An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.




Click here for page 2: Famine 2005
[Note: I put this on a separate page because a country
deserves to be defined by its people, land, beliefs, arts, and history,
not a famine.]

Sunday, 31 July 2005
Author's Note:
Ever since I created this website in 1998, I have avoided Africa.  I annotated a few links in 1998 but have rarely returned.  The reasons are many.  For one thing, diverse African mythologies and cultures feel remote from the areas in which I have specialized -- thus, I lack appropriate contexts for them.  I am a northern-bred person, both genetically and temperamentally -- I love snowstorms, northern skies, and trees like oaks, pines, and birches.   I find it challenging to relate to people whose myths, customs, and survival skills belong to the steamy tropics.  Even worse, I have felt overwhelmed and helpless in the face of Africa's current conditions -- starvation; the denial of so many African leaders regarding HIV-AIDS; the endless corruption that prevents supplies from getting to desperate people; amd the practice of casual, horrifying, widescale genocide.

Africa's problems are mind-numbing for many of us because they've been going on for so long and it's maddening that they're still going on.  From a spiritual perspective, how can the Invisibles allow it?  Who would choose rebirth in Africa to follow such a tortured karmic path?  To expiate misdeeds in an earlier life would be the traditional metaphysical answer but it's not that simple.  Expiate one life only to have to suffer the karmic residue of such an agonizing, hopeless, helpless death for eons more?!  There's no fairness in that.  What's happening in Africa is too terrible.  It's a cauldron of agony that constantly keeps boiling over.

There is no way to measure the sufferings of millions of powerless peoples around the globe.  Elsewhere, when there is such suffering, there are also mobs, bombs, revolts, uprisings.  But in Africa, there are just masses of people starving, and lying down to die because they are too tired and weak to do anything else.  They die and die and die and yet keep getting born and their leaders just get rich and do nothing to help.  Elsewhere, in Palestine, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Middle East, the Far East, the helpless at least have enough food to give them the strength to fight back.  In Africa, to draw one more breath into a starving body is accomplishment enough.

A few nights ago I was up til 3:30am gathering links for this page on Niger because of a heartrending Nightline program that used footage from the BBC's Hilary Andersson -- a woman with great passion and heart.  I simply couldn't believe my eyes at the horror. We have all seen newsreels of starving children and perhaps secretly, guiltily, felt that death was a mercy -- but that perspective denies the anguish prior to death.

What I remember most from this recent broadcast was a father who held up a rat that would serve as a meal for himself, his wife, and their children. The poor rat was pathetically thin and couldn't have survived much longer itself.  When I saw that rat, my heart broke for the beastie, the children, and their parents.  Why has such horror been allowed to happen?

Last week, prior to seeing the BBC report on Nightline,  I also saw the powerful third episode of PBS' series on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs & Steel -- this one focused entirely on Africa and brought home to me the full ugliness of what Christians from Europe, starting with the Dutch in South Africa, did to that land with their "guns, germs & steel."  When a small band of Dutch farmers left the South African coast and headed north, for example, they were attacked by warriors from inland tribes and killed.  Instead of respecting the fact that they had trespassed on the rights of another people, the arrogant Dutch returned in force with their superior weapons, circled their wagons, massacred the Africans, and kept stubbornly moving north, bringing more death.  They -- and other Europeans -- began building cities and creating trade-networks.  For thousands of years, Africans had had the good sense not to live near rivers in malarial plains.  Europeans, however, built their cites precisely on those rivers for ease in shipping.  As cities expanded and grew rich from slavery, ivory, gold, and other trade, Africans migrated to them and were soon ravaged by diseases their ancestors had never known.  In today's teeming ghettos, that fate continues to this day.

As I watched the PBS program, all kinds of pieces fell into place for me.  To see Nightline a few days later on Niger's starvation was the final piece.  I now feel claimed by Africa in my heart in a way I never was before.  So, I am driven to make time to create this page on Niger.  I may not be able to create more pages for the rest of Africa for a long time, but Niger at least deserves this one in her own right -- but also as an example of the past and future of too many African nations.

Update, 31 August 2005 / 1 September 2005: for the past intense month, I have been working steadily on these African pages.  They are tragedy-driven because of the famine in Niger, and yet I found much in creating these pages that gives reason for hope: strong, creative people live in West Africa -- and always have.  But current American and former European colonial powers need the will and common sense to address the damage they have done to these peoples, these lands, in the name of "progress," which is to say, greed.  Wealthy Middle Eastern countries owe them a huge debt as well.

During this month I received the following e-mail from a colleague of mine, Dr. Darielle Richards, who lived in South Africa with her family for several months while one of her children was involved in filming Jurassic Park.  It is worth sharing this excerpt with you:

...We are being asked to remember to send blessing and ask for assistance so
much recently.  Please keep the prayers going for Africa.  There is extreme
need right now--much fear and dying.  It is especially heart breaking to me
as in the months we lived in South Africa we discovered one of the last places
where nature has a voice, it was soul stirring to feel Her full presence,
boundless and vital.  And the people are very soulful, thoughtful, and
exceptionally lovely.  Individuals we met who did not know each other
before they worked together with us would create songs together and sing,
expressing through gentle hand movements reminiscent of flowing waters.
When the people said the name of their country, Africa, I was struck how
much our country is a sister country to theirs. It was in the tone. Africa,
America, beloved lands, beloved people and creatures....
With these many voices in mind, I begin this page...

