Nomadic family in Sahara desert

Only the Nomads Know the others not; the Animals are not a Personal Property but Gift of God

Michael Asher FRSL (born 1953) is an author, historian, deep ecologist and desert explorer who has covered more than 30,000 miles on foot and camel. He spent three years living with a traditional nomadic tribe in Sudan

Michael is my friend on Facebook and I’m keenly following his journies and the diaries he shares on his page. Here is the story of his connection with the nomads and the point of view of the nomads about their animals. It is very interesting and touching story. I share here in the ensuing lines.

The Secret

There had been a severe drought that year, and many nomads had lost animals. On the way back from the north, Rafig and I came across a tent pitched in a wadi, belonging to the family of a nomad called Saleem. He was a wiry, friendly-looking man who welcomed us to the camp, brought us kisri, dried dates and sweet tea, and only casually dropped into the conversation that all his camels and sheep had died of starvation. ‘We have nothing left’, he said. ‘Not even a camel to move our things to the camp of my brother-in-law, Musallim.’

Camels with light luggage walking towards the destination in the desert

Rafig hesitated a moment, then said, ‘use our camels, Saleem. We aren’t carrying much, and we like walking.’He caught my eye: all I could do was nod.

Saleem’s family, including the small children, was up before dawn, rolling up the tent, packing household goods, loading them on our camels until they were well and truly burdened. As the sun rose in a scintillating star-shape, we were already on our way, climbing up the banks of the wadi into open desert.

Animals are not Belong us but in our Safe Keeping

At mid-morning I walked along with Saleem. For a man who had just lost everything, he seemed very cheerful. ‘It’s in the hands of God,’ he told me. ‘Camels are the Gift of God and what God gives he can take away. The animals do not belong to us, they are only in our safe-keeping.’

Later when Rafig and I were walking together I asked him about this. ‘Saleem has lost all his animals,’ he explained, ‘but he has not lost his name, because his name does not depend on owning animals. A man’s name – or a woman’s – depends on human-ness, that is, being brave and resilient, treating others with kindness and generosity, and keeping faith with the family. If a person has these qualities, they can endure misfortune.’

Saleem told me that his wife’s brother would give him a camel when they reached his camp, and would make sure they always had milk and food. ‘I will herd his camels along with his sons,’ he added, ‘and he will give me a she-camel every season – more than one if the grazing is abundant. Those she-camels will give birth, and, if God wills, the foals will be many. Soon we will have enough animals to support the family.’

The Nomads’ tent in the desert

His brother-in-law would do this, I understood, not because he expected Saleem to pay him back personally, but because, if he himself were ever in need, he would be treated in the same way by the community. I realized that Rafig had offered our camels in this spirit, not for reward, but because the time might come when we were in Saleem’s position.

It took two days to reach Musallim’s camp – a camel’s hair tent and some brushwood shelters in a grove of sallam trees. His family welcomed everyone as honoured guests, and brought us fresh camel’s milk and kisri.

The Lesson

This experience taught me a profound lesson. The nomads understood that humans do not control nature, and that wealth is ephemeral – something our society has forgotten. For them, true wealth and security lay in personal relations, defined not by competition, but by ‘muhanni’ – mutual-aid, good will, kindness and generosity. The ‘secret’ of their survival – and well being – in the desert, for generations, was not conquest of the landbase, but their trust in and love for nature, including other human beings.

2 thoughts on “Only the Nomads Know the others not; the Animals are not a Personal Property but Gift of God”

  1. Thank you, Dr Raziq for this poignant and moving story. If you remember, I wrote in my original post about the camel, how there is a Beduin tribe in north Mali whose elder greets a passing traveler with a greeting: ‘Welcome, my friend, a stranger.’
    The post about the camel milk, I wrote for you still has the biggest readership of all, hundreds of people read it, and every day there will be someone, somewhere reading it. I am now writing about India, the post will be published in 3 weeks time, and I think, it will knock the camel milk post from its elevated position, it will be that good, even if I say so myself.
    Kind regards,

    1. You are welcome. Yes the nomads are the generous people on the planet and the true custodian of the nature. I love them very much. My own roots are coming from the Afghan Kuchis.
      Yes, I know about your great article on camels, it milk and other attributes. I really appreciate your work. I read the article more than one time. It is really great piece for readership.
      I follow your articles and enjoy reading.
      Thanks once again.
      Dr. Raziq

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