Tag Archives: traditional


It was my first trip to South America. I had already spent some time in Central America (Costa Rica and Guatemala) so I had a reasonable knowledge of Spanish. I first went to Chile, where I had a friend. From Chile I flew to La Paz. After a few days getting used to the altitude, I spent a another few days on an island of Lake Titicaca. From there I took a ride to the East (I think it was a random choice, the first vehicle that came along) in the back of a truck, on top of various kinds of merchandise, together with Indians, on a narrow dirt road bordered by precipices. Once in a while the truck would stop, and an Indian sitting right behind the cabin gave his bottle of aguardiente to the driver, who said “Solo manejo bien quando estoy borracho.” (I only drive well when I am drunk). Afters hours in a freezing night we arrived in Ayata, (Departamento La Paz, Provincia Muñecas) where the local owner of a plantation – the strong man of the town – who had been traveling in the same truck, offered me his hospitality. It happened to be Corpus Christi festival days, during which the waka waka dance is performed. I guess my host informed me that there were other dances in a Quechua hamlet some distance from town. I went there, and had a lucky surprise: a few men, carrying large bombo drums and playing siku flutes (zampoñas, the generic name in Bolivia for pan flutes) where dancing around a small mount of maize. Doing a Google search I found that it corresponded to the sixth month of the Inca solar calendar (coincidentally or by religious syncretism the two celebrations – Corpus Christi and maize harvest were performed simultaneously, the first in town, the latter in a hamlet).

Text in italics below  Copyright © 2007-2009 Machupicchu-inca.com

“… the calendar Inca invented and used were close to our current calendar. They used an approximately 365 days solar calendar or days, though the months started in December. Then they had also a lunar calendar, which was a 328 days year.”

Two Calendars
…  Inca had two calendars. One was a solar calendar or day time calendar, and the other one was lunar calendar or night time calendar.”

Sixth Month
Present day calendar : May
Inca Lunar Month : Ayruhua
Inca solar month : Corn harvested
They enjoyed the celebration of corn harvested. Feast of Aymara was enjoyed with singing, drinking and dancing.”


Quecha Indian woman and baby in a hamlet of Ayata.


Hamlet of Ayata: house of Quechua Indians, with goats and sheep.


Quechua Indian man harvesting maize.


Maize harvest festival in a hamlet of Ayata, running parallel to the Corpus Christi celebrations in the town. Men playing siku (zampoña) flute and bombo drum.


Maize harvest festival in a hamlet of Ayata, running parallel to the Corpus Christi celebrations in the town. Men playing siku (zampoña) flute and bombo drum.

Music link of the “bombo sikuri”:
Sicuris de Ayata
en la casa del preste 2010   (YouTube – uploaded by therealrhino21 on Aug 2, 2010): an example of the sound of siku and bombo (drum), “commonly known as “bombo sikuri” (see link on membranophones below)


Quechua Indian playing the siku (zampona, panflute) flute at a festival in Ayata a village in the Andes, Bolivia, South America

Quechua Indians playing flute at village festival in the Andes in Bolivia.

Quechua Indians playing transverse flute at Ayata village festival in the Andes in Bolivia.

Quechua Indians playing flute at village festival in Ayata, Andes, Bolivia.

Quechua Indians playing transverse flute at village festival in Ayata, Andes, Bolivia.

 Flute: aerophone

The top photographs show men playing the siku (zampoña or panflute). The two photographs above are of  side-blown (or transverse flutes); more typical of the Andes region are end-blown flutes (quena), so I am including below a picture of quena players at the waka waka dance performed at the Corpus Christi festival held on the same day (I don’t have good pictures of it; there are several videos of the waka waka dance, of which there seems to be variations, and other dances in Ayata on YouTube).


South America, Bolivia. Corpus Christi festival in Ayata. Quena flute and bombo drum players accompanying the waka waka dance.Additional Links

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Additional links

LAND OF WINDS – Great blog on Andean music  © “Land of winds”, 2010.
Edited in Madrid (Spain) by Edgardo Civallero and Sara Plaza Moreno. ISSN 2173-8696

Andean instruments
Andean aerophones: History
 Andean aerophones: the siku  (zampoña) (1)
Andean aerophones: the siku  (zampoña) (2)
The Quena (Notched flute)
Andean membranophones



(part 2 will be: THE WATER)

Anthropologist Pierre Van Leynseele invited in 1970 to photograph the people he studied, the Libinza, on the islands in the marshlands of the Ngiri River, between the Congo River and the Ubangi River, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then called Zaïre). I spent three weeks with the Libinza in October 1970, first visiting various islands, then staying for about 2 weeks at one island in the village Liketa. Each village consists of several islands linked by channels in swamp grassland which surrounds the islands. Many of these islands were artificially made adding soil to raise emerging sand banks. Beyond the grasslands is swamp forest, also reached by channels.The photographs are from various villages and various islands.