Map Map (negativized) from: Uranium mines are in Arlit  (NW half of Niger) -- the Bush administration's lies about Iraq's plans for that uranium provided a crucial justification for war (and destroyed the career of CIA agent, Valerie Pflame -- also see below).
For other maps of Niger and its surroundings, see --

This Wikipedia page offers a good overview of general facts concerning history, politics, geography, economics, culture and much more -- for example:
Niger is a landlocked sub-Saharan country in Western Africa situated north of Nigeria and Benin, east of Mali, and south of Algeria and Libya, named after the Niger river. The capital city is Niamey.

Its proper English pronunciation is "nee-ZHAIR", although "NIGH-jer" is also acceptable. Its adjective form is Nigerien ("nee-ZHAIR-ee-an"), which should not be confused with Nigerian ("nigh-JEER-ee-an") for Nigeria....

On history:
Considerable evidence indicates that about 600,000 years ago, humans inhabited what has since become the desolate Sahara of northern Niger.  Niger was an important economic crossroads, and the empires of Songhai, Mali, Gao, Kanem, and Bornu, as well as a number of Hausa states, claimed control over portions of the area.

During recent centuries, the nomadic Tuareg formed large confederations, pushed southward, and, siding with various Hausa states, clashed with the Fulani Empire of Sokoto, which had gained control of much of the Hausa territory in the late 18th century.

In the 19th century, contact with the West began when the first European explorers — notably Mungo Park (British) and Heinrich Barth (German)—explored the area, searching for the source of the Niger River.  Although French efforts at pacification began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially the desert Tuareg, were not subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French colony....
From Joel Mayer, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, comes a page full of links to many varied general information aspects of Niger.;_ylt=AjHaCmm4BfLKHOpb5X4JkEMWGGoL
From Yahoo's Travel Guide comes a well written overview of geography & ethnic groups.  Excerpts:
...Niger is one of the 14 landlocked nations in Africa. The Niger River passes through the southern region and capital, while the northern area is characterized by mountains. The country is mostly covered by desert, but there are grasslands in the more populous southwestern region (90% of the population lives within 100 mi/160 km of the southern border).

Niger straddles the Sahel, the unforgiving boundary zone in north-central Africa where the greener climes of the south give way to sandy soil and stunted vegetation and then to the dry silence of the Sahara. At just about any time of the year, it can be a blazing furnace. But Niger is also a hotbed of fascinating traditional cultures -- which seem to have little in common with each other.

The people of Niger are as colorful and diverse as the landscape is bleak. To the south, in the more verdant area along the Niger River, are the Hausa, who are farmers and merchants, and the Djerma and Songhai, who retain some of the royal traditions of ancient empire. To the north are the nomadic herders -- primarily the Fulani and Tuaregs, some of whom are known as the Blue People because of their use of indigo dye....

...Now virtually ignored by the outside world, Niger was once an important crossroads of the salt, slave and ivory trades. For centuries, various states, empires and bands of nomads tried to control it. In the late 19th century, the French began colonizing the area and retained control until Niger gained independence in 1960. Though it was severely hurt by drought and famine in the early 1970s, it made slow but steady progress economically, thanks in part to the exploitation of uranium deposits near Arlit. However, the collapse of uranium prices on the world market and a drought in 1984 once again set the country back. The French government continues to buy the bulk of Niger's uranium at prices well above market value, and the recent discovery of gold in the region of Goetheye and near the border with Burkina Faso has brought a measure of hope for Niger's economy. Encroaching desertification, however, is changing many traditional ways....

.Masked worker at open-cast uranium mine in Air Desert, Niger
This is the BBC's brief "Timeline: Niger" of major events from the late 19th century to today's famine.  One dramatic contrast: in January 2001, Niger banned hunting to save its wildlife, including the lion, the giraffe and the hippopotamus, yet in March 2005, a ceremony freeing some 7,000 slaves was cancelled after the government claimed there was no slavery in Niger (also see links below on slavery).

Then there is the issue of uranium (also mentioned in previous link): no one connects this embarrassing fact to the current famine, yet as I noted in captioning the map (above), the Bush administration's lies about Iraq's plans for Niger's uranium provided a crucial justification for war (and destroyed the career of CIA agent, Valerie Pflame).  Since this desperately impoverished country unwittingly gave Bush his best excuse to declare war, it does seem as if the US owes it to Niger to make an extra effort to help her people.  The BBC's site gives two terse entries on this:

2003 January - US President George W Bush claims Iraq tried to acquire uranium from Niger for its nuclear programme. Claim also made in UK's September 2002 dossier on Iraq.

2003 March - Nuclear watchdog tells UN that documents relating to Iraq-Niger uranium claim are forged, concludes specific allegations are unfounded.

[For more on Niger's uranium and economy in general, see:]
In addition to general information, this detailed business report looks at Niger's natural resources in terms of their economic potential -- it even makes several proposals involving coal.
This is the BBC's "Country profile: Niger" -- excerpts:
A vast, arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert, Niger suffered austere military rule for much of its post-independence history and is rated by the UN as one of the world's poorest nations.

The country is susceptible to fluctuations in the price of its main export, uranium, and its agriculture is threatened by droughts and the encroaching desert. Niger is bargaining on oil exploration to boost its economic fortunes....

