STARRED REVIEW
August 04, 2015

A journey through an ancient lineage

By Anna Badkhen
Review by
Descendants of the biblical farmer Cain can see the world through the shepherd’s eyes of his brother Abel in this memorable journey with today’s Abels, the Fulani nomads of Mali. Modern times encroach upon the ancient paths of their seasonal pilgrimages: New generations trade their Zebu cows and goats for the settled life, cellphones and urban good times. Overhead, warplanes commandeer the skies, working the ever-changing frontlines of terrorism in West Africa. Borders and rules—and risks—adjust with regimes. Climate change distorts the seasons, pummeling these travelers with untimely droughts and ravaging storms.
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Descendants of the biblical farmer Cain can see the world through the shepherd’s eyes of his brother Abel in this memorable journey with today’s Abels, the Fulani nomads of Mali. Modern times encroach upon the ancient paths of their seasonal pilgrimages: New generations trade their Zebu cows and goats for the settled life, cellphones and urban good times. Overhead, warplanes commandeer the skies, working the ever-changing frontlines of terrorism in West Africa. Borders and rules—and risks—adjust with regimes. Climate change distorts the seasons, pummeling these travelers with untimely droughts and ravaging storms.

Yet the estimated 20 million Fulani, the largest nomadic group in the world today, continue their migrations. Following one family’s transhumance through dry and rainy seasons, across desert, river and the timeless, arid lands of the sahel, Anna Badhken shows their resistance to all modern measures of time and context. Living only in the thatched huts they carry with them, sleeping under the sky, they move on. And on.

They carry family ties and a sense of home with them wherever they are, moving forward to the next good thing: food and drink for their cattle, and hence for themselves. They live in the here and now in ways the modern world has lost even the memory of, and their story, told with deftly measured, evocative prose and poetically precise detail, slows the reader down to consider just what that means.

Allowed to embed herself with one Fulani family, the experienced war correspondent Badkhen infuses her story with the kind of authenticity only a fellow traveler can know. A lifelong wanderer herself, she says, “The truest way to tell such stories, I find, is to live inside of them. To write about the nomads, I walked alongside.” And so, thanks to her, do we.

 

Priscilla Kipp is a writer in Townsend, Massachusetts.

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Walking with Abel

Walking with Abel

By Anna Badkhen
Riverhead
ISBN 9781594632488

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