River Nomads


As our narrow pirogue slipped through the Niger River, I looked out across the calm water reflecting the rosy hue of the evening sky. In the distance, four large pirogues glided silently towards us. Unlike our open passenger boat, these ones were piled high with sacks, buckets, goats, chickens, and one even had a motorcycle on it. They also had smaller pirogues stacked one on top of the other across their decks. Shelter for the boats’ inhabitants was provided by straw mats stretched in arcs across parts of the deck. Colorful pieces of cloth fluttered from the entryways of the shelters. While the four boats pulled up to shore, more boats came gliding into view. There were eleven of them altogether. Men, women, and children jumped on land and set to work immediately preparing cooking fires. Dusk was clearly upon us and the first evening stars were beginning to appear on the darkening horizon.

These were river nomads, people from Mali who travel down the Niger River through Niger and into Nigeria where they trade agricultural products for manufactured goods like petrol, household wares, and other urban commodities before traveling back up the river to Mali.

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