...With only one third of primary school-age children receiving education, Niger has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world.  Likewise, its health system is rudimentary and disease is widespread....

...Niger banned the centuries-old practice of slavery in 2003. But anti-slavery organisations say thousands of people still live in subjugation....

FACTS (excerpts):
        Population: 12.9 million (UN, 2005)
                      Capital: Niamey
                      Area: 1.27 million sq km (489,000 sq miles)
                      Major languages: French (official), Arabic, Hausa, Songhai
                      Major religions: Islam, indigenous beliefs
                      Life expectancy: 46 years (men), 46 years (women) (UN) ....


"Map of Niger river.
Note how it starts in Guinea, then curves inland and finally reaches the ocean in Nigeria."
[From link directly below]
Since Niger is named for the river that flows across its southwestern corner, it seems appropriate to begin the Geography section of this page here.  Although Wikipedia's pages tend to be on the no-frills, factual side, I nevertheless found myself completely absorbed by what I discovered about this unique river.

First, the etymology of the river's name:

...The name of the river Niger probably derives from the Latin or Portuguese word for "black", niger; another theory suggests that it comes from the Tuareg language gher n gheren = "river of rivers"....
Next, here is a lengthy excerpt from the site -- please know that Wikipedia offers an abundance of hypertext if you go to their actual webpage -- what I cite below gives no indication of how rich those references are:
The Niger River is the principal river of western Africa, extending over 2500 miles (about 4000 km). It runs in a crescent through Guinea, Mali, Niger, Benin and Nigeria, discharging through a massive delta, known as the Oil Rivers, into the Gulf of Guinea. The Niger is the third longest river in Africa, exceeded only by the Nile and the Congo River (also known as the Zaïre River). Its main tributary is the Benue River.

The Niger takes one of the most unusual routes of any major river, a boomerang shape that baffled European geographers for two millennia. Its source is just 150 miles (240 km) inland from the Atlantic Ocean, but the river runs away from the sea into the Sahara Desert, then takes a sharp right turn and heads southeast to the Gulf of Guinea.

Ancient Romans thought that the river near Timbuktu was part of the Nile River, a belief also held by Ibn Battuta, while early 17th-century European explorers thought that it flowed west and joined the Senegal River. The true course was probably known to many locals, but Westerners only established it in the late 19th century.

This strange geography apparently came about because the Niger River is two ancient rivers joined together. The upper Niger, from the source past the fabled trading city of Timbuktu (spelled Tombouctou in French, the language of Mali) to the bend in the current river, once emptied into a now-gone lake, while the lower Niger started in hills near that lake and flowed south into the Gulf of Guinea. As the Sahara dried up in 4000-1000 BC, the two rivers altered their courses and hooked up. (This explanation is generally accepted, although some geographers disagree.)

This unusual geography had made the northern part of the river, known as the Niger bend, an important area. The bend is the closest major river and source of water to the Sahara desert and it thus became the focal point of trade across the western Sahara. This lucrative trade made the bend the centre of the Sahelian kingdoms of Mali and Gao....
This page shows the Niger's watershed, which amazed me because I was ignorant of how far-reaching a watershed can be.  I expected to see a simple horsehoe-shape, based upon the preceding link.  But this site shows an immense and vulnerable system of tendrils moving out in many directions.

Men fishing at sunset on the Niger River
Photo by Michael Lewis
From the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) comes a sobering but ultimately practical and hopeful overview of the perils faced by the Niger River.  Here are excerpts on problems as well as the river's rich ecological beauty:
River flows in Africa's Niger basin are decreasing at the same time as fishing pressure is increasing, leading to drastic declines in fishery yields. Deforestation and farming of fragile soils is leading to siltation of river channels. Maintaining natural flow regimes in the river, and associated sediment dynamics, could go a long way towards relieving the pressures on the Niger's ecology without exacerbating regional tensions over food and water security.

The Niger River traverses four countries, though the whole basin covers nine countries of West Africa that together represent a kaleidoscope of cultures and landscapes....

...The Niger River system has also sustained remarkable biological communities. The river harbours 36 families and nearly 250 species of freshwater fish, of which 20 are found nowhere else on Earth. Eleven of the 18 families of freshwater fish that are endemic to Africa are represented in the Niger River. In the floodplains and delta wetlands along the river, a specialised flora has evolved that is adapted to extreme fluctuations in water levels. These communities also support a wide variety of fascinating animals.  Black-crowned cranes, a regional symbol of beauty and authority, rely on floodplain wetland habitat throughout the basin....Manatees can still be found in several pockets of suitable habitat that still remain along the river.  Mythology indicates that these gentle giants appeared on Earth when a woman bathing by a river was startled by strangers and jumped into the water to hide. Hippos and crocodiles are still present in the Niger, and can sometimes pose danger to those who trespass unaware. The river's true delta in Nigeria contains West Africa's largest mangrove forest....
As described above, the Niger River provides a rich ecosystem for many species along its length.  One such area is known as the "W" National Park:
The W National Park (French: "W" du Niger) is a major national park in Niger around a meander in the River Niger shaped like a "W". While most of the park is in Niger it also extends through areas of Benin and Burkina Faso. Its 10,000km² is largely uninhabited by humans. The park was created by decree on 4 August 1954.

