Huqa: 'Formerly we did not have so much hard work to do'
Before, says 36-year-old Huqa, “cattle rearing was a reliable venture”. People did not have to search for water and pasture, and even in times of drought water could be found nearby. “In the past animals didn’t die in the dry seasons. They might become weak but they survived until the rains came.”
He says that agriculture was introduced as the population increased, the rains started to be erratic and the pastoralist way of life became less viable. But farming has led to more problems, reducing the land available for pasture and resulting in serious deforestation.
Huqa takes great delight in family life. After nine years of childless marriage he took a second wife, who bore him a baby boy, and the following year his first wife also gave birth to a boy.”That means I fathered two babies in the space of a year… Is there any pleasure as great as this?”
I was born and brought up in this kebele (smallest unit of local administration). My parents live here in a village called Kolkol. I was raised in a good manner. My parents had sizable numbers of cattle. As a child I looked after cattle. They gave us as much milk and butter as we wanted, unlike now. We used to drink milk to our content.
Formerly we did not have so much hard work to do. Life was easy We did not go anywhere to search for water and pasture… Once we children had taken the cattle to the field we would pass the time playing with other kids.
There was no need to produce crops because cattle-rearing was a reliable venture. … In the past animals didn’t die in the dry seasons. They might become weak but they survived until the rains came…
Agriculture was introduced as the size of the population increased over time. The rains also didn’t come regularly. That posed a problem. The government also started teaching the community about farming. It was during Boru’s gadaa (traditional political and administrative system; one gadaa lasts eight years) that agriculture was introduced to the community. It was more than 30 years ago…
[I grow] barley, wheat, maize and haricot beans… When the rain is good you can produce crops that can sustain you for six months without worrying. You can also keep some amount as seed for the next planting season. You can still sell a portion to buy clothes for children and for school expenses.
When the rain fails there is also crop failure. As not everyone can have equal produce, price rises occur. By contrast, the price of animals decreases. The only option is selling animals at a lower price. The animals are sold to save the lives of children by purchasing grain at a higher cost.
Clashing over grazing
The other problem is inter-clan war… it is due to lack of pasture. When there is rain there is also pasture. But it should be kept for the dry season [and so] it requires us to move to other places. It is during the shift from one place to the other that we clash with the Digodi…
The Boran and the Digodi fight every year over grazing land. Many lives are lost annually due to the conflict. The land is used for agriculture and the cattle cannot get sufficient food. There is a mismatch between the number of cattle and the land available for grazing…We have never seen such severe heat and desertification as this year. The elders tell us that the heat is intensified because of the extreme sin of man.
As there is no option [other than farming] to depend on, the forest is destroyed and the big trees are cleared for agriculture. All these have resulted in the problem we are facing now… After the coming of SOS Sahel to this place…we have learned about the need for environmental protection. As they taught us very well we have become firm about it… Previously it was by order that we were told to plant trees. Now everybody in every kebele is willing to plant a tree.
Anyone who is found cutting down a tree is fined five head of livestock, according to Boran regulations. In the case of a person wanting to make a granary out of wood he should get permission. There is a committee for the protection of trees. He applies to that committee for permission. The committee meets every month to discuss the environment. Even the kids are aware of the importance of trees. They… shout at people they find carrying axes and attempting to cut down trees and they stop them…
[Drought] inflicts lots of harm. It is difficult to say what it has not brought upon us. Recently an old lady passed away in my kebele. We could not find water to wash her corpse. We kept the dead body for two days, hoping we could get water. Unfortunately we could not. So we buried the body unwashed.
Everybody, particularly women, has to leave in search of water. Any individual who is above 10 years leaves in the morning at 10:00 and comes back at 2:00 in the afternoon. It is very far from here. There is no water in this kebele. Neither stream nor pond water is available. We have to go far… You might have seen [the place] on your way here. It is from a place called Filo that they fetch the water.
There is no great effort as such on the part of the government [to alleviate drought]. But the other day they brought a driller and tried to dig the ground to bring out water. However, they said a big rock in the ground prevented them from continuing and even broke the machine. Nobody has tried to dig the ground again…
Siminto, our kebele, used to be relatively better known for agriculture than the neighbouring kebeles. Now we are abandoning the place because of lack of water. Many people and animals die from lack of water every year. Moreover, our huts are made of wood and grass. In the extreme dry season the huts burn down. Three years ago a house caught fire and three calves, five goats and a child died in the house in that accident.
Battered by wind
The barren land that you see around was previously covered by grasses. There were also big trees. Now it is all empty. That is the reason for whirlwinds. The same is true for the severe heat. If there were trees here like before there would not be strong wind or heat, because the trees protect you from both.
If this wind continues for two weeks I bet you will not find any animal alive. If the wind hits the weakened animals that are already hurt by the drought, it will kill them immediately. The wind weakens not only animals but also humans…
After marriage, my first wife and I had no child for nine whole years. For a Boran man it is more than any other joy to have a baby boy in life because children traditionally are great assets. Being desperate that my first wife was unable to give me a child I married a second wife and she gave me a baby boy after a year.
Surprisingly enough, my first wife, who had been unable to give me a child for nine years, also gave me a baby boy a year after the second wife. That means I fathered two babies in the space of a year. I was extremely delighted with that occurrence. To express my pleasure I slaughtered two bulls and had a festive celebration with my villagers. It was a big gift for me. Is there any pleasure as great as this?
This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.