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Older male narrators were usually herd-boys in their childhood. Mekki, like most narrators, says his family had “a great quantity of cattle” in the past; El Nour owned 300 head of cattle. Cattle wealth was closely linked to social occasions – for example, Mekki says his family would honour guests by slaughtering a cow.

However, most people lost all or nearly all their cattle during the 1984/5 drought. El Emam says the majority now just have one or two goats. Their loss has more than economic significance: “Now I have nothing. This is a fact, and I feel shame to say it,” says El Nour.

Most of the cattle in the village today are owned by cattle merchants, and the villagers now work for them as herders, or for livestock merchants and exporters in the towns. Naema explains that those who still have a few cattle have to buy feed from the market. Local fodder is scarce, the grasses having dried out or been covered by sand.

All say that the drastic reduction of milk products and meat in their diets has had an adverse effect on their health.


Pastoralism is a key theme of the Desert voices: Sudan oral testimony project.


El Emam: no man remains

El Nour: inside my heart

Fatima: women are exhausted

Ismail: broader horizons

Madinah: progress is possible

Mekki: migration for survival

Naema: nothing the same

Osman: make land productive

Sayda: women’s lives

Widad: restoring the village

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Social change




Natural resources



Food security

Mutual support

Looking ahead