expected course of things and develop into a drought if:

1. the rains do not arrive in time to regenerate the used up pasture;

2. the rains do not come in sufficient quantity to produce enough grass to get through even a regular dry season (Figure 4).

BOX 7: RAIN: THE GREATEST GOOD (Mbohori, Feb. 1996)

In his prayers to Allah, the Bodaado only hopes for rain and fresh plant growth. He prayers for it to rain, for the rains to stay, the grass to grow; then he feels joy in his heart. There is nothing else he desires more. Other people often feel petty jealousy for each other. The Bodaado, on the contrary, is relieved and happy when the rains come, and the grass shoots up.

Figure 4: Average precipitation per decades (“1940” reads as 1940-49 and so on; “1990” is 1990-96)

When this happens once, the herders speak of a bad year (hitaande); when it happens for two consecutive years, they call it a disastrous drought (seeduwa). Whereas the Wodaabe think they can somehow cope with the first, they know that the latter claims many lives in livestock and sometimes even in men.


There are some familiar indicators that the rains are on their way. When the Pleiades (dassuki) appear during the early dry season, the Wodaabe know the new rains are about eight months off. When the Pleiades as well as Orion (pidpiddooje)are set, rain is imminent. The end of the dry season called bajara is marked by muggy heat (also bajara) and a light southwesterly wind (loowru). The heat of the day causes this wind to spring up in the early hours of the following day. It is this wind that brings the trees to leaf before the rains, and that brings the clouds. The Wodaabe say that after blowing for some weeks this wind is ‘ripe’(loowi benndi). The ‘first clouds’(duule arane) then appear in the sky; this season is called duruule (Photo27).

The Wodaabe describe the emergence of rain as follows: the southeasterly wind loowru drives the clouds to the east where they assemble. It thunders and a strong wind returns. After the wind, dark grey clouds (duule pure) come from the east to appear during the afternoon, bringing the rain with them. After the rain, a light fragrant wind (mbiinam) is felt. When this and subsequent rains have given the bush a cover of delicate light green grass, the Wodaabe speak of the season se’eto. While the grass grows and more and more regions receive rain, the cattle recover from the strains of the dry season by grazing the young fresh shoots. The recovery of the cattle marks a seasonal turning point that according to the verb describing this process (na’i korsina) is called korsol. It is followed by the fresh matter period proper (ndunngu; the concept prototypically used to describe the whole rainy season, see above): The grass has grown long enough for the cattle to twine it with their tongues, and the whole bushland appears under a dark green grass cover. Rains should be frequent now although there is no guarantee for this. The Wodaabe observe the clouds in the sky which they differentiate according to shape and colour (Box 8). Studying the cloud types, they try to foretell whether there will be rain or not. This, however, is an intellectual exercise that is of little importance to pastoral planning and decision-making. Decisions to move are mostly based on the inspection (seewtunde, woosunde) of ground surface and the grass found there.

Photo 26: Dry season pasture


ruulde arannde, pl. duule arane: scattered clouds at the beginning of the rainy season (syn. duule pidayde oder duule puttayde) ruulde arre, pl. duule ade: fast moving clouds of the early morning; bring about two days later plenty of rain of type yafa-yafalde that falls during the early morning hours

ruulde furde, pl. duule pure: grey clouds that appear in the afternoon to bring rain of type woynoore-baadi (‘howling of the monkeys’) in a dark stormy front

daangolje: rain bringing clouds that appear in a row (like a daangol ‘calf rope’)

nyiinga, pl. nyiiko big thundercloud (‘big teeth’)

ruulde dilaaruure, pl. duule dilaaruuje: scattered clouds (dilaaru jackel)

nduulaaye, pl. nduulaaje: black clouds appearing at the end of the rainy season but bring no rain

ruulde fohere, pl. duule pohe: bank of white clouds that bring no rain (syn. bello; fohere ‘pat of butter’)

piitipaata: overcast

ruulde yiidamre: cloud that appears during the dry season to bring a rain shower

nyaafo: light rainfall (can also appear during the dry season to spoil the grass)

hokkitirde, pl. kokkitirle: rain falling on pasture that because of enduring lack of water has begun to dry up (hokkere)

wowtere, pl. bowte: last single rain during the early dry season that spoils the grass

maadka: dribbling rain (syn. meto)

Photo 27

By September the rains become scarce and eventually stop (ndiyam helta): this marks the early dry season ýaawol. An easterly wind (huyorooru) and a burning sun (the heat of which is now called kapitel) dry up the ponds (weendu beeba) and the plains (karal hena). The grass begins to dry (geene dahila) and then dries up completely (geene njo’ora). There may be some last isolated showers (wowtere) that are no longer welcome because they spoil the dry grass.

Haze (maambol, suddi) and moderate coolness (peewel-peewel) in the evening announce another seasonal change (Photo 29). This transitional period is called soorol. Night temperatures drop more and more until the cold dry season dabbunde arrives. It brings two sorts of cold with it: one, gelemol, that simply ‘falls like rain’, and another, jaangol, that is caused by the strong cold easterly wind henndu dabbunde. This wind is said to ‘strike’ (fiya) man and animal. It raises lots of dust (sollaare) that covers the entire bushland. By the end of February the veil of dust is revealed. The cold easterly wind is replaced first by a hot and thirst-making southeasterly wind, then an easterly one (hamseetaaru). The Wodaabe call this short, transitional period the time of ‘uncovering’ (sudditte). It is followed by the hot dry season (seedu or bajara).

The sun’s burning heat (temperatures rise as high as 43°C) is felt like pain (naange naawnge). Everybody is made to look out for a tree to give shade (dowdi). As perfect pasture with the bushy Salvadora persica often does not provide perfect shade, the nomads hollow out bushes to creep into, and put pieces of cloth on the branches that are too bare to keep off the burning rays of sunshine. Thirst (domka) becomes part of the daily life experience of the Wodaabe. There is enough water in the wells but in the camps it is sometimes finished in the morning. With distances between camp and well becoming longer, it is often noon before the women or children arrive with the donkeys carrying water.

The southwesterly wind, loowru, that brings a change from dry to muggy heat tentatively announces the arrival of the first clouds although the sky will not expose these fully for several weeks to come. The Wodaabe try to acquire a taste for the stifling heat by repeating one phrase of their climatological wisdom: The hotter these weeks, the richer will be the rains.

Photo 28: Major rain shower

Photo 29: Hazy bush during the cold dry season

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page