The park is known for its large mammals, including aardvarks, baboons, buffalo, caracal, cheetahs, elephants, hippopotamuses, leopards, lions, serval and warthogs.
This is a very brief UNESCO page on this same "W" park in Niger:
....The part of 'W' National Park that lies in Niger is situated in a transition zone between savannah and forest lands and represents important ecosystem characteristics of the West African Woodlands/Savannah Biogeographical Province. The site reflects the interaction between natural resources and humans since Neolithic times and illustrates the evolution of biodiversity in this zone.

Person Bathing in the Niger River
Photo by Steve Raymer
From the University of Chicago Press comes a fascinating description of Jean-Marie Gibbal's Genii of the River Niger:
The river Niger, a source of life and danger for the people in impoverished eastern Mali, is also the origin of elaborate mythology. From his travels through Mali and down the Niger in a dugout canoe, Jean-Marie Gibbal has created a personal documentary of the cultures of the region. The result is at once an ethnography of cultures in crisis and a poetic evocation of the environment and people he encountered.

Gibbal portrays the river as the dominant, cohesive force among people in the face of social and environmental strife. He focuses on the Ghimbala healing cult, which centers on the river, and how the cult structures social relations in the region. Gibbal vividly recreations the Ghimbala rites, nocturnal ceremonies of spirit possession and seance which animate the water spirits, or genii, that inhabit the river. The genii, he finds, provide the strength of social identity in a world where famine and competing versions of Islam threaten to overpower traditional culture.

In its original French publication, The Genii of the River Niger was honored with an Alexandra David-Neel literary prize in 1989. Its powerful lyricism, combined with fascinating ethnographic depth, will delight general readers and specialists alike and will stir debates among specialists in African studies, the anthropology of religion, and literature.
Moving from the river to the country as a whole, this is a good, hypertexted overview of Niger's geography.  Excerpts:
Niger is a landlocked nation in West Africa located along the border between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions. Its geographic coordinates are a longitude of 16°N and a latitude off 8°E. Its area is 1.267 million square kilometers, of which 1,266,700km² is land and 300km² water. This makes Niger slightly less than twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas.

Niger borders seven countries on all sides and has a total of 5,697km of borders. The longest border is Chad to the east, at 1,175km. This is followed by Nigeria to the south (1,497km), Algeria to the north-northwest (956km), and Mali at 821 km.  Niger also has small borders in its far southwest frontier (Burkina Faso at 628km and Benin at 266km) and to the north-northeast (Libya at 354km).

Niger's climate is mainly hot and dry, with much desert area. In the extreme south there is a tropical climate on the edges of the Congo River Basin. The terrain is predominantly desert plains and sand dunes, with flat to rolling plains in south and hills in the north....

Lake Chad Today
[BBC -- see link below]
As mentioned in the above link, Niger's longest border is with the country of Chad, named for its famous lake, which, sadly, no longer actually touches Niger, although for thousands of years it did.  This page looks at the shrinking lake.  Excerpts:
Lake Chad (in French: Lac Tchad) is a large, shallow lake in Africa. It is
economically very important, providing water to more than 20 million people living
in the four countries which surround it — Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. It is
located mainly in the far west of Chad, bordering on northeastern Nigeria.... Because it is very shallow — only 7 metres at its deepest — its area is particularly sensitive to small changes in average depth, and it consequently also shows seasonal fluctuations in size....

The lake is believed to be a remnant of a former inland sea which is estimated to
have covered an area of 300,000 km² 6,000 years ago. It was one of the largest
lakes in the world when first surveyed by Europeans in 1823, but it has shrunk
considerably since then. Climate change and increased demands on the lake's
water have accelerated its shrinkage over the past 40 years. In the 1960s it had an
area of more than 26,000 km², making it the fourth largest lake in Africa. By 2000
its extent had fallen to less than 1,500 km². This is due to reduced rainfall combined
with greatly increased amounts of irrigation water being drawn from the lake and
the rivers which feed it, the largest being the Chari/Logon system, which originates
in the mountains of the Central African Republic. It seems likely that the lake will
shrink further and perhaps even disappear altogether in the course of the 21st

[Note: for a very clear stage-by-stage depiction of the shrinking from 1963 to the present time, see:]
This is the BBC site from which I took the small grey map of Lake Chad (above).  The entry is brief so I am citing it in its entirety:
Lake Chad, once a huge lake straddling the borders of Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, has shrunk by 95% since the mid 1960s.  The region's climate has changed during that time, with the monsoon rains which previously replenished the lake now greatly reduced.  A recent study blamed human activities combined with local weather changes, not global warming. It said overgrazing had destroyed the savannah vegetation which itself influenced the weather patterns.  As the climate has become drier, the demand for water to irrigate food crops has increased – quadrupling between 1983 and 1994 - depleting the lake further.  Nine million farmers, fishermen, and herders in the region now face water shortages, crop failure, livestock deaths, collapsed fisheries, soil salinity and increasing poverty.
I hesitate to point out the obvious but such a fate will most certainly be repeated all over the planet if we do not rein in our reckless disregard of the natural world.

