Saturday, January 2, 2010

Songhai Worldview

Two to three million Songhai dwell along the Niger River from Niamey, Niger to Timbuktu, Mali and then eastward from Gao, Mali to Agadez, Niger. This worldview focuses on one of the groups who comprise about one forth of the total population of Songhai (400,000) that live in Niger between the cities of Niamey and Tera.


1.1 Is the family monogamous or polygamous? Describe the characteristics and conditions.
Many of the Songhai families are monogamous, but it is out of financial necessity and not choice. The men interviewed stated that they would like to have at least two wives and, as money was available, they would to continue to marry to the limit of four (status symbol). The men stated that it was better to have several wives because they could help each other with work and could provide for his needs when one of the wives was sick. However, it was also stated, by the men, that most women would prefer a monogamous situation, as trouble often arrives between wives.

1.2 Is the family matriarchal or patriarchal? Describe the head of the house.
The Songhai family is patriarchal. The father has the last word on all subjects. He has the say over clothing choices for the family, travel and the use of money. In marriage the husband takes the place of the wife's father, and she is obligated to obey. An older male is usually respectfully addressed as "baaba" rather than by his given name.

1.3 What are the lines of authority in the family? Who makes decisions? How? When? Why?
The authority line in the family rests with the male of the family. Age is also a factor. If an older father, his sons and each of their families live in the same concession, the father is the one that makes the decisions for the concession. Each one of his sons makes the decisions for his own family, but respect is given to the opinions of the older father. It was stated that one's father was always one's father no matter what one's age. In the absence of a father, the authority falls to the eldest son or to the eldest brother of the father. The mother can make some of the unimportant decisions for the family in the absence of the father, but for permission to marry or the disposal of estates, the oldest brother of the father is consulted in the absence of the father.

1.4 What are the expectations and rules for getting permission?
The father of the family is the one who can give permission. As in most other cultures, each family is different in the measure of control the father demands and ultimately has. Most female members of the family must have the male head of the household's permission to make purchases, visit or travel. One can ask the mother of the family to approach the father with a request, but she can not herself grant this request. The sons of the family enjoy more freedom and can come and go, for the most part, without permission. The sons are still required to gain permission for important requests. It is best to talk to the father when he is alone to gain permission. One can ask for permission three times. If the same request is refused three times, it is useless to ask again. It was stated that one has the choice to disobey one's parents, but one will be judged and punished by God for this disobedience. It was also stated that people who disobey their parents are not trusted and many times asked to leave the village.

1.5 What are the expectations and rules for getting forgiveness?
Requests for forgiveness are rare. Children can ask forgiveness from their fathers, mothers or older siblings. If it is denied, then one can ask an uncle, grandfather or friend of the family to intercede, asking forgiveness in one's place. If the village were aware of what had been done, the request for forgiveness would need to be made in front of the entire village. If the situation was unknown by the village, one's request could be made in private. One would never ask anyone younger for forgiveness. When the men were asked if they would ask forgiveness from their wives, they were shocked. Some said it would be impossible for a man to do anything to his wife that would require forgiveness. Others just laughed at the questions and seemed embarrassed by the thought of asking forgiveness from their wives.

1.6 What are the roles and consequent relationships between family members? Include husband, wife, children and relatives. What is the difference at different levels in the society and for the different ages? Who is responsible for whom, when and how?
The typical Songhai family is an extended one. The value placed upon the importance and unity of this extended family is near universal. At the center of this family is the male head of household. It is upon him, most often, that the primary burden falls of keeping the family strong and whole. For a family's problems to become matters for public discussion is considered shameful. For this reason, problems tend to be resolved within the family.

Most of the men are subsistence farmers, though once members of a powerful and extensive empire. Despite their warrior past, they now determine such important matters as planting times, purchases of tools and other farming supplies, what livestock to keep and to trade, as well as numerous other matters of farm management. In the urban setting, the male head of household may earn an income by work outside of the household; he returns home with this money and saves or dispenses it to the benefit of the extended family. Other income earners, such as older, unmarried sons typically contribute their earnings, or a large part of their wages, to the benefit of the entire household. At the end of the millet harvest many of the Songhai men travel into neighboring countries to work, often the English speaking countries of Nigeria and Ghana.

The house is the responsibility of the mother. She is to take care of all family needs and provide for all needs of the father. She is important to the family as long as she is able to bear children. One proverb states, "The death of a dog in the compound is mourned more than the death of an infertile woman. If they are farm women, they may share in the planting and other farm chores. They may even have responsibility for certain small garden plots to raise a small crop of tomatoes, okra or beans. The pounding of millet and the drawing and carrying of water from wells to home also are chores that typically fall to the women of the family. In households with several wives, the women often share tasks or rotate the chores among themselves.

As for the children, the eldest son is held in high esteem. The eldest son becomes responsible for the family in the absence or death of the father. The sons of the family will help the father in his work or business and may assist with making purchases in the market, running errands, fetching tools and tending livestock.

All children are to be quite and in their place, especially when the father is at home. Children are sometimes severely beaten for disobedience. It is said that "Children know haste; elders know patience." On the other hand, even very young children are allowed to freely roam the streets without supervision.

The daughters of the family start at the earliest age possible to help with the pounding of grain, carrying water, cooking and gathering wood. The daughters often start at the age of six or seven to help with the care of the younger brothers and sisters.

The male relatives of the father's side are very important to the family and are highly respected. Elders, be they male or female, are respected. After the age of 60, both the father and mother of the family retire. The younger female members of the family take over the responsibilities of the house, and the younger male members of family assume the financial responsibility for the parents.

As in other household affairs, elders, such as grandparents, are greatly respected, and their opinions and praise are often sought.

1.7 Identify kinship lines and patterns of the extended family.
Very close ties exist for the extended family. The father's family is given the most respect and attention. When the father's older brother visits the family, the wife and children are expected to respect and obey this visitor. This respect may also be accorded to a younger brother out of respect for the father of the family. Many times the uncles of the father's side are treated as if they were fathers. Many families share their children; hence the word "father" may be one's biological father or reference to an uncle who raised a child. Many times, a child is sent to live with elderly family members to help take care of them. Homes are often occupied by three generations of a family, five to 30 people living in one concession. Close family friends may also be considered family members. One is always, without doubt, expected to help with the problems of the extended family. Children, who have the same mother and father as oneself, do have the closest family tie, but one must respect all children of one's father. If there is a divorce, children go to the husband's family when they are weaned.

1.8 How do families support themselves in this culture? What are the traditional and non-traditional means of support?
The traditional means of support is farming and raising of livestock. Many young men stated that if given the choice, they would choose a good farm with lots of animals. Great respect is given a man who can bring in a good crop. Because of the drought and difficulties of farming and livestock, many have been forced into other work such as small-scale commerce, teaching or government jobs. One never refuses to help with the needs of another family member; this is unheard of!

The rise and fall of the populations of towns and cities in accordance with the seasonal farm tasks of planting and harvesting crops perhaps best illustrate the continued importance of agriculture. Songhai males in cities and towns might close shops, postpone tasks, or take leave of their office jobs to return to their natal villages to help with the crop.

In a typical rural community, many extended families, often bound by ties of kinship, live in a village of huts made of locally available materials -- mud brick construction with grass thatched roofs. Here too are special huts constructed for storing crops, the most important of which is millet. Corn, sorghum and beans are also important crops.