Additional infornation at Download liner notes  from recordings (see discography below).


Men of Libinza tribe in canoes with village island in background.



Heavy rain over the village where I spent the last 2 weeks.

Women in the village


Market day: Women from mailand tribe (not identified) (probably Bodjaba) selling manioc to Libinza islanders


Girl preparing manioc.

Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ngiri River area, Libinza tribe.

Island on a cloudy day, seen from the house where I was staying.


Woman keeping grubs in dead palm trunk.

Africa, Libinza tribe, Ngiri River islands, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Young woman preparing grubs for frying. The first time you try it, you close your eyes; but in fact the grubs are pretty tasty.


Women weaving palm leaves to make thatch roof.


Girl grooming another girl’s hair.


Women grooming another woman’s hair.

Music and rituals

Once word got around that I had a tape recorder, I was invited in several villages and islands to record their music.


Men making mokoto slit drums (idiophones).

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Boys playing drums.


Boys performing traditional Pongo wrestling to the beat of drums.


Men playing drums.

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Percussion instrument: struck beam (idiophone) made of a horizontal wooden beam hit by sticks played by several men. It marks the rhythmic base of the musical piece.                                                                                      “L’instrument est une poutre percutée. C’est un instrument que l’on retrouve en Centrafrique, Cameroun, Gabon, RDC principalement. On y frappe généralement le soubassement rythmique  des pièces.” (Rémy Jadinon, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium)

A diviner had visited the island  to cure a woman. He was using Western clothes, using herbs or magical substances, with no drumming or dancing. He invited me to his island to make a demonstration of his full performance in ceremonial dress.

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Diviner dancing to the beat of drums.


Diviner dancing in ceremonial dress.

We were coming back from another island, almost at dusk. I heard some drumming and I asked my paddler to go there. He asked the woman diviner if I could take pictures; she agreed. As it was getting dark I used High Speed Ektachrone (ISO 160) pushed to ISO 400. Even so the pictures were underexposed. Photoshop (and a lot of work) did a miracle…


Woman diviner performing a curing ceremony.


Sunset over Ngiri river.

Contact for quote   or   Purchase photograph online

I first met Pierre Van Leynseele during my military service in 1959-1960 in the then Belgian Congo where we belonged to the same unit. We must have remained in contact by letters, as later I knew he was studying anthropology at UCLA, where I met him again in 1964 or 1965. After about a year in Los Angeles I moved to New York, where I started selling pictures to book publishers. In 1970 Pierre contacted me, asking me if I wanted to photograph the ethnic group he was studying, the Libinza, in (then) Zaïre, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pierre Van Leyseele (1933-2009) got his MA in anthropology at UCLA under the direction of anthropologist Daniel Biebuyck, but later it is mostly Jan Vansina who oriented him during his work on the Libinza, His doctoral thesis was directed by Adam Kuper, at Leiden University in 1977. He was an Honorary Professor of the Université Libre de Bruxelles. (Free University of Brussels, Social Sciences).


Pierre van Leynseele: Les Libinza de la Ngiri: l’anthropologie d’un peuple des marais du confluent Congo-Ubangi: I have not read it, as it is not availabe online of for download (perhaps as a Google Book?) Apparently it is only available at some university libraries. I have been informed that French book publisher L’Harmattan will re-publish it. I have not read anything by Daniel Biebuyk, Jan Vansina or Adam Kuper. The first two are among the main specialists on Central African anthropology.


Recordings I made during my stay at the Ngiri River, initially published by Folkways Records, now distributed by the Smithsonian.