"Bagzane, one of the mountains of Aïr, northeast of Agadez in Niger.
The mountain overlooks the annual pilgrimage site of Abatol."
[Also see below under "Photos"]
Niger also has mountains, especially the volcanic Aïr Mountains in the north.  The passage below is hypertexted in the original so please click on the actual link if you wish to explore further:
(Note: I should warn you that Wikipedia's hypertext can be very useful but also frustrating -- if you are reading about rock art, for example, and find "rock art" hypertexted, clicking might take you to rock art in Arizona, California, France, Australia, or to some other site completely unrelated to what you'd expect; Wikipedia also has a tendency to hypertext items that have not yet been written.)
The Aïr Mountains (also known as the Air Massif or Azbine) is a triangular massif, located in northern Niger, within the Sahara desert. They rise to more than 6,000 ft (1,830 m).

The town of Agadez in the heart of the Tuareg country is the capital of Aïr. The population of Aïr lead a nomadic life, relying essentially on camel and goats from which they take milk, meat and skins used in the production of local handicrafts. Agriculture products from oases such as Timia and Tabelot are exchanged against clothes, or salt, brought by camel caravans from the remote oases of Bilma and Fachi.

The Aïr is known for its rock art, dating from 6000 BC to around AD 1000. During the earlier eras, it was a pastoral area, illustrated in images of cattle and large mammals, but during the third millennium BC desertification has begun and Tuareg from further north migrated into the region. Later art indicated war, depicting horses and chariots. In particular, a five metre high carving of a giraffe at Dabous discovered in 1999 is internationally famous. Cave art in the region is predominantly rock carving, initially with sharp rock, and from around 1200 BC perhaps with metal.

[Note: for prehistoric rock art from this region, please see below under "Art, Lore, & Culture."]
This link looks at the beautiful Tenere desert.  Excerpts:
Tenere is a desert region in the south central Sahara, Niger. The huge sand dunes of Temet and magical scenery are said to make Tenere the most beautiful desert in the world. The Tuareg word tenere meaning desert, translated into Arabic, gave the Sahara its name. The desert is composed of sand dunes and sand flats. A major dinosaur cemetery lies at its western edge with a large number of fossils, many covered by sand, spread over 150 km.

Tenere's main city is the town of Agadez, in the shadow of the Aïr Mountains. There are also various oasis settlements based on salt mining.

The desert is also known for the Tree of Tenere, once the most remote in the world. Incredibly, in 1973, a truck driver hit the tree – the only one for several hundred kilometres – and it was replaced by a metal sculpture, the original now being in the Niger National Museum....

Photograph of the Tree of Ténéré taken in the1970s

This is a touching site about the Tree of Tenere, a lone acacia tree in the middle of Niger's desert:
'L'Arbre du Ténéré, known in English as the Tree of Ténéré, was a solitary acacia...that was once considered the most isolated tree on Earth — the only one within more than 400km. It was a landmark on caravan routes through the Ténéré region of the Sahara in northeast Niger....

...It was the last surviving tree of a group of trees that grew when the desert was less parched than it is today. The tree had stood alone for decades. During the winter of 1938–9 a well was dug near the tree and it was found that the roots of the tree reached the water table 33–36 meters below the surface.

The solitary thorn-tree was hit by a car in 1934 but survived.  Five years later, Commandant des A.M.M., Michel Lesourd, of the service central des affaires sahariennes, saw the tree on May 21, 1939 and reported:
"One must see the Tree to believe its existence. What is its secret? How can it still be living in spite of the multitudes of camels which trample at its sides. How at each azalai does not a lost camel eat its leaves and thorns? Why don't the numerous Touareg leading the salt caravans cut its branches to make fires to brew their tea? The only answer it that the tree is taboo and considered as such by the caravaniers.

"There is a kind of superstition, a tribal order which is always respected. Each year the azalai gather round the Tree before facing the crossing of the Ténéré. The Acacia has become a living lighthouse; it is the first or the last landmark for the azalai leaving Agadez for Bilma, or returning...."

More serious damage was done when it was hit again 25 years later in 1959.  From a report at the time:
 ... "Before, this tree was green and with flowers; now it is a colourless thorn tree and naked. I cannot recognise it—it had two very distinct trunks. Now there is only one, with a stump on the side, slashed, rather than cut a metre from the soil. What has happened to this unhappy tree? Simply, a lorry going to Bilma has struck it… but it has enough space to avoid it… the taboo, sacred tree, the one which no nomad here would have dared to have hurt with his hand... this tree has been the victim of a mechanic..."
Finally, in a telling commentary on the casual destructiveness of the modern world in a land where tradition had long spared this unique acacia, the tree was destroyed when it was hit by a truck in 1973:
The tree was knocked down by an allegedly drunk Libyan truck driver in 1973. On November 8, 1973 the tree's corpse was relocated to the Niger National Museum in the capital Niamey.[1] It has been replaced by a simple metal sculpture representing a tree.
This page has links to 15 cities in Niger -- data is unfortunately sparse, there are few illustrations, and some entries have not even been written yet.  Still, there is useful material here.