Dry- season gardening can be done in gardens on the river's shores or where a source of water is available to raise vegetables. The farm villagers' lives are shaped by the agricultural seasons, especially in making sure that there is an adequate harvest to see them through the year. The Songhai farm family brings surpluses and cash crops such as peanuts, yams, tomatoes, and okra to market towns and cities to sell. The farm family may also earn cash by raising and selling of livestock, fishing and by gathering and selling firewood.

The Songhai people are very proud, and they have a very strong work ethic. Work that was once done by slaves, including being a butcher, water seller, blacksmith or washer of clothes, would be difficult for the Songhai to do, but they would rather do any work than beg. Because of the desperate situation in all areas of Songhai population, many Songhai men are forced to leave their homes after harvest to search for work in neighboring countries. Each man will purchase clothing and other items needed by the family. Almost always he will return to his home with these purchases when the rains begin to work in his fields.

When a Songhai man has worked very hard doing a difficult, physical labor, he says that he has worked like a donkey.

1.9 How does the family structure change as a result of death, marriage, separation, incapacity, incompetence or other significant changes?
Death -- Should the father die, the responsibility for the family falls upon the oldest male child. The mother of the family must mourn the death of her husband by resting in the house from 40 days to three months. After the period of mourning, the parents of the widow will probably arrange for another marriage and the children will be taken by the extended family of the father. If the mother dies, the widower will probably remarry. It is forbidden to scream or cry when a family member dies. Grief is expressed by not eating - usually for one or two days. The female members of the family cannot attend the burial ceremony, as they are considered too weak.

Marriage -- A marriage in the family is a time of celebration and hardship. The Songhai cling to the marriage practices of the past even though they are a great financial burden to all concerned. Many times, a young man will spend up to six months wages on his marriage. Both the bride and groom's families are called upon to supply items that they cannot afford. The parents still make the choice of one's spouse, and it is very rare that a child would refuse their parents' choice. The Songhai would not consider a match with a Bella, Toureg or a Fulani.

On a different note, the second or subsequent marriage is a dreaded thing for most women. When the husband takes a second wife, it is as if he is saying that the first has not done her job. Conflict soon follows, and the financial burden on the family increases.

Divorce -- Divorce rate is high in Niger. In 1990, 44% of women in Niger were divorced once and 15% twice with the age at divorce fluctuating from 20- 24 years (Care 1990). Due to the high divorce rate and death rates in Niger, the average number of marriages for a woman in her lifetime is three. As in most things, the woman has no rights after a divorce. All children over the age of seven at the time of the divorce stay with the father. Children under seven at the time of divorce stay with the mother and are returned to the father when they reach the age of seven.

Incapacity or Incompetence- This situation is handled much as a death. The oldest son takes responsibility, if possible, and the extended family helps.

1.10 How is a family's heritage passed from one generation to the next?
The family heritage is passed on in oral traditions. The young boys are taught to do the same work that their fathers and grandfathers have done. The young girls are taught to take care of children and the home. Detailed family histories are passed down from one generation to the next, and visits with the extended family are full of talk of the past. The Songhai are proud of their past when they were a strong and wealthy people; they are still are angry and suspicious of the Toureg people, who brought about the fall of their kingdom.

1.11 Do families have totems? What are typical ones and how are they used?
Totems are objects conceived of as the emblems of a tribe, a clan or a family. A totem may be a carved object, a piece of land, a tree, a specific plant or a creature. Though the vast majority of Songhai are Muslim and their religion denounces idolatry, the superstitions associated with totems permeate the Songhai culture. Those interviewed categorically denied that the Songhai were animistic, but spoke freely of a plethora of spirits that controlled life, charms, family secrets and sorcery among their people.

Of those who admitted to having totems, many said their totems were animals. Some would not kill a snake because a snake had saved a family member's life and now had become the family totem. Some had purchased a goat, sheep or black chicken that was kept at the house as a genie. It was fed first, given clean water and never killed. This animal would keep evil from coming to the home and could also grant wishes and answer prayers. Some kept the skin of each year's Tabaski offering and believed it could bless the house. The family Koran, the holy book of Islam, may be particularly venerated and take on special significance beyond its ink and paper.

It was stated that each family had a secret item, verse or charm that brought power and protection to the household. The father of the family held the secret. It might be a walking stick, a gourd, a coin, a ring or other item. The secret could also be a verse from the Koran or an incantation learned from a spirit or ancestor. The father would watch his sons and decide which one was the wisest, most patient and intelligent. When the father was near death, the secret would be shared with the chosen son and continue in the family. The family secret was never shared outside the family or with the other family members. The family with the most money and possessions was assumed to have the strongest family secret.

1.12 How is authentic news passed on within the family?
News is passed by word of mouth, by radio and by newspapers and magazines. The word of a family member is rarely doubted. The father is usually the one who brings the news home. If it is very important, he will call a family meeting and share with everyone at one time. If not, he will share the news with the wife, and she may inform the children. News from the radio and newspapers if verified by asking those who have left the village for education and returned if the news is true. The Zima in the village can cast shells to tell news or to verify the truth of reported happenings.

1.13 What are the rules of inheritance?
In inheritance, the sons of the family are favored. Although the percentages were different, the sons always received the bulk of the estate with the girls receiving a token amount. Land is always passed on to the sons. The wives generally receive nothing, as a rule, and are expected to return to their families.

1.14 What are the sexual and mating roles and rules in the family? What are marriage rites and rules?
All responded that the subject of sex is taboo and that they had never discussed it in their families. The marriage rites and rules are dominated by the exchange of money. The young man visits in the home of the young girl, and they agree to marry. Then, the groom sends a party to ask the father's permission and to deliver the first of the payments to the bride's family (50,000 CFA and up). Some of the payment is used to purchase the items that the young bride will take to her new home. The groom continues to purchase gifts (100,000 CFA and up) and provide money that is shared with the bride's family and friends (50,000 CFA and up). Most marriages are performed in accordance with Muslim tradition. The bride and groom are not present, and money again is paid for food to celebrate (50,000 CFA and up) and for payment to the Muslim priest (5,000 CFA and up) to bless the marriage. The bride is taken to the groom's home during the night by his sisters and a group of friends. The bride is expected to show sorrow in leaving her parents home. The wedding party takes place at the home of the groom to celebrate the arrival of the bride.

In some areas the custom to prove the bride's virginity is still practiced. After her arrival at the groom's home, most of the guests depart except for one friend of the bride and two or three friends of the groom who will remain in the house for the first night. It is the purpose of this group that remains to make sure the bride is a virgin. The bride's family provides a white cloth, and first sexual relations occur on this sheet. After the marriage is consummated, the friend of the bride is brought in and, along with the groom, the sheet is inspected. If it is spotted with blood, the bride and her friend return to her parent's house with the sheet. The next morning, a party is held at the bride's home, and an older woman takes the sheet around the village to prove the bride was a virgin. When night falls, the friends of the groom search for the bride again and bring her back to the groom where she will now make her home. If the sheet is not stained with blood, the groom and his friends take the bride and the sheet back to her parents. The groom has the right to demand his money back and to refuse the marriage. If the groom wishes, he can send his friends to get the bride that night to be brought to his home and allow her to remain as his wife. The male is not required to prove his virginity.

Among other groups of Songhai, pre-marital sexual relations are common. One is expected to be discrete and not bring shame on the family, such as becoming pregnant.

1.15 How are grievances settled within a family? What are the rules concerning mistreatment, separation, divorce, or a mistress?
Grievances are handled for the most part within the extended family, and it is a disgrace for a family problem to be handled outside the family. The father, again, is in control, and his word is the last word. Children are left to settle disputes among themselves. If a problem between adults cannot be worked out between the two adults, an uncle or grandfather who is older than the two can be called in to settle the problem.

