Africa Speaks: Town and Country 2

Young kola nut sellers at Filingue Market, Niger, 1992

Contents:. . . Town and Country . . . Rural Society . . . Koya . . . Materialistic Women . . .
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Town and Country

Issa Oumarou

Being an educated person is seen as a bad thing in many of our traditional societies. Many people living in the countryside do not like anything western. So whenever I leave the town for the countryside people look at me in a way that really frightens me. And whenever I try to converse with them about how the world is going on, they do not even listen to me. Sometimes I am shocked by their reaction toward modernism.

The way they see the world is very different from the way educated people see it. For them everything is governed by a divine force; everything that happens is because of that divine force. One day, when I told them that the world is round and that it turns around the sun, I nearly missed being slapped by an old conservative traditional man. He was very angry; all the other old people at the meeting laughed at me and some, very discouraged, left the meeting. I felt shocked and ashamed.

People in the countryside have no respect for those from towns and cities. They hate them and think that they are wrong. This conflict of generations or of philosophies is really what's happening in many of our societies. It seems as if the world is falling apart.

Copyright © 1998 Issa Oumarou


Oxcart at farm near Niger river, Niamey, Niger, 1992

Rural Society

Maidoka Moussa Rahamatou May 17, 1991

Last summer, my father decided, as he does every year, to send all his children to his village for a week or two. He thinks it's very important to go there once a year to see the family, to know everybody, and to live in the conditions he grew up in. And, as I do every year, I tried to convince him to let me go for only a few days. I said I preferred to stay in Niamey, and he asked me why.

I'll try to give you the reasons why I don't like to go to the village, to live in rural society. Living in the village is good for someone who wants to rest: you can sleep a lot, breathe pure air; there is no noise, no pollution. You can visit family, meet aunts and uncles and cousins, eat different food (not always rice); go in the fields to see nature, birds, plants. However, the village is very small, where everybody knows everybody. There is no privacy.

When I go to the village, I have to stay at my uncle's house. (Actually he's my father's uncle, but in a village we are all cousins.) He is the eldest son of the family, and chief of the village. He is the only man in the village who can make important decisions, sometimes alone, and everybody has to do as he says.

In a family, the eldest son is the chief, and he can take all the children of his brothers if he wants. He can arrange their marriages, and otherwise affect their lives. My uncle inherited the position of Chief from his father, who inherited it from his father.

Being the chief is sometimes difficult, but he doesn't work. He has a lot of men called "slaves." These slaves inherited this position from their parents: if your father is a slave, you'll be a slave, even if you work, become educated, even if you are rich people can call you a slave. This is the result of a society of castes. There are many castes, for example the caste of griots, and a slave can't marry a woman of "good family."

Everybody is afraid of the chief. He is like a dictator. When he speaks, people have to kneel first and they don't have the right to look at his face or in his eyes. You have to look at the earth; it's a sign of respect.

Every day, early in the morning, you have to wake up to pray. Prayer is obligatory and the Chief always says that those who don't pray don't eat in his house. He can't feed a person who doesn't pray.

After the prayer, you can't go to sleep again, because you have to help the wives prepare breakfast. I'm talking about women's work now. The Chief always has three or four wives and a lot of children. Some of us prepare porridge or fritters, others begin to pound the millet for lunch.

After breakfast, it's time to prepare lunch and sometimes dinner, because there are a lot of people to feed. Sometimes you have to cook twice, just for lunch. You can't go outside to have a walk, because for the Chief, women and girls must always stay at home.

Even if a girl is going to school, when she is between 12 and 15, he may take her out of school and marry her to a man that he has chosen. It's not possible to refuse, or he will damn his daughter and his wife (the daughter's mother.) Uncle always tells my father that we girls are old enough to marry, and that he (my father) must marry us off, that's what the Koran says.

Uncle also says that school is not good for us because we become impolite. School puts a lot of ideas in our heads: we'll not respect our husbands or parents. We will marry slaves, even if the elders forbid it. He says that a girl's only job is to marry and make children.

Uncle tells Father to send us to the village to learn to cook and take care of the house and children. He tells father he should take another wife, to have more children. It is very good to have many children, because they can help you after you are old.

My father should try to have many boys, because a girl is not very important. The chief doesn't care for his wives who have girls; he prefers those who have boys. In the evening, after all the work is done, you may sometimes go out to visit aunts and uncles; but you can't stay late because people say that there are many witches, and that if you stay out late they'll eat you.

In this society sorcery is very important. People believe a lot of these things. Many consider themselves both animists and Moslems (but I think this is not correct: either you are animist or Moslem). Tradition is also very important. When someone is ill, they make him a traditional treatment with a "bori" ceremony, where the spirits are called, instead of taking him to a city or to a hospital. Many people die because they don't go to the hospital or clinic to get medicine.

The people in this village prefer their traditional way to take care of their health. At the bori, a sorcerer calls the spirits, and asks them what the man has to do to get well, or he asks what evil the man did to cause the illness, then asks the spirits to let him get well. Sometimes, the sorcerer says that the illness came from witchcraft, and that if it's too late, the man may die, or the witch may transform him to an animal or something else.

Many women in the village are known as witches and they can't attend certain ceremonies, for example a naming ceremony. People say that a woman who has a baby is always in danger, because she loses blood, and spirits and witches like blood. Every time a new mother goes outside she has to cover her head, and she can't let the baby alone. When there is nobody to stay with him she puts a knife over the head of the baby. With these, spirits will be afraid.

Rural life is difficult for someone like me who has always lived in the city. The formalities, traditions, and beliefs are hard to understand. Although the Chief is my uncle, it is hard for me to accept his authority. And women are not esteemed, have no freedom, and have to work very hard, all day long. I prefer my modern ways.

