Loko: 'All the cattle are grazing the same land'
Loko is 50 years old and has 12 children and 23 grandchildren. Two of her children are still at school, and she says that she would have given them all an education if”it had been [available] as it is today”. She says that her community prefers male children because during times of conflict they can fight. “If you have a son…no one can steal your cattle and property.”
In order to make a living, Loko raises cattle, farms and sells items such as tea and sugar, which she buys in bulk on her visits to town. She says that her community only recently took up farming – from”necessity” – when the productivity of livestock began to fall because of drought and constraints on seasonal migration, bringing conflict with other clans.
Loko believes that events lie in the hands of God and, above all, she prays for peace. “It is God who provides, who denies, who fattens… and who determines everything…”
All the residents of the Siminto area are [like] my family… I was married when I was 15 years old. I have 12 children…two [are in school]. [Otherwise] my sons and daughters are married… I have 23 grandchildren…not many.
Former times were times of ignorance. Then we didn’t know anything. That is why we married the children off. We would have sent them to school if it had been [available] as it is today…
“It is necessity that taught us farming”
We have a farm and cattle. There was no farming [before]. We ate butter and drank milk. It was only when we went to market that we saw maize farms. As there is neither milk nor butter now, we adopted cultivation as a means of living. [We harvest] maize and beans, but maize doesn’t grow well – only once in every two years… It is necessity that taught us farming.
There has been no rain for 16 years… There was ample rainfall [before], but now there is none… When I was living with my parents, it was a time of abundance and surfeit. The hagaya (short rainy season, October-November) came after the continuous high rainfall of ganna (major rainy season, March-May)…
[Now] many cattle die during bonna (main dry season, December/January-March) and only a few that are saved by chance will make it through to ganna … Until last year, many animals died. [But our animals’ health] has been fine since last year. Now our cattle have good bodies and are fat…
“Now there is no grass”
Before I married, the grass was so tall that it could hide people. No person or vehicle could be seen if they were in the grass. If it was [still like that] today, you couldn’t have travelled here in that car.
There are two reasons [for the change]. Firstly, the grassland was turned into farmland. Secondly, we no longer migrate to other places [outside Borena] to look for grass with our cattle. The number of people and cattle is shooting up. All the cattle are grazing the same land. The cattle are grazing here all seasons of the year.
Now we can get water but there is no grass. Water can be fetched at a place called Aro – that is the closest… We leave with our cattle to look for grass. It is very far away… There are many problems, for example the Digodi and [other] non-Boran attack us. They don’t allow us to go to many areas. Our children face problems. Many of our calves will die from thirst and the long travelling times…
“We need to escape drought”
This rain has arrived just recently. It is just four days since we started to see rainfall… The cattle will graze, and drink the water – then it will be gone… And no grass has grown here [of the kind] that is really needed for cattle [uprooting shoots from the ground with her hands]. Can you see any that would make animals fat and bear calves? No – we are saying that this grass is nothing.
As usual we need to escape the drought. Even if there is conflict ahead of us [we will go]. If there is grain in the gotera (grain store), I will leave a boy and an older man to look after it… [My children] don’t migrate with me – I go with my grandchildren…
“Poverty makes you clever”
In my early years, before I married and came to Siminto, Somalis from Digodi land robbed me of all that I had. Because of that, I became poor. Poverty makes you clever, so I started to keep bees. As I benefited from this, I continued the work. It enabled me to raise my children – it is God who gives and raises children.
In addition to producing honey, I buy tobacco, tea, and sugar from town and sell them here. I have become familiar with business. I purchase items in kilograms from Negele town, and sell the items here.
We see [the big trees] as providing shade. We respect them a lot… Far from cutting them down, we are planting more… We see it as an element of development… I planted a tree called a dembi in 1997, and now I have hung 12 bee hives on it for honey.
“If you have a son”
It is a great happiness to have a son in Borena because what you want is a man, so when there is conflict they can fight to win against the other side and save your life. The other point is there is something called dhalla when you live in Borena [whereby a widow is married to her brother-in-law]. If one doesn’t have a son, [the family’s] cattle and property will simply be robbed by anyone. But if you have a son, people say no-one can steal your cattle and property.
Of course, not all men are equal. One is brave; another is a coward. However, even if a male is not brave, we prefer him… Actually, human beings are equal; we do also feel happiness when we have a baby girl.
“What I want is peace”
When I remember the previous times, the quantity of milk, the meat and butter that I ate, I feel crazy. But there is a proverb that goes: “the best happiness is the last that you experienced” Therefore, these times are also good…
What I hate is hunger and poverty. But I don’t feel sorrow now. What I want is peace; we need the conflict stopped. If it is stopped, and there is peace, you can wake up in the morning and eat and enjoy life with your children. I pray to God to stop the conflict and make us live peacefully…
There was no conflict when I was a child. It has happened as I have got older, married and had children. I don’t know [the reason]. But it is said that sleep precedes snoring – there are steps and a process for everything…
When we gather together to drink coffee, we pray for love, peace and rain… It is God who provides, who denies, who fattens, who makes one skinny and who determines everything.
[She sings a song she sang as a child, when she looked after cattle]
Beautiful cattle of mine,
I drink your milk full-mouthed.
Beautiful cattle of mine,
That my children love your milk
Makes the milker happy.
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.