There are some insults that will cause instantaneous anger and conflict. One is to insult another person's mother. Another is to have a flip flop slung down before you or hit with it. The ultimate insult is to be compared to a donkey or said to be descended from a donkey.

A wife can leave her husband if he is abusive, but many stay because she fears the consequences of leaving. Many parents will not allow their daughters to return and would force the daughter to go back to her husband. The husband would most likely beat her for leaving, so she chooses to stay. In most cases, the husband is the only one who can get a divorce. The father handles all cases of mistreatment in his family. If the wife is being mistreated, family members may call in the religious teacher, or the wife can return to her family and they will accept her back into their household. To get his wife back, the husband would then have to go to his wife's family or send his friends to ask for her return. The wife can also talk to the parents of her husband. If he is not providing for her and her children, the father will speak to his son to correct the matter. It was stated that if the wife goes to her husband's family three times to ask for help and the husband does not change, she is free to divorce him. It is not considered wrong for the man to beat his wife if she has been disobedient or disrespectful. If the disobedience or disrespect continues, a divorce is almost a certainty. The husband can also talk with the parents of his wife, but the common practice is to punish her himself.

Although in theory, it is bad to have a mistress, but it is an accepted practice. If the wife comes into contact with the mistress, there is trouble. Men are generally careful to keep this from happening.

It is said that it is better for the sanity of the husband to provide separate houses for each wife and her children, and even better if these houses are in different villages.

1.16 What are the child-rearing practices and traditions?
The physical care of the children is delegated entirely to the mother of the family. Older siblings also participate in childcare. The children of each family are very much a part of the larger community, and the parents let very young children leave the compound with the assumption that their neighbors or people in the street will help look after them.

Generally, children are breastfed for about two years or until the next pregnancy. Most communities do not believe in wet nurses should the mother of a breastfeeding infant die, because they believe that breast milk transmits the power to become a witch. Children are carried on the back of the mother or a sibling from one month of age until they can walk.

Community members have the right to discipline others' children, or they can return the child to their parents to be punished. Children are often dealt with harshly, and it is rare to see large amounts of affection bestowed on a child. The father is involved in the education of the child once he begins to learn how to work on the farm or to learn his father's profession. The mother takes full responsibility for the education of the daughters and teaches them to cook, to clean and to take care of younger brothers and sisters. It does not seem that the Songhai place much importance on formal education and the local school systems are very weak. Many children never attend school. The girls begin at a very early age to work, and the boys are left with much more free time to play with friends.

1.17 How do children choose their life vocation, their role in the community?
Girls are expected to become wives and mothers. Boys, for the most part, are expected to follow their father's work. Depending on exposure to the outside world, some parents may allow their child to choose a profession. These parents make an effort to provide adequate education for the child. This is the exception, not the rule. Children or young people who wish to better themselves are allowed to, in most instances, but they do so by their own initiative. The child can gain an education and look for a modern job, but in so doing, they enter a world that their parents cannot understand. If a child is successful in his work, it is expected that he will help to provide for all of his family members. There is little chance for a well-educated person to find gainful employment in Niger. Many government jobs go for months without pay, and there is little successful, private enterprise.

1.18 What are the special days or events for families?
The special days for the family center around the birth of a child and marriages. The naming ceremony of children is very important. Seven days after the birth of a child, the Muslim priest arrives to name the child and pronounce his blessings on the child. The marriage ceremony has been described above. Another special time for the family is the observance of the Muslim holidays. Those mentioned by the majority of respondents include the Feast Day of Ramadan, Tabaski and Molud. During these holidays, the family spends much time together. The family prepares special foods and will most likely purchase new clothing.

Even though all of the above is very financially taxing on the people, the celebration of each holiday is considered obligatory, and the family will go to great lengths to provided the needed items for each celebration. Many families are never out of debt as they continue to borrow and seek credit for each of the celebrations.

1.19 How is the family changing?
The Songhai people have clung to their history, language and culture in a tenacious fashion. It is clear to observers of the culture that some of the Songhai youth are becoming westernized. It is also very clear that the majority of the Songhai people value their culture and have no intention of changing. As in all affairs, the male has been given more freedom to part with tradition while the female has been forced to maintain tradition. Most young men now choose western clothing, while the proper Songhai woman is still expected to wear traditional African dress. Males over the age of 40 are expected to dress in the traditional African clothing, if they wish to be respected.

1.20 How does an individual defend himself or herself within the family?
Respect is always given to age. One can ask for the father to intervene in a situation. Or one may seek an older member of the extended family to act as an intermediary. Violence is common, and both men and women will hit each other. It is against all rules of good conduct to strike one's parent. In the rare case where this has happened, the child is forced from the family and his village. It might be possible to return after several years of separation and seek the pardon of the family, but pardon is not guaranteed. Most respondents had never known anyone who had struck their parent.


2.1 How is the society of a community organized? What are the typical, common homogenous and heterogeneous facets of society?
Although there is an elected government in place, the power and organization of the community is based upon tribal traditions. However, continuing the French colonial organization, Niger is divided into several departments (states) and then each department into many small cantons (counties). Each canton elects its own chief. After his election, he generally, will remain the chief for his lifetime. Upon his death, someone from his family will generally be elected the new chief. If more than one of his brothers or sons desire the position, an election is held in the canton to choose the new chief, who in turn will be chief until his death. Each village that is in the canton will also have its own chief who functions under the chief of the canton. Larger villages can be divided into areas (neighborhoods), with each area having its chief who functions under the chief of the village and chief of the canton. Most village chiefs have helpers who coordinate work such as cleaning the village streets, working in the fields and construction of community buildings. The next group, in order of authority, would be the elders of the village, followed by the fathers of each family. Many times a woman in the village will be given the responsibility of organizing large meals for community gatherings and for keeping the village clean. The religious leaders are responsible for prayers, religious celebrations and the Koranic schools. They are generally not heavily involved in the governing of the community unless the matter is religious, such as divorce.

The men of the community work and communicate together as a group. It is said that when two men eat together, they will build trust and confidence in each other. Men control both the home and the market, though women know how to assert their wishes as well! The women and young children form another group of the community. The women often are involved in group projects and village work. Both the older children and youth have their own groups. The women and men of the community mix only at marriages and baptisms. The women are allowed into village meetings and can ask questions of their leaders.

Songhai communities would also have a sorcerer. It was stated that 99% of the people in the villages would consult the sorcerer for help, but most would not admit to the practice. One stated that God would provide after death, but that the sorcerer was there to help during one's life. Another stated that it was God who had given the power to all sorcerers, charms and other magic practiced, thus validating their use.

In each community there is also a class system in place. There are nobles, direct descendants of Askia Mohammed Touré, commoners, and merchants who are described as "hard, unrelenting, and merciless". They are said to have great economic power, yet lack respect from their fellow Songhai.

2.2 How do different families relate to each other? How do families meet other families in the community? What are the rules of meeting and making friends?
A new person who comes to the village should look for the chief and get his permission to move into the village. The Songhai would not give permission to a Fulani or Bella to live in their village, but they would be allowed to live outside the village if they worked with the animals of the Songhai. Most people are friendly and welcoming to a new person, but it does take time to make friends. In smaller villages, most of the people are related to one another in some way. In this type of village it may be harder for a newcomer to gain acceptance. One starts to make friends by greeting people in the street or finding the place in the village where people gather to talk. Men are friends with men, women with women.

