Baggara - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Baggara are cattle pastoralists. Herds are comprised primarily of cattle, although Baggara also herd sheep and goats. Camels are kept for riding and as pack animals, and oxen are also specially trained for riding and carrying loads. Many households also have donkeys. Most pastoral Baggara have fields of sorghum in their dar, which they plant at the beginning of the rainy season, before leaving on their annual trek. Some households also plant sesame and beans. Usually crops are left unattended; therefore yields are low. Few households grow sufficient grain to provision them for the entire year. Baggara women milk the cows, allocating appropriate quantities for household use and for sale. Women earn considerable amounts by selling raw milk to seasonal cheese factories during the rainy season, when yields are higher. Women also sell processed milk in the form of a sort of liquid yogurt and clarified butter. In the dry season, they sell small quantities of milk door-to-door in the towns near their camps. The Baggara seem to be unusual in the sense that women not only provide productive labor but also maintain control of their efforts, keeping any cash income they earn to be used for household expenses or goods for themselves. Men sell small numbers of cattle for such expenses as buying sorghum or paying school fees. Small stock are also sold. Hawazma Baggara have significant links between the men's and the women's productive activities, as well as between pastoral and agricultural households. Baggara men frequently have more than one wife—one may reside in a pastoral camp and another in an agricultural village or a town, for example. Some products and labor are exchanged between the two types of households. Because men and women have autonomous cash resources and Baggara women earn substantial amounts, Baggara men may go away for international wage labor for one or two years at a time. Women largely manage to support their households; accordingly, men save their earnings to purchase more cattle upon their return.

Industrial Arts. Women make mats (which are used both for house coverings and for seating), gourd containers, and a variety of leather goods (including containers and bags). Men make cots and a variety of equipment that is used in animal husbandry, including hobbles, chicken coops, and braidedgrass bull saddles. Pottery, metal items, and clothing are purchased.

Trade. Some Baggara men are experts in marketing animals, both large and small stock. These men may act for themselves and also as agents for their relatives. Baggara women frequently sell milk products in the "women's market." They may also sell chickens and, occasionally, the goats that they own. Men do all the trading in larger animals in a separate market. Once in a while, Baggara have enough sesame or sesame cake (used as a supplementary animal feed) to sell, but they also purchase these items. Baggara men frequently purchase veterinary medicines and either administer them themselves or hire veterinarians to do so.

Division of Labor. Men's and women's roles are generally strictly separated. Women do the household work and the work associated with milking, including churning and marketing. Men may assist with milking, but they turn over all of the milk to the women. Women fetch water, sometimes walking for forty-five minutes in each direction to carry four gallons. Men have primary care of herds: management, herding, marketing, and health care. Men plant, tend, and harvest whatever crops are grown. Women may help with threshing, but usually they go to the distant fields only to cook for their menfolk during the harvest. Young boys may herd calves and small stock, whereas older youths and men herd the cattle. House building is done by women, the only exception being the building of the wedding house, a task in which all members of the community join. Women build kitchen structures and any other structure associated with the house. Women gather all the materials used for house building. Men build the sun shelters that are used by all the men of the camp for meals or as places to entertain male guests. Women are responsible for the everyday cooking, although men may cook meat for communal feasts. Men slaughter cattle, sheep, goats, and sometimes chickens. Women may also slaughter chickens. Men butcher cattle; either men or women may butcher other animals—always working, however, in gender-segregated groups. All members of the household, including men and children, do their own laundry. Young boys and girls begin early to help with household or herding tasks.

Land Tenure. The Baggara have communal grazing and water rights, but they own cropping land as individuals. Members of an extended family often cultivate close to one another, and they regard the area as their dar, or home territory. Because the soil fertility is low, fields may be moved every five years or so. Most groups have several blocks of land in which their members have fields. Land is passed from father to son.


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