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Niger

... is very big, forty-seven times as big as Belgium, but with only more or less as many inhabitants as our country: a whole lot of space, a real bliss for those who, like me, start to feel a little oppressed here! It's the world's most fertile country, with an average of eight children for every woman. But still, large parts of it will always stay uninhabited, for it's a very dry country too: the mayor part of it is desert (of which only one fifth is the typical dune-stuff) or semi-arid, the Sahel ... which means it's also very hot, often over 40° C.



NICE AND HOT

... over there during our winter, especially in December and January. Then every day is like a glorious summer day over here - day, that is, for at night it can get freezing cold! A good sleeping bag, a pair of woollen socks and a thick jersey are no luxury then.

Starting by the end of October and till March / April there are direct flights to Agadez from Paris. If, during the dark days, you need to fill up on light and sunshine and move about in big open plains, you can easily hop across for two weeks. In the winters to come, some Islamic holidays fall in this period: Tabaski (the sacrificial feast) and Bianou (local celebration of the prophet's arrival in Medina, one week later). So apart from an outing in savannah or desert, there's also something to see 'in town'. A lot of information on Agadez and its surroundings is to be found at www.agadez-niger.com.

There are group travels, the easiest and most comfortable way to visit, and you're sure to see a lot. If you're not a group-travel-person, you can hire an independent guide, whom you find at the spot or contact beforehand.

Sidi and Karzika loading the camels after our noon break

That's how I started off with Sidi Mohamadu. He had been warmly recommended by a photographer I met in Agadez, who had been travelling with him in the region before. Correct deals, no surprises afterwards, that's not evident in Niger. Well, intercultural failures in communication ... And, for those poor uni-lingual readers of exactly THIS page: he speaks English!!!!

Sidi has been into tourism for some time. For the connoisseurs: he started with Temet Voyages, the very first travel agency in Agadez, founded by Mano Dayak. Sidi had been studying in Niamey, worked at the Temet Voyages office for two or three years, and then tried escorting tourists himself, which pleased him very well. After six years of working with groups, he rather wanted to work small-scale and more flexible. So after a special training, he got his 'agrément' and got to work on an independent basis. Sidi travels with one person or a small group, by 4x4, by camel or on foot (with the luggage on animals).

Of course you can drive or walk anywhere you want with Sidi, plenty of destinations from Agadez, in all directions. But the trip I tried out with him and Karzika (camel drover and cook) in January 2005, and again with a small but cheerful Belgian delegation in december of the same year, goes from Agadez to In-Gall by the old road, by camel.

In-Gall is chiefly known for the Cure Salée (see futher, under TERRIBLY HOT), but I just love it there and keep going back to it. For centuries, it was on the main road Agadez-Tahoua (from where, nowadays, you continue to the capital Niamey), or, in a broader context, Tombouctou-Mecca. So plenty of trafic was coming through. Until a new main road was built. This one runs more to the south, and passes by In-Gall at a distance of some fifty kilometers. The village of course became partially empty after that. Wide, dusty, hot streets, not too many passers-by ... it has a bit of a touch of the western movie to it. But the daily market is still there. Since centuries it has been an important exchange point for the trade between local nomads and farmers from the south. Trucks with all kinds of stuff drive in from Lybia, Algeria, Nigeria ... and there's an Arab traders' community. But above all: two unique, local products are on offer: dates and salt.


view from a courtyard: the kori and date palms


Tradition has it that In-Gall was founded by a bunch of refugees having escaped an attack on Medina, the Isharifen. They brought along date-palm cuttings, which they tried to plant again and again as they went. Where they succeeded for the first time, they settled, by the shores of a kori (= wadi = empty river bed getting spectacularly quickly extremely full of water when the rains fall - maybe something for heavy surfers who've seen it all?). Together with them, the Isawaghen settled there, origin unknown (surfers?). The In-Gall date is still called Almedina. They are bigger and sweeter and mellower and healthier than the standard tombay-dates from the Aïr, ànd they have smaller stones. Just a shame they preserve so badly. I'll be going there for the thirtheenth time now, but I've never tasted them, as I've never been there in August.


production of salt breads in Teguidda-n-Tesemt

Just a bit farther to the north there salt is won in a very ancient way, in Teguidda-n-Tesemt (tesemt = salt). That's where the Inusufan and the Imasdararan lived, the former inhabitatns of Azelik, the Aïr power centre untill it was destroyed by Agadez. The rainy season interrupts the open air salt production, so then these Inusufan and Imasdararan wandered about with their cattle, and their encampments sometimes were quite close to In-Gall. The two villages' young people sought each other out at night, marriages followed, salt basins and palm dates were given to and fro as wedding gifts (the tree too staying where it is, in principle). Gradually the two communities fused. By now almost everybody lives in more comfortable In-Gall. But the four population groups still exist! The 'chef de village' for instance will always be chosen from the Isharifen group.