Music of Zaïre, Vol. I: Libinza Music of Zaïre,

Vol. 2: Bodjaba, Bamwe, Djamba

Download liner notes   (same notes for Vol. 1 and Vol. 2)

(part 2: THE WATER)


(Part 1: setting, house activities) During my 23 stay with the group, part of the time was spent with the whole group at their main house, and part traveling with a couple of families, staying at 7 different locations, including 3 permanent houses, one semi-permanent house and 3 temporary camps; 6 days were devoted to travel of a duration of between one and three hours walking time (roughly one-quarter traveling and three-quarters settled), the rest of the time being spent on subsistence or household activities including resting or leasure; food gathering and horticultural harvest  were the most frequent activities (in number of days the activity was performed), followed by hunting, fishing and travel; horticultural products were most often consumed (21 days: several kind of bananas, especially plantains, were the staple food and were eaten everyday; sweet potatoes were abundant during the last five days while we stayed at two smaller houses next to which were mixed gardens) followed by collecting products (fruit and honey – 18 days) and meat (7 days); fish was an occasional small supplement. **********


Slash-and-burn agriculture as practiced by low-density native populations is not harmful to the environment, provided enough time is given for the forest to grow again (estimated at about 15 years). Is is even considered beneficial, as discarded (or purposely planted) seed of useful species grow to mix into the rejuvenated forest. Venezuela: Indians of Guiana HighlandsA slash-and-burn garden showing remains of burned wood, maize and Xanthosoma sp. The nutrients in the ashes serve as fertilizer.

Left:  Woman harvesting manioc.     Right:  Woman and daughter harvesting sweet  potatoes.


Click on image to enlarge.


Click on image to enlarge.

Girl picking cotton in slash-and-burn garden. JNGX0356_lighter-106-aug-3_curv-contr_yellows-hue-minus-5_sat13_lightness8lev-red112-bl096_625px

Return from the slash-and-burn garden with cotton, sweet potatoes and firewood.

Venezuela: Indians of Guiana Highlands

Venezuela: Indians of Guiana HighlandsMen harvesting bananas from a stand of possibly feral bananas, of various varieties, growing together with the similar-looking false banana, Phenakospermum sp.; one of them is making a palm leaf basket to carry them.

Venezuela: Indians of Guiana HighlandsMan harvesting tobacco leaves. The leaves are dried, crushed and mixed with ashes. Water is added to make a paste; this paste is placed under the lower lip (I tried it, and I became immediately dizzy; but I don´t smoke, so my brain is not used to nicotine).

Native cultivars show a rich biodiversity. Below are some samples of corn cultivated by the Hoti; each one had its specific texture and taste. Venezuela: Indians of Guiana Highlands


Subsistence activities, be it slash-and burn agriculture, hunting or collecting, involve traveling as each group may have more than one house and dispersed slash-and-burn gardens, and the group may have to move in the forest where a species of fruit is ripe, or where animals like peccaries are known to be at a particular time of the year. JNGX0365_sat4_sharp-03-150_625px_COPYRIGHT_bl-pt-12_FLAT-LAST_lev-minus satMan building camp, tying saplings with vines.

Camp in forest,  covered with the banana-like leaves of Phenakospermum sp. JNGX0793_sat-7_FADE MEDIAN_shar-03-150_625px_COPYR_MOVE MAN_yellow-hue-plus9_darken right-corner


Although of irregular yield, hunting was the most important source of animal protein. It is often a day long activity. During my stay with the Hoti the animals killed were: two young peccaries, one small caiman, two anteaters (one adult and one young), one trumpeter (Psophia crepitans) and one agouti.

JNGX0795_Aug-14_SHARP-02-254_625px_COPYR_lev-bl-106_LAST_FLAT3_YOUNG MAN LIGHTER_FADE MEDIAN-6_8bitYoung hunter with spear

The men had left early one morning. I wasn´t ready to follow them, so I went to the forest on my own photograph nature. I was busy taking photographs of a red passion flower when this man, who was the informal leader of the group  and who had become my guide, came to get me. JNGX0796_RED096_625px_sharp-02-254_COPYRIGHT_8ibit_CLEANED_NEW_LAYER3We walked some distance until we reached two dead anteaters, killed with spears. He pointed to my camera and to the dead anteaters, making me understand that I should take pictures of them. He had never seen photographs before, but he understood that I was making a record of their activities. I also was happy to have a proof that I had been accepted by the group. I figured that, summing the time between the place where the two anteaters laid and the house, then the house and, following my tracks, the place where I was taking pictures, then the time back to the anteaters, he must have spent about 40 minutes (maybe a little less as he may have walked fast).   JNGX0561_BLUE-104_sharp03-150_625px_COPYR_blue087_RGB-5_sat-18_range11Elder cutting up meat of anteater ; the meat will be shared between members of the group.

JNGX0797_aug-14_sharp-02-266_625px_COPYR_8bit_curves-54-194_lev-114_chrom-aberrMan hunting with blowgun, with bamboo quiver under his arm. Darts are poisoned by curare traded from the Eñepa (Panare). He is looking up at a bird in the canopy.

