West African Cattle School

My wife Lynn took this picture over my shoulder from the back of my motorcycle with her Ipod. We were coming back from the village after a long hard days work…


I learned my lesson from a Fulani Cow….

munyal deefan hayre” – patience can cook a stone. (Fulani Proverb)

The Fulani are cattle herders, and as the dry season arrives in the Sahel of Northern Mali, the herders take their herds on a slow southward journey that lasts  six to eight months, seeking the grass necessary to free range their beef. This foot journey takes them as far as 1500 km from home. Of course, we see the Fulani with their herds all over southeastern Mali. However, when I lived in Ivory Coast, the Fulani herds were that far south in large numbers. There was rarely a day you would not see dozens of them with their herds.

 “If the cattle die, the Fulani die.” Fulani Proverb on the value of cattle

They carry a stick, a very small sack of supplies (I mean about the size of a basket ball), and number two to four people, mostly young men and boys. They live in the bush, simply, like hobos. It is the young Fulani boy’s life, and a rite of passage. Their one job is to lead those cattle to southward grasses, water, to keep them alive. Their whole families existence depends on it.

Anyway, I was out in the Malian bush, and as is often so on bush roads, I ran into a herd of cattle walking down my path. I have never had any fear of the herds, slowly driving through them on the motorcycle. The herder raises his stick in the air and makes arm gestures upward with  both arms, to instruct the cattle to move to one side of the road.

On this day, I was driving through the herd with Salifu on back of my Motorcycle, and I began to slowly weave my way through the middle of the herd, like we always do, like I had done a thousand times before.

However, once in the middle of the herd one bull with big horns, just inches from us as we crammed through, decided to try and turn and make an attempt at goring us. He hit Salifu with the side of his horn, and he struck my hand and handle bars several times…. the only thing that saved us was the herd was packed so tight he could not get turned sideways enough to get a front-on run at us. He kept trying to gore us by twisting and throwing his head sideways at us.

This had never happened before. It was an eye opener…. these are “Wild” domesticated animal… They live free range in the bush, and really have little contact with humans except for a few herders. It scared me; it could have been a messy situation 80 km in the middle of nowhere, on the road to some village that is not even on a map.  From this day forward, I give the cattle a wider berth, waiting if necessary.

I shared this story with someone in Sikasso, and he said he had two cars gored by cattle over the years, causing some serious damage…. He instructed me to NEVER trust those animals, especially on a motorcycle where you have little protection.

I have lived and worked in French West Africa many years, and every day I learn a new lesson about living here.  I’m glad the folks back home did not have to read the story of how I died at the horns of a Fulani cattle herd.

Well at least not yet.

I will continue giving them a wide berth…..

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