Saturday, 26 May 2012

WoDaaBe Migrant Workers and the Pastoral Economy

It is difficult to estimate the extent of WoDaaBe migrant work in the present due to the lack of statistical data, even though some indication in relation to the Niger Range and Livestock project published in 1984. The various lineages are diversely engaged in migrant work, but the report estimates that the group studied most
extensively by me is in the middle range when compared with other WoDaaBe lineages. The report states that for a 12 month period, about a quarter of the adult population left the pastoral economy at least once for migrant work, and furthermore estimates that 65 percent of households in Tchin-Tabaraden have household members who are migrant labourers. The majority of Niger’s migrant workers are males, and even though this is the case, WoDaaBe women also actively engage in migrant work. The occupations migrant workers engage in are diverse and differ somewhat according to gender. While men work as security guards, labourers, sell tea and ropes, women often engage in hair styling of other women, as well as various kind of manual work. Both men and women engage in craft production, making jewelry and embroidering clothing. Fulani women often become more secluded with increased urbanisation, especially those of high status.

WoDaaBe migrant workers visit their extended family in the bush at least once a year, even several times per year, usually at the end of the rainy season. In some cases, parents leave their young children who are no longer breast-feeding with their grandparents in the bush. Women, accompanied by their children, also often stay for a few weeks or months among their natal family. In the city, several WoDaaBe families usually live in the same area and despite interacting with members of other ethnic groups, they associate mostly with other WoDaaBe families, preferably those from the same lineage group. A single homestead in the city thus usually incorporates individuals from the same lineage group, even though not necessarily from the same extended family.

WoDaaBe migrant workers generally state that they are engaged in migrant work due to necessity, expressing the desire to rebuild their herds. Many men claim that they intend to send money to their extended families in the bush, for corn and other necessities. Most have, however, hardly enough to feed themselves, and thus in fact only occasionally send cash. In addition, many migrant labourers become used to different consumption patterns during their stay in the city, making the cost of living somewhat high. Studies have consequently shown that migrant work is in the long term not an efficient way of reconstructing herds. Migrant workers are generally absent from the bush during the dry season when labour requirements are most intense and their labour is in fact most needed. This contra diction can be seen as due the acute food shortage in the dry season. Even though a small herd requires similar labour as a large herd, it is not able to feed the same number of people. As other studies have shown, the draining of the most valuable working force from the pastoral society can be seen as a constant feature of migrant work. It can however be suggested that the relative flexible household organisation, where one camp (wuro) can be constituted and reconstituted by different families, is able, to some extent, to respond to these labour shortages which occur when the most valuable part of the labour force leaves for migrant work. In such situations, a few households will form one camp allowing cooperation. The benefits of migrant labour can thus be seen as primarily being the reduction of cereal consumption in the household and the occasional earnings, both leading to reduction of animal sales during the dry season. The migrant worker, even though not earning enough to rebuild his herd, is at least able to refrain from selling the animals he already has. Even though not all WoDaaBe migrant workers will necessarily return to the bush for a permanent stay, they see themselves as only staying in the city for limited time, and return regularly to the pastoral economy for a few months or weeks every year to engage with their larger lineage group and the herding community. It is somewhat ironic that the migrant workers flock to the bush during the end of the rainy season, i.e. at time of prosperity and low labour requirements, when food and milk is abundant and social activities are at their peak.

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