Iferouane: Women drawing water from the village well
From Peace Corps site (see below under Photos)
This Wikipedia page looks at Nigerien demographics -- it uses charts and useful hypertext.  Excerpts:
The largest ethnic groups in Niger are the Hausa, who also constitute the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, and the Zarma Songhay (also spelled Djerma-Songhai), who also are found in parts of Mali.  Both groups are sedentary farmers who live in the arable, southern tier. The remainder of the Nigerien people are nomadic or seminomadic livestock-raising peoples--Tuareg, Fulani, Kanouri, and Toubou. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of these two types of peoples have come increasingly into conflict in Niger in recent years....
...[N]early half (49%) of the Nigerien population is under age 15. School attendance is very low (34%), including 38% of males and only 27% of females. Additional education occurs through Koranic schools....
Religions: Muslim 80%, remainder indigenous beliefs and Christians.
Languages: French (official), Hausa, Djerma, Tamajaq, Fulfulde.
     definition: age 15 and over can read and write
     total population: 13.6%
     male: 20.9%
     female: 6.6% (1995 est.)
Songhay People of Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger,  & Nigeria
This is my more detailed Myth*ing Links page on the ethnography of the Songhay.  It was originally part of this Niger page but it became very long when I discovered the fascinating ethnographic films on possession, magic, lion hunting, and rituals made in Niger by Jean Rouche.  The more I looked, the more material I found.  In addition, the Songhay are not only in Niger.  Thus, I finally decided to start a parallel series of pages in my Africa section -- one for countries, one for the peoples whose ancestral boundaries have little to do with modern maps.  The above link to the Songhay is the first in this series.
Hausa People of Niger and Nigeria & Fulani People of Mali and Niger
This is the second ethnography page in my series -- this time on the Hausa and Fulani peoples.  It is brief compared to the Songhay page because I did not find as much material.  But it includes good maps and other images as well as excellent links.

Areas where significant numbers of Tuaregs live
This is an informative page on the Tuareg from Wikipedia.  On History:
...Descended from Berbers in the region that is now Libya, the Tuareg are descendants of ancient Saharan peoples described by Herodotus, who mentions the ancient Libyan people, the Garamantes. Archaeological testimony is the ruins of Germa, the modern Tuareg descended from the Garamantes. Later, they expanded southward, into the Sahel.

For over two millennia, the Tuareg operated the trans-Saharan caravan trade connecting the great cities on the southern edge of the Sahara via five desert trade routes to the northern (Mediterranean) coast of Africa....

...Following the independence of African countries in 1960s, Tuareg territory was artifically divided into modern nations: Niger, Mali, Algeria, Libya, and Burkina Faso....

The page has a simple, nice little map showing where Tuaregs live from west to north Africa, but it's a .png file and I simply couldn't get it to upload to my page.  So I found a more complex but also excellent substitute (above).

Tuareg Woman
Photo by Pascal Maitre
On Culture:
The Tuareg are matrilineal, though not matriarchal. Unlike many Muslim societies, the women do not traditionally wear the veil, whereas the men do. The most famous Tuareg symbol is the Tagelmust, their veil often blue indigo colored. The men's facial covering originates from the belief that such action wards off evil spirits, but most probably relates to protection against the harsh desert sands as well; in any event, it is a firmly established tradition (as is the wearing of amulets containing verses from the Qur'an). Men begin wearing a veil when they reach maturity which usually conceals their entire face excluding their eyes....

...The Tuareg are sometimes called the "Blue People" because the indigo pigment in the cloth of their traditional robes and turbans stained the wearer's skin dark blue. Today, the traditional indigo turban is still preferred for celebrations....

On Language:
The Tuareg speak Tamajaq/Tamasheq/Tamahaq, a southern Berber language having several dialects among the different regions. Berber is an Afro-Asiatic language closely related to Pharaohnic Egyptian and Semitic....
On Religion:
The Tuareg have been predominantly Muslim since the 16th century, though some are lax in observance, more inclined to observe feasts than fasts. They combine Sunni Islam (specifically the Maliki madhhab, popular in North and West Africa) with certain pre-Islamic animistic beliefs, including spirits of nature Kel Asuf and such syncretic beliefs as divination through means of the Qur'an.
There are also brief sections on art, music, and ethnicity.
This is the Bradshaw Foundation's photographic overview of current Tuareg culture in the Dabous/Air Mountain region.
This is a very brief, unillustrated entry on an old Tuareg town:
Assodé was a town in the Aïr Mountains in what is now northern Niger. Founded around the eleventh century, it was long the most important Tuareg town, benefiting from trans-Saharan trade, and declining with it from the eighteenth century. It was abandoned soon after being sacked by Kaocen in 1917, although many of its building are still reasonably well preserved.

Smithsonian: Kanuri Jar, mid 20th century:
"African potters--primarily women--handbuild a variety of  vessels
that they embellish with beautiful colors, designs and motifs
before firing them at low temperatures...."

There are intriguing links here to the three major non-French languages of Niger: Kanuri, a Nilo-Saharan (west) language; Zarma [alternate form: Djerma], a Nilo-Saharan (south) Songhay language; and Hausa, a Chadic language.
Finally, this is a list of Niger's famous or important people from Wikipedia.  The list has ready-made categories so that it can used as a template for many worldwide nations, large or small, wealthy or poor. Categories include authors & poets, painters, cinema artists, musicians & singers, leaders & politicians (historical & modern), royalty, military leaders, religious figures, scholars, scientists, academics, explorers & travellers, architects, and sports figures.

