WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT
In this chapter I will present my sense of how individuals in different circumstances, and at different stages of their lives, see the meaning of life for them. I will sketch out what their hopes and fears are, their ideas of what the good and bad things are that can befall one in life, and their ideas about how to gain the former and avoid the latter or, in the case of misfortune, how to face it or combat it. It is absolutely essential to try to put ourselves in the shoes of the Fulani. Only when we can see how things look to them can we understand the goals they are trying to achieve by their actions or the situations they are trying to correct.
One point made in the previous chapter is so important it bears repeating here. Most people feel, most of the time, that life is full and good when they are surrounded by other people. Other people, of course, means people who are significant for you and for whom you are an important, valuable person. In Fulani society, as we have seen, this means nearly always that these people are your relatives, and the sine qua non for having relatives throughout your life is to marry and have many children. Not only are there many material obstacles to mere survival for oneself and one's family, but also, getting along with one's relatives and keeping alive the feeling and the bonds of relatedness are tasks that preoccupy most people for the greater part of their lives. There is no one right or best way to accomplish this, and how people go about it varies enormously depending on their particular circumstances. In addition, part of maintaining one's relationships with people involves the very maintenance and transmission of a sense of the task's importance, which is not something that people just know automatically.