What's more in In-Gall:
In In-Gall you'll find the first French fort built in this region (hurrah!). It can be visited, right now it houses an attempt to the start of a dinosaur museum. Near In-Gall you can find scattered dinosaur bones. There are public showers with very hot, healing water, as long as you want for less than a euro. If you think you'll understand everybody, because you know Tamasheq as well as Haussa as well as Fulfulde, you'll get deeply frustrated: In-Gall has its own language, Tasawaq, a Tamasheq - Songhoi mixture. Linguist's paradise! Furthermore there are unconquered rock walls around (sandstone among others) for the adventurous climber, and beautiful sceneries with all kinds of beautiful stones for the walker. And for everyone: the round, flat little breads and briochen in In-Gall are much better than the bread you find in Agadez.



TERRIBLY HOT

... it's still by the end of September: a pity, because that's when in In-Gall the Cure Salée is celebrated.


the winning camels of the race

The Cure Salée or salt cure is the period when nomads (Toeareg and Wodaabe) come from hundreds of kilometers around with there camels, cows, sheep and goats to the In-Gall region. The soil there contains a lot of minerals, which the animals need at this point of the year. Nomads don't just wander around simply looking for néw food again and again, but also to make sure their animals get the appropriate kind of food at the right time of the year. What kind of plants there are to be found, and what they contain, depends of course on the soil: clay, sand ... and around In-Gall: salt.

Clay and sand aplenty in Niger, but the region that's appropriate for the salt cure, is relatively small. Because of this, the nomads live much closer together for a short time now then during the rest of the year: the right moment to party! For centuries, this has been the period of traditional family gatherings. Also everyone wanting to reach the nomad population - politicians, preachers, assistants of all kinds for man and beast - will rather make a tour right now. Of course, as a vet for instance, you can reach and treat far more animals in a short time during the salt cure than during the rest of the year.

After the founding of the state of Niger, an official celebration of three days was started at In-Gall, where all kinds of 'personalities' appear, where official foreign guests are invited, or people working with foreign organizations in Niger. Singing and dancing by the different population groups are staged (among which, no kidding, some kind of breakdance!), there are camel races, craft and food stands, and even quite good beer. In short, a bit like our summer festivals.

Most unpractically, the exact date of the Cure Salée is announced rather late. Normally it's held by the end of September.

Another interesting event in this period is the Assemblée Générale of the Wodaabe. All Wodaabe associations and traditional chiefs come together there to discuss their problems and needs to articulate them more clearly towards the government and NGO's. Apart from that, there's traditional dancing going on, which attracts foreign visitors. As befits a nomadic and democratic happening, it's held at a different semi-sedentary Wodaabe village each year. In 2009, from 24 till 30 September, that will be Akkadi, 25 km south of Tchintabaradène - so for the first time within a cell phone coverage area. See also www.djingo.net and my article on the Wodaabe (pdf file, 510 K).


Several travel organizations offer group trips to Niger, including a visit to the Cure Salée and the Assemblée Générale - which they might advertise in a more exotic way, like "See the Wodaabe dance in the wild!". If you're not in for group travelling, if, maybe, for some or other weird reason you'd like to hang around In-Gall a bit longer :), you can always contact me and travel along for a while. Attention: I'm no travel organizer or escort, so you're supposed to manage your trip on your own and find your own way part of the time! But we just might be able to work out the details. For the Assemblée you should prefer a Bodaado guide over a Targui one: in general, the Touareg don't really know a lot about Wodaabe culture, and you do want to know what's going on, and how (not) to behave.



CONTACT

For the camel trip: contact Sidi Mohamadu, dijeneghabidine*at*yahoo.com. As he travels a lot, he may not answer immediately.



I'VE TOLD MY STORIES ...

in Antwerp: Via Via Reiscafé, Elcker-Ik, University for the Common Good
in Ghent: Mosquito Coast
in Leuven: Via Via Travel café Leuven
in Brussels (in French): Le Cercle des Voyageurs, Community Centre Nekkersdal


... at several primary and secondary schools, and in some radio programmes.



LINKS

On agadez-niger.com, you find links to the most recent news items, and several forums where lively discussions go on.
Niger Diaspora
Le Républicain - Niger
Planète Afrique - Niger
Tamtam Info


2008
No official Cure Salée in In-Gall this year ....
The Wodaabe's General Assembly was held in Tagayet, about 40 km east of Abalak. When I find stories / pictures about it, I'll put the links here.


2007
No official Cure Salée in In-Gall this year ....
No festive General Assembly for the Wodaabe either, but they still had a non-festive General Assembly, where some pictures were made.


2006
About the Cure Salée:
Cure Salée on Temoust
Cure Salée on Agadez-Niger

About the Assemblée Générale I found nothing so far, only the programme, on the FAO website:
page where it was announced
text itself


2005
Report on the 2005 Cure Salée in In-Gall (where they DO have power and phones!) - - go - -

Pictures of the 2005 Wodaabe Assemblée Générale in Fuduk (NOT a gerewol!) - - go - -

Videos of the 2005 Wodaabe Assemblée Générale in Fuduk (NOT a gerewol!) - - go - -

More pictures of that Assemblée Générale, and of the rest of Linda Shen's trip - - go - -



I add links whenever I find them. Do send them to me!

My mayor source, apart from my own travel experiences, was:
Edmond and Suzanne BERNUS, 1972: Du Sel et des Dattes. Introduction ö l'étude de la communauté d'In Gall et de Tegidda-n-tesemt. Etudes Nigériennes 31. Niamey, Centre Nigérien de Recherches en Sciences Humaines.