For Niger, only two categories are filled in: modern leaders & politicians (including Ilguilas Weila, a courageous human rights and anti-slavery activist) and military leaders.  Niger is rich in craftspeople, storytellers, nomads, farmers, merchants.  But there is only a 13.6% literacy rate here.  With strong oral traditions, illiteracy, per se, may not be as daunting an indicator as Westerners might think, yet, combined with extreme poverty, it isn't likely that such a nation will generate many who might qualify on the world's stage as "famous or important."  Many of Niger's people can barely feed themselves -- such a country is not likely to develop artists, scientists, scholars, or even wise leaders.

The loss is the rest of the world's.  For a fraction of what we're spending on war-related activities, the rest of us could turn Niger and countries like it into places where education could create thriving societies in which richness of spirit, mind and creativity could be nourished and celebrated for the common good of their own countries as well as of the world at large.


Ancient Saharan rock art: Giraffes from 6,000-8,000 years ago
Found at Dabous near Agadez
From Peace Corps site
(Also see below under Bradshaw Foundation & in "Photos" section),_africa.htm
This is Galen Frysinger's  handsome page of three photos of ancient rock art -- 2 of animals (including many giraffes) and one of a double-triangular shaped human.  These are travel photos, sans text, but well worth a look.  The page offers links to many other categories too (also see below under "Photos").
Supported by the Bradshaw Foundation, this is an interesting report on rock art in Niger's Dabous region, including the importance of the giraffe:
...Out of the 545 identified animals, bovids are clearly dominant (253, i.e. 46%). They are followed by a group of three species, each with about the same number of representations : ostriches (88, i.e. 16%), antelopes and gazelles (we have lumped them in one group, because only the length of their horns enables a determination and it is easy to mistake one for the other : 87, i.e. 16%) and giraffes (80, i.e. 16%).

However, giraffes are by far the biggest of all the representations, not only those that were moulded but several others in various parts of the site; this means they were given a special importance irrespective of their numbers. Seven other species barely reach 7% all together (12 camels or rather dromedaries, 11 dogs, 6 rhinos, 3 equids (horses or donkeys), 2 monkeys, 2 elephants, 1 lion)....

[For the home page of this project, see:]
This is a very brief page from the Bradshaw Foundation showing a fabulous photo of the two giraffes also shown (above) in the Peace Corps photo.  But the angle of the Peace Corps photo gives no sense of the actual scale.  This link does -- the life-sized animals are about 20' tall and the photo is breathtaking!  Here is  brief piece of the closing text:
...On his return to France Jean called the Bradshaw Foundation and said that in his opinion the Giraffe were "one of the most beautiful carvings that he had ever seen". He went on to report that he and David considered that the Giraffe carving was in danger of being vandalised by visiting tourists, and they suggested that the Bradshaw Foundation should initiate and finance a mould taking operation, so that the carving would be preserved for all time.
Again from the Bradshaw Foundation: great captioned photos of an elephant, gazelles, cow, horses, a charming giraffe, and humans -- unfortunately, no dates are provided for this art.
This is a brief page from an architectural firm working with the Bradshaw Foundation to preserve the Dabous artwork.  The page includes yet another photo of the two famous giraffes, dated to 6000-8000 years ago.  It adds the following information:
Cullum and Nightingale have, along with the Bradshaw Foundation, also been involved in the design and construction of the installation of an aluminium cast of the giraffe engravings which was presented to the Government of Niger and unveiled in Agadez by the Minister of Tourism in early October 2001.


Zarma Songhay Blanket
(See Joel Mayer's site directly below)
From Joel Mayer, a former Peace Corps volunteer (see above under "General Information") comes a page of lovely decorated calabash gourds from the Zinder region.  His additional art links will take you to blankets, batiks, a straw door-screen, a Zinder rug & faifai (a decorative disk used as a clay pot cover), daggers, and black Mirriah pottery. These pages are especially valuable because there is so little elsewhere on Niger's contemporary art.
This is a lovely page from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art on contemporary folk art from Niger.  Most of the 12 pieces are Tuareg but there are also several examples from Niger's other peoples. Each piece comes with a brief report on its history and purpose.
[Note: I got the above link from a internal Smithsonian search but it no longer worked the following day so I suspect it will always expire after a certain time period.  If you cannot access the page, go to:, scroll down to "Advanced Search," click, then ignore all categories except "Country": click on "Niger," and this page will come up.]

"Beats for the Gods" (1999)
by Nigerian artist, Omo Otun:
"Most African craftsmen are trained to a high level of professionalism.  It is dedicated to the way the people appreciate the best in industry, commitment, and professionalism as the gods deserve only the best."
This site from Wikipedia looks at Niger's music -- each paragraph is rich with hypertext for those who wish to explore further.  Here is how the page opens:
Niger is an African country inhabited by a mix of ethnic groups, mostly Hausa, Beriberi, Songhai, Djerma, Dendi, Puel - Woodabe and Bororo and Tuareg peoples. The Tuareg are known for romantic, informal love poetry played by both men and women, with voices accompanied by clapping, tinde drums (in women's songs) and a one-stringed viol (in men's songs). The Beriberi are known for complex polyphony, while the region around the capital of Niamey is inhabited by Dherma and Songhai who play, generally solo, a variety of lutes, flutes and fiddles. The Hausa, who make up over half of the country, use the duma for percussion and the molo (a lute), along with ganga, alghaïta (shawm) and kakati (trumpet) in the southeast Zinder area.
Then there is Rap Nigerien, which:
...exploded in Niger at the end of last millennium....