Children and women are not allowed to talk to men unless the man greets them. This is changing with the younger generation and in the larger cities where women are free to talk to men and may become friends. The father of the family may forbid his family members to have friends from families with bad reputations. Many of the men are friends from childhood. The women do not have much time to spend on friendships. They tend to be closer to the women who live in the next house or hut or even with the co-spouses of their husband.

2.3 How is one's place in a village society or a community determined? Is there a caste system or other type of structure within the culture?
A person's place in the village or society is determined by his ancestors' former place. If a person has slaves as ancestors, he would be at the lower end of society. If one's ancestors were chiefs or in other ways important in the village, one would also be important. Respect is given to age and wisdom. One may lose one's place in the village if one is unwise or makes trouble. Placement in Songhai society is also determined by the work that a person and his family do. The older Songhai would never do the work that they consider to be the work of a slave, unless there was not another choice. This would include selling water, cleaning clothes or working with metal. Such men also disdain the tasks of cooking and tending to their children. With the younger generation, such occupational taboos are becoming less important.

2.4 How does society relate to foreigners? Foreigners from another city, another race, another tribe, another country? What are the attitudes and rules of relating?
The white man provokes a mixture of reactions. One person still feared the French because he felt that there was still a possibility that the French would take him or some of his family away from their home and not allow them to return. It seems that the people divide foreigners into two categories: French and other nationalities. The French for the most part are disliked and associated with the colonial era. Other foreigners are seen a source of aid. It is hard for the African to see a white person as a real friend and not a source for meeting every need.

It is very important for the Songhai that one pay frequent visits to their home, especially during celebrations and times of tragedy. They also respect very much someone who will enter into their daily lives, learn their language and culture and display an attitude of acceptance. One should do much listening in the beginning of building relationships; this is considered the wise and respectful thing to do. One might participate in the community planting and harvesting work. Foreigners and strangers (other than a Songhai) who desire to live in the Songhai village are assigned to the 'zongo kwaara', a neighborhood set-aside for the newly arrived person.

It was stated that the Songhai people hold Americans in high esteem. The responders felt that Americans, in general, do not feel that they are better than the African. It was also stated the Americans are fair and honest in their everyday dealings.

As for other Africans, the Songhai people are normally open, curious and hospitable. Once an African from another county has the permission of the chief to stay, other community members seem to be helpful to the newcomer. It was repeated many times that the newcomer must prove himself before real friendship could develop.

At the same time, the Songhai people do bear prejudices against other tribes and cultures, and in general, are a very proud people:

* The Housa are useful for meat butchering.
* The Bella and Fulani are useful for slave labor -- field help and shepherding.
* The Toureg are despised for their pivotal role in the downfall of the Songhai Empire.

2.5 How is real estate handled? What are the rules of ownership, selling and buying?
Much of the land in Niger has been passed down from father to son for many generations. In Niamey and other larger cities, there is a formal process through the mayor's office for purchasing and selling land. When a family plot is being sold, all members of the family must be in agreement. Land can be purchased from an individual or from the government. In many of the smaller villages, land is purchased through the chief. In some cases there is proof of ownership through the local government offices, but much of the land is bought and sold by verbal agreement only. Land is usually passed down to the sons. Women do not usually own land, although there are some more modern women who have begun to purchase land.

2.6 How does an individual become an adult? Are there rules of recognition and rites of passage? At what age or ages do they occur? What are the circumstances of their occurrence?
For the female, adulthood comes with the first menstrual period and later, marriage. Although the ages given for female adulthood ranged from 12 to 20 years, it was always agreed among those interviewed that the female becomes an adult before the male. For the male, adulthood comes with marriage and his ability to support a family. The ages given for male adulthood ranged from 15 to 25 years. Going away to school or finding a job in another country would cause others to consider the male an adult sooner. The eldest son often is considered an adult after the death of his father, even if he is still relatively young.

2.7 What rights do individuals have within a community, within society? What right do families have? What rights do clans have within society? What rights do males have? What rights do females have?
There is much freedom within a village, though all people are subject to the authority of the chief. Within the family, the rights of males are subject to the family as a whole, but especially to the will of one's father, uncles, older brothers and village leaders. Females are subject to their husbands, brothers, elders, etc. Females have few rights, although they can have influence. Men and women in the city have more individual rights than those in the village, especially those on their own. Fathers and brothers can still exert influence in decision making for those in the city on their own; if the father or older brother insists, for example, that a younger brother come home, he must come home.

There is a measure of freedom in the culture, but there is also a place for each person, and he or she is subject to a line of authority. The female always finds herself in a submissive role, although the Songhai woman seems to have a more respected role than that of her Zerma counterpart. The male is required to submit to age and family ties. For persons to find their places in the society, they must follow the traditions of the community and of the family structure.

2.8 How are leaders chosen? Who is eligible? When are they eligible?
In the traditional Songhai society, the leader or chief always comes from the same family of nobles. The nobles are descended from Asika Mohammed Toure (Asika the Great), King of the Songhai Empire during its greatest period from 1493- 1527. The current chief remains in power until his death. When he dies, only members of his extended family can take his place. If more than one family member desires the position, an election is held. The oldest son of the chief is usually favored as his replacement. A newly elected or appointed chief is generally between the ages of 30 and 40 years. To be a chief, one must be male and be married.

For government positions in Niger, by constitutional law, all are eligible and are chosen by vote. Due to the Islamic and cultural influences of the country, it is hard, but not impossible, for a woman to gain an office.

A leader's qualifications include wisdom, age, intelligence and integrity. Generally, traditional chiefs and systems are considered more important by the Songhai than by elected government officials, although some of the youth may respect the elected government over traditional leaders, depending on their education.

2.8.1 Under what conditions and by what rules are traditional leaders chosen?
Traditional leadership comes from the same family and passes from father to oldest son in many cases. Government leaders are chosen by vote for a specific period of time. Sometimes other government leaders appoint them.

2.8.2 How are leaders recognized by society, by the community?
The traditional leader of a village is given much respect. In the more traditional areas, a person must remove his or her shoes in his presence, and it is forbidden to touch him. One must bow when approaching him and never turn one's back. He is usually dressed in a grand boubou, his head covered by a hat or turban. He usually carries a staff or cane of some type. He also has a special chair to sit on or pile of rugs and cushions. It is the customary for his assistants to travel with him. If one wishes to be accepted into a village, he is required to show respect to and earn the endorsement of the chief.

2.8.3 How are leaders changed?
In the area from Niamey to Gotheye, the traditional chief can be removed from his place of authority, but this is very difficult and rare. If a chief becomes to old or sick to carry on his duties, he may then request that one of his family members replace him before his death. The leaders of a village can request the canton chief or the government of Niger to replace a chief if there are many problems with him. Although this action is possible, it is a rare occurrence.

Government changes, both local and national, come from military removal, votes, end of terms or removal by the president or other government official.

2.8.4 What are the rights and responsibilities of leaders?
The leaders are responsible for the well-being of their villagers. They serve as judges during disputes. They attend all district meetings and make sure that their village's needs are represented and met. They preside over grain distributions and other aid activities. They listen to their people and try to understand their needs and desires. They play host to visitors to the village, giving them a place to stay and food to eat. They handle the sale of land, divorce decrees and other legal matters for their people. They are available to give advice in all situations. Leaders bring news from the outside for their people and inform them of the decisions made in the meetings that they attend.

2.8.5 How do leaders lose the right to lead?
Most people responded that a chief only looses his power either by his death or by his choice. There remains the possibility of removing a chief who is dishonest or unfair, but the offenses must be very serious and repeated many times for this drastic measure to occur.

