Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Environmental Knowledge and Pastoral Migration among the Wodaabe of South-Eastern Niger (1)

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Environmental Knowledge and Pastoral Migration among the Wodaabe of South-Eastern Niger (1)

Article excerpt


The present paper describes and analyses environmental knowledge among Wodaabe cattle raisers of West Africa with respect to their organisation of herd management. The Wodaabe pastoral system focuses mainly on raising Zebu cattle (na'i bodeeji) and has two primary aims: first, to guarantee and increase herd reproduction; second, to bring the herd with minimal loss in weight and size through the dry season when fodder is in short supply. For the Wodaabe, herd growth is not so much the outcome of a naturally given fecundity, but rather of proper animal nutrition. Of all measures that a cattle raiser may take to further his herd's prosperity, Wodaabe consider the good nourishment of the animals as the most important. To be taken seriously as a herder, a man has to regularly provide for the best seasonally available fodder, to avoid all influences that could reduce an animal's food intake, and to look out for anything that could stimulate its grazing activity. This orientation of pastoral labour is due to the Wodaabe's economic specialisation: whereas other groups of pastoral Fulani reduce their economic dependency on herds and the need to sell animals--for example by cultivating staples (Bierschenk 1997: 209)--Wodaabe herders concentrate on improving the physical condition of their cattle in order to optimise herd reproduction. By doing this the Wodaabe can sell more animals to obtain money for buying their staple food: millet.

It is through high spatial mobility of herd and household together that Wodaabe herders translate their evaluation of the cattle's nutritional needs into practice. They move to combine a whole set of ecological conditions optimally, such as soil quality, relief and species composition; thereby they obtain fodder of the highest nutritional value at any point in the seasonal cycle. Pastoral mobility, therefore, is a means of organising the exploitation of seasonally variable fodder resources to reach the goal of optimising herd reproduction. When making decisions on where and how to feed the animals, though, herders have not only to respond to the cyclic fluctuations of resource availability in the Sahel, they have also to consider their animals' current and anticipated physical condition, which varies seasonally between well nourished and seriously emaciated.

After a brief overview of Wodaabe categories of pastoral migration and their meanings in the local context of south-eastern Niger, I shall try to demonstrate the interrelations between:

--Wodaabe environmental knowledge

--the perceived potential of natural resources with respect to the pastoral aims of conserving and increasing herd fertility

--the fact that natural resources as well as the physical condition of the herds are subject to high seasonal variation

--herd movement as the principal instrument through which Wodaabe herders control the availability of eagerly sought after resources

Data presented here concern a group of herders of the Siiganko'en lineage (taarde) of the Suudu Suka'el clan (lenyol) of the Wodaabe people (sg. Bodaado) (2) living in south-eastern Niger. Ecological knowledge, pastoral practice and use of mobility are not the same among all Wodaabe, and surely some parts of this description will be peculiar to Wodaabe living in the plains of the Lake Chad basin. Nevertheless, this paper is meant as a contribution to a general understanding of Wodaabe culture. Moreover, it seems reasonable to assume that a good deal of Siiganko'en knowledge and practice is understood and even shared by other Wodaabe groups (see Bonfiglioli 1981, 1990, 1991, Bonfiglioli et al. 1984, Dupire 1957, 1996, Stenning 1957, 1959). Hence, the use of the term `Wodaabe' is considered appropriate here.

Clearly, even among the Siiganko'en, knowledge is not uniform, stable or uniformly distributed. However, questions of distribution, generation and communication of knowledge go beyond the scope of this paper. …

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