...The music is soft and kind, mixed with a traditional heritage of their music. It grew into an interesting sociologic phenomenon, which expands borders of entertainment. Young and dissatisfied people started to talk about objects which annoy them - forced marriages, child labor, corruption, poverty and other problems....
[Also see:]
For more on the Berber music of the nomadic Tuareg, this link has a brief section (I'm quoting the passage in full but useful hypertext will be found if you click on the actual link).  Of special interest is that "music is mostly the domain of women":
The Tuareg live in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, and have produced an internationally renowned band in Tartit. Their traditional music uses rhythms and vocal styles similar to the music of other Berbers and Arab music, while West African call-and-response-style singing is also common. In contrast to many of the region's peoples, among the Tuareg, music is mostly the domain of women, especially the imzhad, a string instrument like a violin. Tuareg weddings feature unique styles of music, such as the vocal trilling of women and special dances (ilkan) of slaves marking the occasion.
This is a brief but nice little page of Niger music available on the Nonesuch, Lyrichord, Odeon, and Ocora labels.

This is a good selection of books on Niger from Campusi. Click on a title and you'll get access to a review plus a very useful price comparsion of all available prices, used or new.
I've had trouble getting this page to load but it's worth the wait.  It's a handpicked collection of books on Niger, each with an cover, data, multiple reviews, etc.  It makes for interesting reading on a wide variety of topics related to Niger.
"Films and Documentaries by and about Women in Africa" is what this page from the University of California, Berkeley offers.  It covers all of Africa but among the many films are several directly related to Niger and the Songhay and Hausa peoples.  Brief descriptions of each film are provided.  (It is heartening to see so many films involving African women!)
This is another webage from UC Berkeley, this time with videotapes and audiocassettes on Africa.  The above link will take you directly to a handful of videos relating to Niger -- scroll up or down from there and you'll find a wide range covering the rest of Africa.  From Niger, here are two that especially caught my eye:
Herdsmen of the Sun (Wodaabe les bergers du soleil)

A documentary film of the Wodaabe people of the Sahara/Sahel region with a focus on the courtship rituals of the tribe. Once a year in what amounts to a beauty pageant, the young men dress up and parade in front of the women.  Each woman must then chose and spend the next few nights with the man she finds most beautiful. Directed by Werner Herzog. 1988. 54 min.  Video/C 9557

Women of Manga (Niger).

Program is devoted to the women of a warrior tribe whose origin is ancient but unknown and which lives today in eastern Niger. Focuses on the traditions including the complicated painting, hairstyles, facial scars and jewelry. 1992. 12 min. Video/C 3025
This is "African Sources: A Selected List of Books, Recordings, and Videos of interest to students of African and African-Diaspora Music, Culture, and Religion," compiled by Richard Hodges. It is an excellent, annotated list.  Do a "Find" for Niger and you'll get several references to Jean Rouch's ethnographic films (also see my Songhay link above for much more on Rouch's work in Niger).
This is The Heritage Library of African Peoples with a wonderful page of books for children.  Each is shown with a colorful cover representing the many and varied peoples of Africa.


Agadir: Desert Gateway
Photo by Jean-Luc Manaud
This is a handsomely presented series of pages with excellent photos by Galen Frysinger of Wisconsin, USA.  There are photos of Niger's villagers, towns, landscapes, and much more.  He has a fine eye.
[FYI: sadly, if you click on "Dunes Voyages," you'll find a disturbing account of  bandits, robbery, and attempted rape during their tour group's visit to northern Niger several years ago.]
This is an interesting collection of Peace Corps photos taken in Niger.  There are no thumbnails -- just titles -- but most photos have a small "companion" which is where you'll find identifying data for both large and small versions.
I can't make much sense of the navigation for this French site but there are some fine photos here if you're patient and just keep clicking.
This is an excellent series of captioned photos taken by a group of Europeans based in Lagos, Nigeria who took a side trip to northern Niger.  A link will take you to a report of the trip made by one of the German members.  They experienced no robberies (see above) or any mishaps other than flat tires and broken down autos.  They seem to have had a grand time.

Niger - Desert Edge Near the Dunes d'Arakao
Photo by Jean-Luc Manaud
Nine Nigerien landscape photos, most by Jean-Luc Manaud.,-Niger-53541.html
These are more photographs from Jean-Luc Manaud.
This is an amazing collection of NASA photos of Niger (thumbnails are clickable).
This is NASA's photo of Lake Chad.
This is NASA again of Lake Chad with more choices of resolution.

click here for Niger, page 2:
Famine 2005



Sub-Sahara: General
Sub-Saharan Folklore
Sub-Saharan Sacred Arts

Sub-Saharan Countries and Peoples:

Niger I: The Country

Niger II: Famine 2005

Songhay People of Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger,  & Nigeria

Hausa People of Niger and Nigeria
& Fulani People of Mali and Niger

Forward to ASIA

If you have comments or suggestions,
my email address will be found near the bottom of my home page.

Please note that I cannot help with homework questions -- you will find useful links with tips for doing your own web searches on my Search Engine page.  You will also find excellent resources on my General Reference page.  Good luck with your projects!
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Text and Design:
Copyright 2005 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.

Page begun: 1am-ish, 31 July 2005.
Launched: 31 August 2005.
Latest updates: 5 December 2005 - shortened opening essay by removing Nightline promo, etc.