2.8.6 How do individuals relate to their leaders?
The leader of the village is treated with respect. The village chief is available to his people and most are on friendly terms with all that live in the village. The chief of the canton is less accessible. One must have an appointment to speak with him. He is much more formal in his dealings with those who call upon him.

2.8.7 How do leaders relate to other leaders in the culture?
Village chiefs are generally on equal footing with other village chiefs. Most seem to get along well. The canton chief demands respect from the village chiefs. On paper in the country of Niger, the central, elected or military government has more authority than traditional government, but in practice, it is the traditional leaders who make most of the decisions. Great problems and friction occur if the central government tries to enforce an unpopular change or tries to pass a law or decision that is contrary to the wishes of the traditional system.

2.9 What are the basic values within society that give it cohesion and security?
The extended family unit is the most cohesive force of the Songhai culture, rather than the individual or nuclear family unit. Respect is given the aged members of the family. Most family members are willing to join in the care of other family members in need. The values instituted by Islam through the Koran are another binding factor in Songhai society. Most people agree on what is right and what is wrong. They also agree on the punishment necessary for those who break the rules of the Songhai society. People are generally content if their basic daily needs are meet. They have learned, for the most part, to be content with little. There seems to be a true community spirit in each village. The care of children is often a community responsibility, and the joy and sorrow of a member of the village are seen as one's own.

2.10 What are the basic taboos within society?
* The respondents stated that the strongest taboo in Songhai society is lying. It is only the worst kind of person who will tell a lie.
* One must never strike one's mother or father. If this happens, one must leave the village for several years. One may then return to ask for forgiveness. A pardon may be granted, but if the person ever repeats the offense he or she must never return.
* One must never take advantage, in any way, of an old person. To steal from or hurt an elderly person is one of worst offenses one can commit.
* Stealing is not permitted and is punishable by severe beating or sometimes death if the thief is caught.
* One must not use the left hand for eating or for passing things. One must only eat with the right hand.
* Men and women should not show affection in public.
* Sexual matters must not be discussed.
* One should never cause problems in someone else's family.
* The wife may not call her husband by his name. A child should not call his parent by their names.
* One must not talk while eating. Men and women do not eat together. (Some families would allow this if the children were not present).
* One must not tell someone his or her baby is cute, as it is believed to bring evil upon the child.
* In more traditional communities, one must not reveal knees or upper legs.
* One must not look an elder in the eyes, but must cast eyes downward.
* One must not put both hands on one's head or something bad will occur, such as the death of a family member.
* A woman must not sleep on her stomach or she will become sterile.
* One must not walk in front of another who is praying; it is disrespectful.
* One must never wave at a person with open fingers, for this is a curse.
* One must not discipline children if their parents are present.
* One must not harm an animal that belongs to another person.
* One must not play cards for money or otherwise gamble.
* One must not drink alcohol.
* A male must not shake the hand of a married woman.
* A village must not have more than one Friday mosque.

2.11 What are common traditions within society?
The traditions of the society center on the marriage and the naming ceremony (baptism) of the babies of the family. Marriage traditions have been discussed.

A woman will only discuss pregnancy with her husband in an indirect manner. She may tell him she is sick at her stomach, but will not tell him that she is pregnant. She may discuss her pregnancy with her closest friend, but not openly with other women in the village. After the first three months, she will start to go to the doctor and, though others will know she is pregnant, she will not discuss her pregnancy.

With the birth of the first child, a woman will return to her parents' house one month before the birth. She will stay with her parents for two months after the birth. With subsequent births, she will stay at her own home during childbirth. It is customary for a mother or other female family member to come to her house and stay for 40 days to help with the newborn and household work.

It is the responsibility of the father to purchase a 100-kg sack of millet, wood for heating water, 20 or 30 bars of assorted soaps and six meters of material for a new dress for the naming ceremony. The millet is pounded, and spices and sugar are added. The mixture is then boiled in water to a drinking consistency. This beverage is prepared each morning for the mother and her female visitors. The sack of millet is usually enough to make the beverage for about two weeks. It is believed that by drinking this beverage that the milk of the mother is increased and guaranteed. It is also guaranteed to fatten her up, a good thing for the Songhai, as they believe the larger, more obese a woman is, the more beautiful she is. The soap is cut into very small pieces, pounded and mixed with a little water in a bucket to become hard again. For bathing during the months following the birth, this soap is used by the mother and child.

After the birth and before the naming ceremony, the father passes the Muslim priest's house and is given two or three names to choose from. Before the naming ceremony, the father will choose the name, but he will tell no one until the day of the ceremony. Seven days after the birth, very early in the morning, a barber is brought to the home to shave the head of the child. Most informants did not know why the head of the baby was shaved. They knew that it was the tradition and must be followed, but did not know the significance of the practice. One suggested that the baby would have headaches if the head were not shaved. Another respondent said a shaved head was proof that the child was not illegitimate. Another respondent said it helped the baby to be smart. Yet another person said it stated in the Koran that it was a sin not to shave the head of a newborn.

Despite the misunderstanding of the custom, it is widespread. The hair is buried, or it is mixed with millet and a charm is made of it; it is then worn by the infant around his own neck. This charm is to protect the child from evil spirits. Then the Muslim priest reads from the Koran and leads the group gathered at the house in prayer. The priest will then demand the name of the child, and the father will tell all gathered the name he has chosen. The entire group prays again for God to bless the child. This time they use the child's name. The Priest is then given money, dates and cola nuts for payment for his blessings. Following this, breakfast is served to all that have attended the ceremony. Everyone then returns home, returning again at lunch to eat again and to celebrate the naming of the child. The afternoon is passed in drinking tea, talking, playing cards and listening to music. During the day, the mother and the newborn stay inside the hut and do not participate in the events. The female visitors go in the hut to congratulate the mother and to see the child. They also help with the preparation of the meals. The guests leave before supper.

Observance of Muslim religious holidays is also ingrained in the traditions of the Songhai society, as are such animistic practices as possession dances.

2.12 What are the valued arts or art forms in society?
The majority of the people listed water pots and woven mats as being typical decorative items made and appreciated by the Songhai. Drummers, singers, and storytellers hold a special place in the society as they participate in the possession dances and other practices of sorcery. Little time and effort is available for artistic indulgence. Many homes are decorated with purchased items such as brightly colored enamel pots, carved calabashes, wooden spoons, plastic bowls and buckets, or other kinds of household possessions which are also used on a daily basis.

2.13 What are the learning preferences of the people? Are most of the people oral communicators or are they mostly literate communicators?
The vast majority of Songhai people communicate orally, rather than by written words. They learn through listening and discussion, oral instruction, observation and apprentice-like, real life situations. Stories, music and riddles are repeated to convey the wisdom of the culture. If the person living in the country of Niger were educated, it would most likely be by the French school system. Because of the inadequacies of the public school, most literate people read at a very low level, comprehending little.

Most interviewees believed the Songhai language very difficult to read or to write, and indeed, it is not a written language. Colonizing French began trying to write Zarma / Songhai using French spellings and alphabet to approximate word sounds. In the mid-1900's others began to study the Zarma / Songhai, attempting dictionaries and other written materials, including Bible translation. Currently, writers of Songhai materials in Niger follow no specific rules for Songhai grammar or spelling; they use the same guidelines the DAFA employees use for Zarma, which were drawn up in the 1966 Bamako Conference.