Food gathering / collecting

Food gathering was also important, although not quite as important as horticulture. It takes more time and demands more work, first in locating useful products (wild fruits and honey), then in collecting them. Often a tree had to be felled; picking thousands of olive-sized lute fruit from felled trees was a time-consuming process. JNGX0802_sharp-02-279_625px_COPYR_LAST_FLATMan cutting tree on scaffolding, to save work cutting the tree higher, where the trunk is narrower, for collecting wild fruit or honey. The gap left by the fall of the tree is small enough for the forest to recover quickly; in case of fruit, some fruit will have been left on the ground allowing for the same species to regenerate.

Collecting honey from hole carved in felled tree to reach beehive. A hole is carved in the felled trunk; the honey is squeezed in a calabash, and the other parts of the beehive, including wax, are wrapped in a leaf of a plant of the Marantaceae family.


Click on image to enlarge.

These small bees were not stinging, but very annoying because they stuck in the hair. Eating honey was always a feast! Some would be taken to the house, and diluted in water to make a beverage.


Click on image to enlarge.

Venezuela, Guiana HIghlands, Hoti (Hodi) Indians.Young man collecting fruit of  Dacryodes sp. (Burseraceae) from felled tree.                         Olive-sized forest fruit Dacryodes sp. (Burseraceae). They are eaten after light cooking. JNGX0360_Aug-16_625px_FLAT_lev_sharp_COPYRIGHT_NikonScan327

Contact or Purchase photographs online


(part 2 : subsistence activities: slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting and collecting of wild fruit and honey)

In the early seventies I photographed two Indian tribes in the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela.  One, the Hoti (Hodi) were isolated until the sixties, some groups remaining isolated today. Their language was unknown at the time. The other one, the Eñepa (Panare), who speak a language of the Carib family, have a long history of contact with the Venezuelan Criollo population, but their culture is very resilient and they have kept most of their traditional mode of living, adding to it metal tools and other western artifacts. They divide their subsistence activities between the rainforest and the savanna. These two tribes are in contact with each other and trade items, mostly bamboo for making blowguns from the Hoti, and metal tools and curare from the Eñepa.

The pictures are from  1970 and 1971 expeditions to the north of the Hoti country, mostly from one group near Rio Kayama, a tributary of the Cuchivero River; and from a 1973 trip (with a third participant besides my guide and me) starting from caño Majagua at the south of the Hoti area, visiting several groups, going through the Caño Mosquito (a tributary of the Rio Parucito) watershed, and reaching the center of the Hoti area, at the foot of the Maigualida Mountains near the headwaters of the Cuchivero (map of Hoti territory in Egleé L. Zent, Joti ecogony, Venezuelan Amazon, 2013; the exact location of groups may have changed due both to their mobility and to the presence of two missions, a Catholic one at rio Kayama and a Protestant one at caño Iguana).


To the Hoti, who were probably not understanding exactly what I was doing, but who received me warmly, and to the Panare guides who took me there; to anthropologists Roberto Lizarralde and Robert Carneiro, who always saw my project with enthusiasm and gave me their unconditional encouragement, and to Walter Coppens who draw my attention to the existence of this tribe. Also to the many anonymous Criollos and semi-acculturated Indians who helped me during various stages of the trips. Two anthropologists, Egleé and Stanford Zent,  were not involved at the time, but they started studying the Hoti 20 years after my first visit, and are still doing so. They invited me to publish a manuscript written 40 years ago; my next project is to slightly edit it and place it in their hands.


When I visited Venezuela for the first time in 1969, anthropologist Walter Coppens mentioned a tribe, the Chicanos, who had not been contacted. The next year, in 1970, I hired a Panare (Eñepa) Indian guide, Domingo, “capitan” of Manteco settlement near La Candelaria in Bolivar State, who said he could be take me to the Chicanos. It was 7 days of trekking with a heavy load up and down the hilly rainforest, the last days with blistered feet. I had no map, there were no GPS in those days; with a compass and my clock, I noted every change in direction and its duration, estimating a speed of 3 km/h in this rugged terrain. Later comparing comparing my notes with a map and a side-looking radar photograph I was able to determine the location we had reached: the Kayama river, a tributary of the Cuchivero. Finally we reached the camp of the most remote Panare group, the only Indians that were in contact with the “Chicanos”. One day Domingo told me that he had guided archaeologist José Maria Cruxent 10 years earlier and that they had a brief contact with a group of Chicanos. We stayed a few days at the Panare camp headed by “capitan” Augusto. On my first day there a small group of Chicanos appeared (maybe called by the Panare?) and set camp next to the Panare’s. Later linguistic similarity demonstrated that they were the same ethnic group that had been contacted about 200 km to the south by Protestant missionaries. I was with then only for 2 or 3 days, then 7 hard days of trekking back, still with blistered feet. At times the pain made me cry.

