Rural communities are dispersed: each extended-family compound is surrounded by fields; households are therefore 75 to 100 meters apart. When millet is fully grown (with stalks up to 4 meters), each compound is invisible to others. Boundaries may be based upon natural features like streams, but the dispersed settlement pattern forces recognition that communities are social and political—not geographic—units. It is often impossible to assign a compound to one village or another on a basis of location. Households are compounds of adobe, usually circular, houses with thatched roofs and surrounded by adobe walls. Although metal roofs are hotter and noisier and hence less comfortable than thatch, their prestige value and lessened maintenance has made them common, if not yet dominant, in the countryside.
District chiefs tended to live in noticeably larger compounds, but in villages that otherwise resembled ordinary ones. Kings, however, lived in larger towns or cities—places with artisans, sizable markets, and links to long-distance trade.
In the colonial and postcolonial periods, there has been an increase in movement to towns, but also an increase in ease of communication for rural villages and in capital available to them from their migrant members.
The modern ease of communications—better roads and motor transport, railroads, and telecommunications—has greatly expanded the social field within which individuals and families live and move while still remaining participating members of their home social and ritual communities. The still-high rate of labor migration nowadays takes place within a network of relatives and neighbors already in a several-country region, who can house and sponsor, if not directly employ, the new migrant.