2.14 How is communication carried out? With whom? What are the rules?
Communication is, for the most part, oral. The men of the village often meet and share the news in a determined place in the village-- under a certain tree or a hanger in the center of the village. If the news is very important, the men may return to their homes following the meeting, and share the news with all family members. Otherwise, he will share the news only with his wives. They will in turn share the news with their children. Communication most always flows from the male and elders down to the younger members of the home or village. To the western observer, Songhai communication seems indirect, but in actuality, it is much more direct and honest than communication within other related people groups. A messenger is often sent to deliver a message. Body language and gestures are very important elements in communication. Within the past several years, radio and television have become increasingly important means of communication.

2.15 What are the channels for news? Who can bear news? How? When and how is news recognized as official and authentic? Is there a certain place, time or art form whereby truth or authentic and authoritative news is given to the community?
Official government communications in the capital of Niger are carried on radio or television. This communication then spreads into many of the outlying areas of the country. In smaller villages, drummers are still used by the majority of the village chiefs. These men travel through the village while beating their drums. They stop at intervals and deliver the news from the chief. This news from the radio, television and village drummer is considered official, but many times confirmation is requested of a respected person in the village. Gossip is confirmed by a wise and reliable source in the village or by a number of people who will agree the news is the truth.

2.16 How are individuals "educated" concerning rules within the community, society and the culture?
Children are educated about the rules of their society by the family. The mother and father have the primary task of education; they are helped in this task by uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws and grandparents. The teachers of the Koranic schools also help to form the rules of the community and to instruct their pupils. In larger towns, would-be Koranic students, who have been taken from the village setting and entrusted to the care of the Muslim priest by naive parents, are sometimes reduced to homeless children who beg on the streets to support the dishonest cleric.

2.17 How are individuals educated? Is there a formal education system such as schools? Is it for everyone? Is it pervasive? Is it respected? Is it effective?
We encountered many varied opinions on education. Some families make education a high priority for their children and send them to various private schools in Niamey or other large cities. Many of those who live in smaller villages either see no need for education or have become disheartened by the poor public school system. Still others prefer Koranic schools. It seems that again, more emphasis has been placed on the education of young boys. But one also finds young girls with a desire to learn. The educational system of Niger, organized during the colonial period in much the same manner as that of France, at all levels from kindergarten to university, is plagued by lack of funds and by strikes of both teachers and students. In general, a greater majority of people older than 40 cannot read; a greater majority of those younger than 40 can read. Literacy rates vary from village to village.

2.18 Describe the vocational respect ladder within society? What are the levels?
It seems that government workers and farmers have about the same level of respect among the Songhai. When government workers received their salary on a regular basis, they were better respected than at present, now that their salaries are in arrears. A farmer with good crops and lots of animals still receives a great deal of respect in the Songhai culture. Any worker who has a regular salary commands respect. The higher the salary...the greater the respect. For most young women, the highest goal is to be married and to have children. There are many jobs that the Songhai feel are beneath them, but most stated that they would do anything rather than be dishonest or beg. However, for some people begging is a much more respectful career than making fari masa or pushing a water cart.

2.19 Describe how the society looks upon marriage? What are the rules in society concerning courtship, engagement, marriage and divorce?
Most of the ceremony of marriage has been described elsewhere. The Songhai society places great significance upon marriage. A woman that reaches the age of 20 and still is not married is looked down upon. One man stated that if he saw a woman of 20 whom was not married, he knew that there was a problem. Marriage also brings respect and authority to the male. Divorce is a common practice and, in almost all cases, it is the man who initiates the divorce. In many rural areas, he simply throws the woman out of the house and refuses to let her return. In other villages, the chief issues a divorce. In larger cities, one may obtain papers of divorce from the mayor's office.

2.20 What are the rules of dress within society?
In recent years, young, educated Songhai men have made a major change in their dressing habits. Nowadays they wear jeans or dress pants and untucked shirts (called a "thank you"), because they are much cheaper than the traditional African clothing. Even though the change in clothing for men is accepted, the traditional African dress is still preferred by older men and by officials (both traditional and governmental) and commands great respect.

Women have not made a change to western dress for the most part. The most respectful women will cover all but the face and hands. Married women are required to wear a head covering as a sign of respect to their husband. A larger veil is worn on top of this head covering when she leaves the privacy of her home to show her submission to Allah. One can see any fashion in Niamey, but the women who wear short dresses, pants or tight clothing are looked down upon by the vast majority of the Songhai.

2.21 Describe law and order within society? Structure? Processes?
The chief of the village is in charge of maintaining law and order. Most problems will be handled by the families involved or by the chief and his helpers. If the problem cannot be solved, the police may be called. In larger cities, the police are used more frequently. Mob justice is accepted. Thieves are caught and punished by beating. Sometimes they are put to death. There is a formal legal system in place, but many do not trust it and claim that enough money can change any decision. The buddy system is also in place. If one knows someone in the police or a government official, one can get almost anything done. It is widely believed that current day problems are a result of lack of faithfulness to Islamic beliefs.

2.22 Describe medical care within the society? Type? Structure? Practitioners?
From a western viewpoint, medical care is woefully inadequate. The National Hospital of Niamey is a true nightmare and is plagued by lack of medicine, supplies and personnel. Larger villages from Niamey to Tera have small clinics that are staffed by medical personnel with very limited training (usually a state nurse, which is a three year degree after high school, heads up the clinic and certified nurses, similar to an American nurse's aide, will help). These clinics have no running water or electricity. They are responsible for the health care of the town in which they are located and the surrounding populations. Some medicines are dispensed by these clinics; prescriptions are written for the more expensive medicines, if there is a pharmacy in the town or dispensary at the clinic. At these clinics one can receive treatment for illnesses, as well as prenatal check-ups, well baby care, vaccinations, health teachings and demonstrations on a variety of subjects from family planning to water purification. Surgery is only done in Niamey or Tera. Most people are unable to purchase needed medicines, so they take their prescriptions to their white employers or aid projects.

Most Songhai people still use a wide range of traditional medicines. These traditional medical practices are passed down through the females of the family. The grandmother of each family usually has a store of traditional medicines that she will dispense to treat her family.

Animistic doctors (witch doctors) are also still prevalent; cures can be purchased from them, as well as from Muslim priests. These traditional healers practice alongside the clinic nurses, usually without anger or rivalry. Many children die from easily treatable disease symptoms such as diarrhea and dehydration. The importance of primary health care, which includes vaccinations and check-ups, is unknown or not appreciated for many reasons.

Sicknesses are divided into white-man's diseases and others that are spirit-based. Types of illness fluctuate with the season, however, malaria, respiratory infections, amoebic and bacterial dysentery, cholera, meningitis, urinary infections, birthing complication, skin infections, parasitic infections, polio and measles are common. Recent data from WHO reported a decrease in the average life span for a Nigerien from 45 years to 29.1.

Common sources of health problems:

* Lack of money to pay medical bills
* Lack of availability/ accessibility of trained medical personnel and clinics
* Lack of prenatal care
* Improper waste disposal
* Lack of latrine usage
* Hunger and malnutrition
* Low literacy rates (about 10%)
* Harsh climate
* Lack of primary care
* Lack of or poor water sources


3.1 Describe the predominant religious system or systems in society?
The predominant religious system of the society is Muslim. Each person interviewed stated that a great majority of the Songhai were Muslim. It is acknowledged that a few have converted to Catholicism. In actuality, even casual glance at the practiced religion will reveal a mixture of the Muslim faith and a deep involvement in animistic practices.

