Boukari smiled shyly and dropped his head slightly. We’d been down in Ouagadougou for a week, the capital city of Burkina Faso, and arrived back to hear this news.
Boukari is a believing Fulani from a village 20km east of the town of Djibo in Northern Burkina Faso. Most Sundays he faithfully peddles his bicycle to the Djibo church and home again. He is illiterate despite several efforts to learn to read and write. His identity card cites his occupation as cultivator. He works hard and tries his best to grow enough millet grain each wet season to survive the year. He came to our church via the local AOG church and had approached the pastor to try and find him a wife, as often happens here. Part of a pastor’s job description is to be a marriage-broker – particularly in the case of converts from Islam. New converts fall out of favour with their families, so the pastor steps in to the role of ‘older family member’ and helps to arrange a spouse.
Boukari’s case was not an easy one. He was an older man and very poor. One day in church he had requested prayer for the return of his one and only sheep. Boukari is a Fulani. In this part of the world, marriage most often follows along tribal lines and most of the AOG church are from the dominant Mossi tribe.
The AOG pastor suggested Boukari start attending our little Fulani fellowship to help him in his endeavours. We have a good relationship with the AOG church despite the cultural and social differences. Once a month our church numbering around 20 joins in worship with the AOG congregation about 10 times bigger. But size is not the only difference. Their 3 hour service is longer and louder that ours. They also like to dance and have instruments in their worship, whereas traditional Fulani think dancing and instruments are unbecoming for religious purposes. But despite these social and cultural differences, we feel it is important to model cross-tribal Christian unity.
I’ve visited Boukari’s grass hut in the bush several times. The last time I had my pastor and his son from New Zealand with me. Boukari put on a marvelous lunch in their honour. After a couple of hours of tea drinking we were ushered into his grass hut and presented with millet porridge with the accompanying green baobab sauce followed by the delicacy of cooked chicken. We’d noticed the chicken hadn’t been easy to catch. In un-Fulani fashion we chatted as we ate. Fulani people think eating is embarrassing so prefer to eat in silence.
Boukari lifted his head in answer to my opening question:
“Mi yeggiti.” I forget.
My mouth fell open. Still, after over 3 years of living here the Fulani continue to surprise me. How can someone forget the name of his wife! I knew enough not to pursue the matter further at that time and as we often do in cases of cultural confusion we asked our next door neighbour and co- believer, Haoua. Haoua is invaluable to us. Amongst other things she helps us with our cultural bloopers as well as running the milk-powder project for malnourished kids. She can also cook a mean fish-pie. Haoua’s response was that Boukari was either telling the truth and really had forgotten her name or perhaps had never known it , or, like many Fulani, found the whole discussion about marriage too embarrassing to pursue.
But the saddest fact was that Boukari never found a Christian Fulani woman to share his simple grass hut. His wife is Muslim and if she ever converts to Christianity, Boukari runs the risk that her family will take her back and he will never see her again, This has been known to happen with other believers.
So Boukari, for us, is representative of much of the work amongst the Fulani. The ups, the downs and the mystery of what is really going on in the heads of this fascinating people and needy people.
For more info on the Djibo area and the Fulani people , see voice in the desert by co-worker Steve Davies.
By Carl and Sharlene Pilkington