Camels and Dromedaries | Nomads of the Sahara

Saharan nomads prepare the camels on their way to southern pastures  along the Mauritanian border

Planet Doc

The recent rains have brought abundant pasture. The herds of dromedaries can spend the entire day chomping on the young shoots of ESKEF, their favourite food. They need to recover the weight lost during the long drought. 
Small herds of goats also accompany the nomads of the Sahara
Because it is perfectly adapted to the surroundings, the goat has become one of the main domesticated animals in these regions. 
The dromedary was introduced into Africa in the sixth century B.C., and since then it has become the very essence of the Sahara, earning the name “The Ship of the Desert”. Its extraordinary characteristics mean it can drink saltwater, or go for long periods without drinking at all, losing up to 25% of its body mass. It can recover this lost mass by consuming, at a single time, up to 90 litres of water, which it will store in different sacs in its stomach. 

At the well of AIGÜENIT, in the south of the country,  the herds of  many tribes have gathered.
The dromedary is the principal agent and the basis of wealth in the transhumance economy of the Western Sahara.
During this time of rain, the females will be mounted by the stud camel, and those that are pregnant will give birth after a gestation period of 14 months.

The new-born camel is called a LEJUAR. They are born with a covering of whitish wool, which immediately protects them from the intense heat. 
A herdsman unties the SHMAL which protect the udders of the female camels, so their young have access to the nutritious milk. Lactation is controlled so that the mother is not excessively weakened. 
Traditionally, each tribe brands its camels with a distinctive mark, recognisable to anyone who finds them if they stray off. The easy domestication of the dromedary, called YMEL in the Western Sahara, and its resistance to the desert conditions, have made this animal the perfect companion for the Bedouins of the Sahara, who obtain meat, milk and skins from it. 
Since ancient times the nomads have used camel skin to make equipment and utensils they use in their daily lives. 
After several hours to allow the animals to drink, the begin preparations to lead the herds to the pastures in the south, along the Mauritanian border.
Ahead of them lies a tough, demanding march, and the recently-born young have to be transported on the camels’ backs, along with the luggage. It is over 150 km to the next well and the pasture left by the recent rain clouds. 

After a long discussion, Habeyabi and Sidibrahim have now agreed on the amount of the dowry, which must be high, as befits two families of their rank. 
In reality, this marriage was agreed many years ago, when their respective children were still very young. 
This union is in the interest of both families, which boast very ancient, important lineages. In this way, they create ties which will be invaluable in cases of extreme necessity. 
The marriage is held at the well of MIYEC, in the middle of the desert, as required by tradition. 
Sidibrahim and Caloha have to inform all their friends and relatives. Some lead a nomadic life in Mauritania, but the majority live in the camps of TINDUF.

 The tenacious work of the men and women who live here has provided these camps with better services. 
Nonetheless, everything here is fragile, precarious. The mud house they spend so much time and effort building on any piece of flat land are more comfortable and provide greater protection than the tents donated by the United Nations. But when the torrential rain pours down, they crumble like sandcastles. And so, like Penelope at her loom, they have to constantly work on restoration and maintenance. 

Even in such extreme conditions, life goes on. Relatives and guests start arriving at Hakim’s house for the baptism of his eldest son. Today is an important day. The women enter the small room where the mother, who gave birth seven days ago, is lying with her son.  Following Saharawi tradition, the name of the child is chosen by the luck of the sticks. Each date tree branch has the name of a male of the family or friends. The mother-in-law puts them into goat’s or camel’s milk, and the mother chooses one. This process is repeated three times, and the name assigned to the stick chosen will from then on be the name of the newborn child. 

A baptism is always an occasion for celebration and rejoicing. Hakim has good reason to be happy. A male child will carry on his name and that of his family. 
And naturally, there must be food in abundance, for all the relatives and friends who want to join the celebration. On this day, no expense will be spared.

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