3.2 Does the religion express belief in a god or gods? Name and describe them. If they have a pluralistic belief in gods, what are the relationships between the gods?
"There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet"; this is the essence of Islamic belief. For the Muslim, this god named Allah can be a severe God, uninvolved in everyday life. Most Songhai people mix animistic belief with traditional Islamic practices. As such, the Songhai fears evil spirits that may control circumstances of daily lives. It was stated that God is in control of one's eternity, but the spirits are in control of one's daily life.

3.3 Chart and describe the people's spirit world (beings, places and status).
Most of the Songhai place great importance upon the spirit world. Most Songhai acknowledge that there are many good and bad spirits. The good spirits bring about a feeling of peace in the house and may be able to protect one from the evil spirits. Most people were able to speak at length about the evil spirits. In his book "In Sorcery's Shadow", Paul Stoller gives a detailed listing of the gods and goddesses, describing their role in the spirit realm and how each interacts with humanity.

Irikoy is the most high god; he is described as removed and usually unconcerned with day-to day-life, though he has the power to do all things if it so pleases him. This is also the word Christians use to name our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as expressed through Jesus Christ.

Satan (Iblisi) is in control of evil spirits.

Thoughts about evil spirits:

The evil spirits can posses people and force them to do evil things.

If a person has only one child, an evil spirit will eat him. If one has many children, the evil spirits will leave them alone.

Animals are very afraid of evil spirits and can sense their presence.

Evil spirits come out at night and do their work in the darkness.

If an evil spirit rests in a tree, the tree will die.

When one is alone in the bush and seen by evil spirits, the spirits will make darkness come all around, preventing the person from being able to see and causing the person to become very scared. After returning home, this person will become very ill.

There are only three people that the evil spirits are afraid of: the religious leader of the mosque, the sorcerer and the person that circumcises the male child.

Dirt and trash being in the home prove the presence of an evil spirit in the house.

Charms, amulets and verses of the Koran can be used to protect one from evil spirits.

If an evil spirit touches a person, it can bring sickness or a brake or wither a limb.

Many said it was impossible to see an evil spirit, but some said one could indeed see them. These evil spirits look like men, but with very evil eyes.

Perfumes and incense will attract spirits.

When sleeping outside at night, one must cover up completely. As evil spirits fly in from the bush, the sand that falls from them can land on a person making one sick or very tired when waking in the morning.

When entering the house after dark, one must open the door and stand aside so that an evil spirit that may be hiding inside can leave without touching the person on the way out.

3.4 Where does the power and authority reside in the religion(s)? What is the source of the authority and the power?
Allah is seen as the ultimate and greatest source of power. Songhai attribute special power to the mosque, the Koran and its written verses, prayer beads, and Islamic religious leaders. Certain villages and specific people hold special powers for Animistic believers, as well as items used in sorcery.

3.5 Do the people believe in miracles and magic? Are the superstitious?
Most of the people believe in supernatural events. Many recounted particular experiences. Most were actions of evil spirits. The Songhai people are very superstitious. Some of the superstitions mentioned were:

When selling things at the market, one must sell to the first person that approaches or one will have a bad day.

If a sick, handicapped or ugly person is seen when on route to do something, one should turn around and go back home. If one chooses continue, the task will be impossible to accomplish.

One should not whistle when entering a home.

Children wear small sacks around their necks with bits of the Koran or other charms to ward off evil spirits.

Some believe that good luck or blessings will come from drinking water that has been poured over the Koran or eating ground up pages of the Koran.

3.6 What part do deceased ancestors play in the religion? Is there interaction between the living and the dead?
From the Islamic point of view, ancestors should not play a part in daily life. Once a person is dead, they do not have interaction with the living. One can pray for the soul of an ancestor, and perhaps he or she will find forgiveness and be allowed into heaven.

From the Animistic point of view, one's ancestors often return in dreams and can also visit a person in bodily form, often during celebrations. Power comes from them.

3.7 What are the primary documents of the religion?
The primary document of the Islamic religion is the Koran. Other books that explain the Koran are also very important, but they are in no way considered equal to the Koran.

For the Animist, there are no written documents, but many things are memorized and passed down. This collection of incantations, praise poems and wisdom is called "sorkos".

3.8 What are the common religious rites and events?
The five pillars of Islam, linking faith and works:
* Shahada -- the profession of faith in God and the apostleship of Mohammed
* Salat -- the ritual prayer, performed five times a day facing Mecca
* Zakat -- almsgiving
* Sawm -- (fasting), abstaining from food and drink during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan
* Hajj -- the pilgrimage to Mecca, incumbent on every believer who is financially and physically able to undertake it.

The important celebrations of the faith include:
* Ramadan -- "The 9th month of the Muslim year, Ramadan is a period during which all the faithful must fast between dawn and dusk. Observance of the fast is one of the five pillars of Islam. Because a lunar calendar is used, Ramadan falls at different times each year. It is sacred as the month in which the Koran was revealed to Mohammed." [Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.]
* Tabaski -- Most Songhai would be hard-pressed to give you the details of Tabaski. They know that they are required to make a blood sacrifice for their sins. After the males of the family have prayed at the mosque, the goat or sheep must have its throat cut and its blood drained. Then, the insides of the animal are examined to see how bad the family has sinned in the past year. The head and entrails are then cooked and eaten while the body of the animal is roasted over an open fire for most of the day. The meat is then shared with family and friends.
* Friday prayer times - Friday is the special day to go to the big mosque in any Songhai town. Men gather to hear the Koran read, prayer together, and discuss politics.
* Thursdays - This is the important day of the week for the Animist because it is believed that the spirits are the closest to the human world on this day. Possession dances are on this day.

3.9 What is their view about the godhead and the position of god?
For a Muslim, there is one god who is all-powerful and who is without equal.

3.10 What are the characteristics of the god within their religion?
God is all-powerful and all knowing. He is the creator of all things and is in control of all things. Nothing happens without his consent. He is seen as the judge who will decide in the end if a person has done enough to enter into His heaven. It was stated that "God is unique, without son or wife or parent, and His prophet is Mohammed".

3.11 What are the basic beliefs? About god? About good and evil? About life? About the source of life and creation? About death? About mankind? About spirits? About wrong, sin and guilt? About eternity? About salvation? About life after death? About sickness? About securing converts or adherents? About deviates from the religion? About women?
God -- See above, called Allah.

Good and evil -- Good comes from God and evil from Satan. One must earn salvation, therefore good works and deeds are very important.

Life -- One's life is important because by doing good works, helping others and following the example of Mohammed, one can earn salvation.

The source of life and creation -- God is the sole source of life and creation.

Death -- Each person has an appointed time to die that is the will of God. There is judgement after death and a heaven and hell.

Mankind -- God is in control of mankind and each person is responsible to God. One must choose to do good and follow the Muslim faith, or do bad and receive punishment.

Spirits -- The majority of Songhai people believes in evil spirits and is very familiar with their effects. Many believe in good spirits, but are uncertain about how these good spirits operate.

Wrong, sin and guilt -- All agreed that there is good and bad conduct of life. One sins by not following the Muslim faith. In practice, it seems that one is only guilty if caught.

Eternity -- There is an eternity controlled by God, who will reward those who were good and punish for those who were bad.

Salvation -- Again, salvation comes from following the five pillars of the Muslim faith. It is based on works. Salvation is guaranteed by building a mosque.

Life after death -- There is most definitely life after death.

Sickness -- Sickness can result from God's will, as a result of contact with an evil spirit, or from a curse by someone who is mad at or who dislikes a person.

