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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Nausch

Before you mess up with the Gods, it is better to change the religion

The traditional Mossi people living in rural areas practice self-sufficiency agriculture. They basically do everything themselves – using their hands or animals to work the land instead of machines – and (re)use all of what they harvest and produce, by sharing and selling on the community market all things the family cannot consume.

“(...) it would not be good for the family if they had more land than they can handle”

There are several smaller fields and hence no mass production. I asked how much land the family owns, how the property is distributed. Hamado is not sure though about the exact number of hectares of the whole land of Margo’s family – but there is a basic rule: The size of the land is related to the size of the family. “Since we work without machines, it would not be good for the family if they had more land than they can handle”, says Hamado, while we sit underneath the shea tree in front of the living space. The place where family members gather sporadically to sit and chat, to dress the hair or even repair a car, as ours which broke down after we had struggled passing a lake-like stretch after rain on the path leading to the house. Stretches of the path become utterly muddy after rain fall and don’t allow vehicles to pass. Most of the villagers still ride scooters or bicycles, however, as eventually the number of vehicles may rise, it will become a more serious issue.

For most people whose life depends on good crops, the rain is a blessing, though. Agricultural work in Burkina Faso is only possible during the rain season from May until October, as the land throughout the rest of the year is utterly dry.

Dry season

Agricultural or green season in contrast to the dry season

The existence of the traditional Mossi people depends highly on the ‛right’ weather and on their effort and sweat. There’s a rain ritual for which the chef de la terre is the responsible. It is performed in dry times of heat as to call the rain. Rituals like this one are an essential part of the belief system of indigenous people – which is also known as Animism – and include the sacrificial offering to the Rain God by the community members. One sheep or several chickens and parts of the crop are offered in a ceremony, led by the chief, involving chanting and dance. “No one dares to seed anything before this ceremony”, Vivianne, a family friend, tells me.

“If he had made a mistake with the rituals, he would have made the Gods angry”

“To do everything correctly with the rituals is a great responsibility, as the life of many depends on them”, she explains further. And there were many members in the family, since her dad had three women and with each one around six to seven children. There are plenty of rituals for basically everything, from the new born baby to life as a couple life or even health issues. “When the time had come and Hamado, my older brother – his first son – should become the responsible for the land, my dad did not want to load this much of responsibility onto his shoulders.” Hamado has studied and has worked since then outside the plantations in the local clinic nearby. Hence, he, as the oldest son, would not be able to attend all ceremonies when needed – and if the rituals couldn’t be performed properly, the Gods would get angry and the family would suffer from the consequences”, conveys Margo while we are working in the peanut plantation. “That’s why my father and with him the whole family converted to Christianity. However, we continue participating in the sacred rain ritual together with all other villagers.”

The other day, when I was weeding on the corn plantation together with the others, we could see a huge black blanket moving closer fast, covering the sky. “Saara, ... saara...” – this Moré word is dominating the conversations of the family members now, and, pointing into the sky they are making me understand that “rain” is coming and we should stop work.

“There’s no point on us following any weather forecast. The rain comes when it comes.”

Mossi people living a traditional life are experts in reading the clouds, feeling the meaning of the winds and smelling the earthy scent to soon forecast weather changes for their plantations. “There’s no point on us following any weather forecast. The rain comes when it comes – we pray and trust it comes, and act on what we can in the given moment”, says Mama, Margo’s sister-in-law while she carries clothes inside. “It will mean bad luck if we want to interfere with the rain God too much.”

Mama has lived in Ouagadougou before her marriage. She is a quite strong, open-minded and humorous person who also relies on earthly means to improve the situation of the farmers, being part of the farmers’ aid project Journée Nationale du Paysan, reporting the farmers’ needs to the government and asking for an improvement of their situation. “For the coming year, we will demand more support with fertilizers”, she tells me. “Farmers don’t have the financial means or their own fertilizer available in time. We need some support from the government.”

We manage to reach the dwelling before the rain. Everybody is tidying, carrying things inside – each one seems to know what they have to do without speaking one single word. An incarnated routine. I find myself picking up several gourds from the ground and store them inside. Then the first drops begin to fall, quickly gaining pace. Before it begins raining in buckets, Gerard, Hamado’s oldest sun, is checking the animals, guiding them to their shelter. Most of them are safe, except for three small chicks, which we would find later in the evening when we needed to hold them near the fire to warm them, the smallest and weakest one of them dying in my hands…

All of a sudden, I feel a hand on my shoulder.“We don’t take photos of the rain (...).”

I find myself looking up and watching the sky in awe. The land is flat and the 360-degree view stretches out long,enabling me to see the clouds move and the wind making the branches of the trees dance. I can feel the wind speaking, I can feel the meaning of Mama’s words about trust in the rain. ‛Christianity makes the daily Iife of the family more practical, but in their hearts it seems that they continue to see the soul of everything’ I catch myself pondering, feeling humbled by Nature’s play, looking forward to retreat into our small hut, lying down on the mattress and listening to the music of thunders and to the sound of Sara hammering onto the ribbed roof. ‛This is a precious moment ’ I think, and hold my camera into the air to catch a little bit of its beauty. All of a sudden, I feel a hand on my shoulder. “We don’t take photos of the rain or try to hold it. We may chase it away doing so”, teaches me another family member. Ooops! I drop my camera immediately and walk into our little house, feeling a little ashamed for not having guessed this by myself. ‛This is the same teaching as you find in any yoga or zen text: Be present, accept what it is without holding on to or being attached to it, enjoy the moment, be grateful and let go again’ this is my reflection when laying down on the mattress.

The next day, I stumble upon a photo of the thick grey clouds above the green corn field in my friend’s phone. I smile, feeling relieved. Yet, I won’t forget my lesson to learn more to let go.

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