Eating Moni porridge before setting out into the fields

Eating Moni porridge before heading out into the fields

She served up the moni gruel, scooping a thick golden crunchiness of honeycomb into the centre of the calabash and stirring it hard to make sure everyone got their fair share. She had gone to help her elderly father with collecting the honey at harvest time last year. Lowering the hives down from the stubby fingered branches at the top of the baobab tree, and smoking the bees out at dusk had been quite a business. But her hard work had been rewarded with a chunk of dripping sweetness for her to take home.

Millet forcing its way through the dry soilOnce fed, the men and boys set off, hitching the donkey cart and loading up with water, tools and seed. She’d be coming out with lunch in a couple of hours, and give a hand with the sowing. But first she wanted to get a few things washed while she had a few minutes. The dark brown ball of soap had been boiled up from crushed peanuts from her field, mixed with saltpetre – the crystals boiled out of water strained through the millet stalk ash.

Once done, she laid the clothes out to dry on the wicker matting, woven from wa  grass round her courtyard. A moment’s rest would be good, to sit down on her stool carved from the bumu tree, finish off last night’s to and give her little one a suckle. She fingered the edge of her mortar – a gleaming russet block of gwele, hard enough to withstand the daily pounding. She’d been lucky to get one of these – the wood was becoming increasing rare and difficult to find. In a moment she’d need to get to her feet again and start the preparations for lunch, so she could carry out the steaming bowls of thick greeny-yellow to porridge out to the field before noon, where the men would be ravenous. But for the moment she could sit and ponder what she’d need to collect on her way back from the field – some branches of forage from the bala for the sheep she was fattening, a handful of berries from the ntomono  bush to give her a bit of extra energy at the end of the day, and a roll of leaves from the n’galama  bush. She planned to soak the leaves in boiling water and strain-off the infusion for washing her baby’s scalp, clearing it of the scaly skin around the back.

Hitching her skirt, she rose, slung her baby straddled across her back, and set off to make the next meal.

Making rope from the bark of the BaobabNyeli’s story can be told a thousand times over in different parts of the dry West African Sahel. It’s a story of making a living, caring for family, and coping with changing circumstances in often tough conditions. The diverse plants which people the landscape are key to so many aspects of life – whether food, medicines, fuel, fodder, or tools. Scientists are not sure how climate change will affect the Sahel – some think it will get drier, others expect wetter rainy seasons. Most agree that weather patterns will become more erratic, rendering ever more vulnerable the ways of life for women like Nyeli.

Some of the actors in this story...

Baobab - Adansonia digitata

N'tomi - Tamarindus indica

Gwele - Prosopis africana

Bere - Boscia senegalensis

Wa - Andropogon gayanus

Bumu - Bombax costatum

Bala - Pterocarpus lucens

Ntomono - Ziziphus mauritiana

N'galama - Anogeissus leiocarpus

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Related links:

Africa: UK Government shows ongoing commitment to African agriculture


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