Securing converts or adherents -- One may become a Muslim at any time by saying, "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet". It was stated that there is no need for a Christian or Jew to become a Muslim. It is God who has provided different prophets such as Moses, Mohammed and Jesus so that all can find their way to Him.

Deviates from the religion -- Deviates from the religion are considered to be bad. Most considered the extremists of the Islamic faith to be deviants from true Islam.

Women -- Women are not considered to be equals of men. The Muslim faith and many African traditions support this view.

3.12 How does an individual relate to the religion? Is personal choice respected?
It seems that while the individual has a choice in his practice of religion, any choice other than Islam will bring about heavy repercussions from his family and friends. The Islamic faith is very much a part of culture for the Songhai, and to leave it is considered abhorrent behavior.

From the Animistic viewpoint, unless a person's heart is pure, one is always defenseless to spells and deities' wishes.

3.13 How does religion involve society? How does it relate to society? How does society relate to religion? What position does religion have within society?
Society, religion and culture are one in the same for the Songhai. To be Songhai is to be Muslim. If you leave the Muslim faith, one, more than likely, will have trouble with work, housing, marriage, family relations, friends and future acceptance in the community.

3.14 How does religion involve family?
There are very strong family ties amongst the Songhai. The Muslim religion is a major factor in family unity. It does not seem to make much difference if a person practices the religion as long as he professes it. To leave the Muslim faith is to disgrace the family.

3.15 How does religion view foreigners?
All respondents stated that any foreigner who wished to follow the Muslim faith is warmly welcomed. Some stated that other religions were the same, and all were following God. Other respondents stated that all white people were Christians, were lost and did not know God.

3.16 How does religion view other religions?
The response was split. One group believed that any faith other than Islam was wrong and evil. One group stated that as long as one believed in God and did one's best, one would go to heaven, regardless of the choice of faith.

Stoller states that evil can be brought into the village with other religions, especially if that religion prohibits the people from praying together, reciting Mohammed's name, or attending the community prayer time on Fridays.

3.17 Who are the religious leaders? How are they chosen? Under what conditions and by what rules? How are religious leaders recognized and sanctioned?
The Muslim religious leaders in each community are chosen on the basis of education and knowledge of the Koran. They fill various roles as they teach in the Koranic schools; perform blessings at weddings, baptisms and deaths. Most of their blessings require payment. One person is chosen from the communities religious leaders to be the leader in prayer. If the leaders are dishonest or do not carry out their duties, the people can ask the other religious leaders to replace them. Some Muslim priests are trained locally, while others study in other countries.

Stoller explains that for the Animistic sorcerer, family secrets are revealed near the time of death and the chain of power is passed on at this time to a person previously chosen (usually the elder son) and groomed to receive the special powers when he is old enough to prove his worth.

3.18 Does the religion teach and do the believers use charms, amulets and enter into magical rites?
Formally, the Islamic faith forbids the use of charms, amulets and magical rites. However, Animistic roots of Songhai Muslims involve the use of these things. The Koran, or portions of the Koran, may be used to bring good luck. Prayer beads, or the sack they are carried in, may also protect and have power. Parents ward off evil spirits from their children by placing amulets and charms about their waists and necks. Amulets are even seen around animals' necks. In most communities, the practice of black magic is common, and one can purchase spells and incantations for most occasions.

3.19 What is the relationship between the seen world and the unseen world?
Most believe in the unseen world and that the spirits have a pronounced affect on their daily lives. There is also a strong belief that what one does in this life will affect one's situation in the next life. Angels are believed to have the power to travel between worlds. They can curse and bless depending on one's behavior. Spirits can possess people and cause them to do many bad things.

3.20 Is/are the religion(s) animistic or mixed with animism?
Islam, as practiced by the Songhai people, includes animistic beliefs and practices.


4.1 Is society's economic structure agrarian, industrial or mixed?
The great majority of the economy is based upon subsistence farming. Each year, the people battle the hostile climate to produce enough to live on until the harvest of the following year.

For the country of Niger, there was a time when uranium seemed to be a hope, but with the recent fall in the price of uranium, the hope of economic progress has been dashed. There is a small amount of industry from outside sources, but the lack of transport and the red tape of doing business in Niger limits further development. As a result, Niger rests in poverty's death grip.

The height of social and economic activity for the Songhai village is weekly market day.

4.2 What are the primary drivers of the economy? Capitalism, socialism or others? Describe the economy.
The primary driver of the society is survival. The Songhai are satisfied when they are able to meet their basic needs, but still maintain a very strong work ethic based on hard work and respect.

4.3 What are the primary economic and vocational categories and divisions in the economy?
In most of the country, farming and animal husbandry are the only occupations; small gardens and fishing are seen as ways to provide food for the family, rather than a career. In larger towns, one can find government workers, postal workers, water and electric service employees and project workers. Any job with a regular salary is considered a true blessing.

4.4 What are the structural patterns within society?
The structure of the society is mainly based on wealth and family heritage. Those who have money and land dictate to those who do not. The majority of the power in the society rests on the male, traditional and religious leaders of the community. Government officials are feared; people feel there will be punishment for disobedience.

4.5 How are prices determined? What are the major influences on prices?
Most respondents stated that the government and wealthy merchants control prices. Availability of food items fluctuates according to the season and the bounty of the harvest. Inflation of prices is a common practice, and the wealthy are seen as those who had no problem with taking advantage of the poor.

4.6 Who is in control of the flow of money?
Most respondents stated that the governments of Niger and France control the flow of money.

4.7 Who is in control of the financial institutions? Are their private financial processes as strong or influential as the public institutions?
The government of Niger is in control of the financial institutions. Most respondents have a well-earned distrust of financial institutions, stating that one was never guaranteed one's money back once it was placed in a bank. Most stated that they would trust a private institution over one run by the government.

4.8 Describe the traditional classes in the economy?
Niger lacks a substantial middle class. The upper class is a very small part of society. The lower class is by far the largest. Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. There is no formal separation of the classes, although there is a definite pecking order. Differences can readily be seen in material possessions, quality of clothing, employment and housing. All mingle and live in the same areas of town.

4.9 Is a barter culture in existence? Does it predominate? Is it significant?
The barter system does exist in many of the rural areas, but it does not seem to be predominate or significant. Money is preferred for trade.

4.10 How does the economy relate to other countries?
Efforts have been made to establish trade with other countries, but Niger is usually on the buying end of most deals. Exports of some food items, such as onions, are common and various livestock are exported. Again, the lack of and cost of transport, along with the red
tape involved in accomplishing trades, hinder the growth of exports.

4.11 How is social security provided? Within family, social or governmental structure?
The social security system in Niger, as with all other government agencies, is nearly bankrupt and inefficient. Many times, families go for a year without receiving family allotments or retirement benefits. The strong family structure seems to be the most certain means of security as older parents can depend upon their children for their care. One can never refuse to help a family member.


The vast majority of the information in this worldview was as result of interviews compiled by Brad and Sally, Wayne and Gayle with Songhai, March - June 2000. We have continued to update the material and correct it, as needed, as we observe and participate in their daily life. Paul Stoller's many works and impressions of the Songhai people give valuable, detailed insight into their religious practices. All comments or quotes written in italics type have been taken specifically from the book In Sorcery's Shadow, by Paul Stoller and Cheryl Olkes, The University of Chicago Press, 1987. We do not claim to be professional ethnographers, nor anthropologists. This paper is simply a compilation of our observations, what we have read, and what we understand about the Songhai at this time, by the grace of God. We continue to learn much daily.

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