I told my father all this, and more. Of course, he knows most of it; he grew up in that village.

Copyright © 1998 Maidoka Moussa Rahamatou


Camels with hay, Tillabery road, Niger, 1992


Issa Amadou 11/5/92

"Koya" is the name given to drugs in my language. In my village, many of the young boys have become addicted. They get it from the Fulani boys who are intermediaries between the customers and the smugglers.

The chief of the village has tried his best to prevent drug abuse but nothing can be done. Two young boys, Kalla and Kanga, have even been put in prison, so the other boys would be panicked and would stop taking drugs. But they did not, and keep on taking it even now.

The phenomenon is growing stronger and stronger within the young generation. Even the adults are now concerned.

I remember a funny scene that happened in my village during the summer holidays. My aunt Haoua was taken ill. When her younger son Gumarou came from cutting grass for the cattle, he promised her some tablets. Half an hour later, Gumarou came back with two tablets, commonly called "Koya," that he handed to Haoua, assuring her she would feel well in a minute.

Without any discussion, she took the tablets and swallowed them immediately. Then Haoua, who had been lying on a mat under a shady tree in the compound, got up vigorously and began to work as usual. She pounded an large quantity of millet and started to carry water from a well a kilometer away. She filled both the water containers and started to water down her house.

Fortunately a neighbor woman noticed that her activity was not normal and informed some men from the neighborhood. Together, they decided that she was out of control. They made her sit down and asked her what the matter was.

Haoua replied that she was ill and Gumarou had given her some tablets. She swallowed them and then she felt so strong that she could not stay inactive.

Suddenly Halidou [her husband] came from the farm. He asked Gumarou for an explanation of what had happened. Gumarou answered that the tablets he gave to Haoua were for chasing out tiredness and not for curing illness. As Halidou knows about that drug, he ordered the women to give Haoua some water containing salt [to make her vomit and combat the effects of the drug]. Gumarou was thrashed and put in detention.

Copyright © 1998 Issa Amadou


Materialistic Women

Issa Mariama 4 May 1992

In Say, there was a man named Moussa. He was rich and had two wives. He was well loved by everyone in the village. He bought houses, food, and clothes for his mothers-in-law.

But after some difficult periods, his firm went out of business. His economy diminished, and finally he lost his wealth and became poor. His mothers-in-law refused to let their daughters stay in his house any longer, because he was not able to feed them. His wives returned to their mothers houses.

Moussa was not happy about his wives' attitudes. He wouldn't live in Say any longer because his wives and children had left him.

Moussa was obliged to move to Abidjan. There he started a small business: he sold clothes and shoes, and he gained some money and after a while became a very important person. Everyone talked about his wealth.

After six years of exile, he returned to Say. He had cars and many houses. His mothers-in-law regretted they had left him. His wives wrote letters to him because they wanted to return to his house. They said they were very sorry about their actions. They had only followed their mother's advice.

Moussa recognized that all of them are materialists. He said that because of his money he now has a lot of friends. He refused categorically the proposition of his wives and married the most beautiful girl in Say.

His wives are still living in Say and no one wants to marry them. Recently one of them became pregnant and gave birth to an illegitimate child. This is the consequence of being a materialist.

Copyright © 1998 Issa Mariama


Street scene, Tillabery, Niger, 1992


Ale'le' Aminatou 10 May 92

God, how I would like to be rich, to be able to do almost everything without having to think about how to get the means to achieve such a thing.

I don't consider people who are desperately in search of money as being materialistic, because nowadays life is materialistic. All the problems faced by the Third World countries derive from the lack of funds. If they could have the money, they would be able to solve all their social, cultural, and economic disturbances.

There is nothing worse than going to bed at night without knowing how to manage to feed oneself and one's family on the following day. Rich people do not have this kind of problem. I personally don't have it either, in spite of my not being wealthy. But it would be so much better to be able to spend, to purchase, without caring about the expense.

If I had money, I could relieve the miseries of the poor and make many people happier by giving gifts. I would also have the ability to realize at least one of my dreams: that is to travel worldwide, to meet other people, to see all the wonders of the earth.

People used to say that "money can't buy you happiness": if that is true, why don't the rich just throw it away!

Copyright © 1998 Ale'le' Aminatou



Maidoka Moussa Rahamatou

When I went to my mother's village on holiday, I discussed with my grandfather about change in the village. He is an old man, very unhappy about young people's attitudes.

According to him, the young think they know everything because they go to school, "white school" as he says. School is having a bad effect on the young generation, first, because they can't go to learn religious things--how to pray--at the house of the old man of the village who teaches them the Moslem religion.

They have to go early to the white school and come back at noon. The boys can't help their fathers to work the earth, and girls can't help their mothers to cook or do the housework.

He says young people have no respect for the old ways of doing things. They always try to do the way they have learned in school and they seem to think that everything they have learned in school is better than what their fathers have passed to them.

For example, one can see a girl working with her mother, telling her that water must be boiled before use. I explain, but he can't understand that by doing this, we can avoid diseases. He says that young people don't have the right to tell the elders that they must change things in the village.

Grandfather says that nowadays, the young don't want to marry early. They always say that they have to finish their studies. Sometimes a young girl refuses to marry the man that the family or father choose for her, saying that she doesn't love him or he is too old.

And for medical advice, young people always refuse to go to see the old man of the village who has a lot of good medicines and plants. They prefer to go to the white doctor or to the hospital.

I told him that all this is the result of change, and that nobody can stop it.

Copyright © 1998 Maidoka Moussa Rahamatou

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