Water and Culture
by Kim Arth, Balleyara, Niger
As I write this, the desert winds of the Sahel are blowing fiercely and the sun is blazing, even though it is December. Everything is parched and barren; even my fingers have become dry and cracked. You may ask, What revolves around water in this culture?
The better question is, What doesn't?
In Niger, water is deeply valued. For example, Nigeriens who are practicing Muslims pray five times a day. Before each prayer, a Muslim washes his or her feet, hands, and face. When traveling, a taxi will stop at prayer times. Muslims will file out of the taxi, wash themselves on the side of road (they always carry a teapot full of water for this purpose), and then pray.
Nigeriens bathe newborn babies with a special tea of water and leaves for seven successive days. On the final day, the child is baptized. Although this is a religious tradition, it has practical roots as well. The water is boiled before it cools, providing a sterile wash for the newborn.
In my village, Hayni Simoru, when a person is possessed with a spirit, an elder will rid that person of the spirit by forcing him or her to drink water. Water thus cleanses the body inside and out.
One week ago, the Muslims in my village began Ramadan, a monthlong fast in which they do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. Some are so dedicated to the "suffering" that they will try not to swallow their own saliva—they spit it out throughout the day. During Ramadan, one learns to appreciate water even more. Without it, one suffers greatly.
by David McNally, Takoro, Niger
Water plays a key role in the daily rituals of Nigerian Muslims. One of the five pillars of Islam is the observance of the five prayers throughout the day. Prior to each prayer, the Muslim is required to ceremonially wash his mouth, hands, nose, head, ears, and feet. This is called the ablutions. Water represents purity and, as such, renders one fit for personal communion with Allah.
by Paul Booth, Dosso, Niger
As part of the baptismal ritual, a newborn baby's head is washed seven times with water and then shaved. This symbolizes the beginning of the baby's Muslim life.