Saturday, July 26, 2014

Musical Instruments in Niger


About six weeks ago John and I went to visit Niamey's music museum.  John has been there several times and has established a relationship with the center's director.  The day that John and I went, John asked if we could take pictures inside the museum without a flash.  Photography is forbidden, according to the sign at the door, but we saw people taking pictures with their phones and they were with a guide who could have said something.  Still, we felt better about specifically asking before taking pictures.  So, yes, I had permission to take these pictures.  :)



It's not a really fancy museum, and some parts of it were outdated.  For example, they had books about music that were really old and records and tapes to listen to.  It all should be digitized. It kind of looked like an idea for a place to do research on music, but the information they had in that room seemed mainly western.  But I liked the structure of the building and the way they put sand on the floors, just like there are in traditional houses.
  They also painted the walls with the designs found on traditional woven blankets as well as hanging some of the blankets themselves.  And I love that they have a mortal and pestle as an instrument.  Many of the women really get a rhythm going with their mortars and they pound with enough force that one can feel the vibration on the ground.


John is doing research on Songhai/Zarma music and its use in worship in churches, so most of the pictures we took are of Songhai/Zarma instruments.  The instruments are arranged by ethnic group.



The gumbe is made from barrels and, as far as I know, is only played at wedding dances, which, incidentally, the bride and groom don't attend.
An animal skin is stretched across the top and a section is cut from the side for greater resonance. 
Moolos....sort of like a three-string guitar, only they are plucked, not strummed.
These drums are called biiti, but I don't remember ever seeing one in Tera.  Maybe they are Zarma but not Songhai?

The dondon is used by the "town criers".  In Tera when we used to hear the beating of the dondon, we knew there was going to be an important announcement.  He would beat the drum, yell, "Everybody's listening, right?" and then proceed to give his announcement.
The gasu is a calabashed, shaped like a bowl.  A shallow hole is dug in the ground and the calabash is placed over it for greater resonance.  It can then be played one of two ways.  When played with rings on the hands it makes a sound like, well, like metal being tapped on wood, kind of like tapping your ring on the table.  But when it is hit with these sticks, it makes more of a clacking sound.  When hit with these sticks, it is always for the music that accompanies a demon possession dance.
The goje is always used in spirit possession ceremonies.  It is a one-stringed violin-sort of instrument and its distinctive sound is often described as a "wail."  Whenever we heard the goje and the gasu, we would know a demon possession ceremony was going on.  It's an eerie sound to me.

At one point I got bored waiting for John while he was talking to the museum guy so I played with my ring in the sand.  My camera is always good for passing the time when I'm bored.


We also discovered that they will make instruments for you (at a price, obviously), so John is thinking of having an instrument made.  There are also musicians there that you can take lessons from to learn to play a traditional instrument.  John wants to take some lessons, too, to learn a new instrument.  Whether or not he would do that at the center, I don't know. These are two of the musicians there who played for us.

They also have a small amphitheater.  If you bring a school or a class for a field trip and let them know ahead of time, they will make sure that there are musicians there to demonstrate various instruments to your group.  I think this would be a great place for a field trip for a music class, Nigerien history class, etc.  As I said, it's very simple and basic, but interesting never-the-less.  If you're interested, John can give you the name and phone number of the man in charge.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Storks Bring More Than Babies

There is a large stork that arrives in Niger, usually sometime in May, before the rainy season really begins.  And what do the storks bring?  Babies?  Nope, they bring rain or at least the promise of rain.

Local farmers have told us that when they see the Abdim's Stork....or waliya in Songhai....that they know it is time to prepare their fields for the rainy season.  

I asked once if people eat the storks and the person looked at me like I'd grown two heads.  The answer was, "No.  They bring the rainy season.  We would never kill something that brings us a blessing."

I love watching them soaring in the sky, riding the heat waves, looking for insects, frogs, and other delectable creatures to eat.

(Sorry, it's kind of blurry!)
 The insect population increases rapidly in the rainy season and the storks are helpful in consuming massive amounts of them.  One thing they especially like are locusts, so they are natural helpers in keeping away one of the farmer's biggest pests.  (Though when there is a locust plague, even the storks can't keep up with the numbers.)

Twice somebody has brought us a young one to show us.  They'll keep them until they're ready to fly.  I suppose these particular ones fell out of the nest or were injured in some way. 
Our guard brought this one into our compound.  I don't think he looks too happy all hunkered
down like that.  
 The Abdim's Stork breeds in West Africa.  When the rains are over and the little ones are big enough to fly, they head east into eastern Africa and eventually make their way as far south as Namibia, Botswana, and even South Africa where they stay throughout our dry season.

If you're interested in reading more here are two links to help you out:
http://seaworld.org/animal-info/animal-bytes/birds/abdims-stork/
http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3831

Monday, July 07, 2014

Rainy Season

Well, it's been awhile since I've written anything on the old blog.  It seems that if I have time to update my blog, the internet doesn't work.  And if I have absolutely no time at all, the internet works great.  So busy and terrible internet = no blog post for a very long time.

It looks like the rainy season may have finally properly arrived.  In May we had some dust storms and a few rains, and one of them gave us quite a few millimeters of rain.  I love a good dust storm, though this year I haven't managed to get any good pictures showing the storm approaching.

The beginning of the rainy season always brings several dust storms.  These storms can turn day to night, drop the temperatures by 20 degrees, and leave your house looking like the Sahara desert swept through it.  They are amazing and beautiful in their own way....especially when they are followed by rain.  Unfortunately sometimes there isn't any rain with them.  The first dust storms of the season are usually the most spectacular and then they lessen in intensity as the rains begin.  From the middle to the end of the rainy season we seldom see dust with the rain.


One of the storms we got recently was extremely windy.  It was pretty scary, in fact!  



The only damage we got at our house was a potted plant blew off the wall.
 Still, those clay pots filled with dirt and a plant are pretty heavy, so that gives you an idea of the force of the wind.  We saw trees and branches down
 and signs blown over.  
The point of the triangle that's almost touching the ground was facing the sky before the storm.
I heard roofs were ripped off and other damage done to houses and buildings.

This week we got a nice rain storm that dumped around two inches of rain.  We slept soundly (or at least I did) to the sound of the rain pounding on the tin roof.  In the morning when I stumbled into the living room in the dark, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I was walking through water.  We have a drainage gutter outside the back of our house that had gotten clogged with leaves.  The water couldn't run off fast enough so it came in our house, under the back door.  

It took John and I about an hour to get it cleaned up.  Thankfully we don't have carpet!  The flood also, ahhhh, cleaned behind and under the fridge for us.  Yuck.
So, Saturday I cleaned up all the leaves on the back terrace.

 I also did our neighbor's side since she's gone and the leaves there were part of the problem.  So, I think we're set now for the rest of the rainy season!


Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain.  If you've read this post all the way through, please remember to pray that we will have enough rain, coming at regular intervals so that the people in this country can have an abundant harvest.