I read a text of Sandrine Loncke, and I contemplate the photographs, in an old and cherished French book I have, Territoires nomades, organized by Jean-Marc Durou. I realise that it may be in fact a quite rare book. I bought it second-hand in Tours when I was working on my research project about the Adamic language, just to have some respite. Old and cherished, I say, because it dates back from those remote times when Sahel and the Saharan world was a distant, picturesque reality of proud and happy people, not a source of yet another migratory crisis. So how do they live, those Peul (or Fula, as I often call them after the Portuguese)? And how different they are from the other nomads, such as the Tuareg, to whom a greater part of attention is dedicated, and other Peul sub-divisions? For the Peul peoples occupy a vast territory right along all the Sahel belt; they can be seen in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, where the Portuguese met them, throughout southern Mali and the northern part of Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, and an isolated corridor stretching through Chad (Mongo) till El-Geneina in Sudan; which is a little more than the width of the entire European Union. Those WoDaaBe occupy apparently uncharacteristic patch of the desert more or less in the middle, near a location called Tahoua, on a sort of road leading to the salt deposits of Fachi and Bilma farther north-eastwards. What seems to identify them at the first glance are extravagant khulkhal, or how should I call the bracelets that are not put on arms, but on legs; covering the female calf nearly till the knee; abundant fringes, contrasting with partially shaven heads appear to be equally fashionable. They appreciate cowries, that the women use to decorate their prominent fringes, as well as plastic flip-flops and colourful umbrellas. We might think such groups date from time immemorial; but apparently this precise identity was formed in the 19th century, gathering by the beginning of the new millennium some 80 000 or 100 000 souls. They pasture a type of dark brown, long-horned cattle. I wonder what is the place in their economy reserved for the royalties dues for all those photos in Traveller and National Geographic where they appear.
Jean-Marc Durou, Territoires nomades. Hommage a Edmond Bernus, Paris, Editions de La Martiniere, 2006.