The following year, 1971, I decided to go by helicopter from the Guaniamo diamond mine to a savanna near the camp of Augusto. I was this time with Domingo´s 2 sons, who had never been there, but Indians can always find their way in the forest. First I went to La Candelaria,, the last criollo village that could be reached by road, a few km from Domingo´s settlement. Planes going from Ciudad Bolívar to the Guaniamo diamond mines flew over La Candelaria, which had a dirt airstrip. You extended a blanket at the head of the strip, signalling pilots that there was a passenger waiting. On the way back they would land and pick you up. At the mine I chartered a helicopter, which left us in a savanna close to where Augusto’ s group should be. We made arrangements for the helicopter to come back after a month; however payment depended of my agent sending money from New York to a French photographer, Henry Corradini, who lived in Ciudad Bolivar. Corradini spent a few days with me at the Panare camp and did a short visit to the Hoti, previous to my 23 days alone with them. My 2 guides then left me and went looking for their relatives; 2 days later they came back, bringing with them Augusto´s group which set up camp in the forest close to the savanna. Augusto made arrangements for 2 men to take me to the “Chicano” group. After hiking a certain distance, they suddenly lost sight of the trail and said we couldn´t continue. I “bribed” then with a machete, and suddenly they found the trail again… We finally arrived at a Hoti temporary camp, where the Panare left me. The Hoti stayed there a couple of days, then traveled to what turned to be their main house.

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1971: Heating instant coffee with sugar for breakfast, sitting in my hammock in front of the main house of the group. Like the Hoti, I lit a fire next to my hammock at night to ward off the cold. I had to wake up once in a while to put more firewood and re-activate the fire


Hiti (Hodi) Indiand in Guiana Highlands of Venezuela.

1971 – Couple traveling in forest.

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1973 – House and slash-and-burn garden with maize at foot of Sierra de Maigualida mountain range. The bamboo uses to make the internal tube of the blowgun grows in these mountains, at an altitude of 1600 – 1800 m.


1970. Hoti maternity: mother and baby resting in camp soon after arriving at Panare camp just after my arrival.


Aerial view of Sierra de Maigualida.

The Hoti (Hodi)  live in the rainforest at the base of the  Maigualida Mountains, a lone granite mountain range among the sedimentary tepuys (table mountains) of the Guiana Highlands  in Venezuela. Showing a short vocabulary collected during my first trip to Robert Carneiro and Janet Chernela at the American Museum of Natural History, we found some similarities with Piaroa of the Saliva family. Indeed it was confirmed later that their language belongs to the Saliva family (recently Marcelo Jolkesky has re-classified them in the  Macro-Daha family, amplifying the Saliva family). The Hoti are semi-nomadic, their subsistence consisting of products of slash-and-burn gardens, of hunting and gathering. They live in small bands averaging about 15 individuals each. Each band may have 2 or 3 “permanent” houses, and several temporary camps scattered in the forest. The Hoti subsistence is based on slash-and-burn horticulture (main crops: plantain bananas, maize, sweet potatoes, tobacco); hunting (spear for big game such as peccary and tapir, blowgun for monkeys and birds); and collecting of forest products such as wild fruits (many from palm trees) and honey. They move frequently from one location to another, apparently according to the local availability  of a mature crop (they have gardens at several locations),  of ripe wild fruit or of game. They trade the bamboo from which the inner tube of the blowgun is made to the Panare (Eñepa), their northern Carib neighbors, in exchange for metal tools and curare.

Venezuela: Indians of Guiana Highlands

1973. Hoti man a inspecting a stand of bamboo (Arthrostylidium cf. schomburgkii) from which the internal tube of the blowgun is made, Sierra da Maigualida near headwaters of Cuchivero River, cloud forest, altitude about 1650 m.

Hoti social organization, religious beliefs etc has been studied by anthropologists Robert Storrie (social organization and cosmology) and Stanford and Egleé Zent (ecological relationship with the forest, cosmology and much more, including helping them with the demarcation of their land).

Below is the main house of my hosts and guides, where I stayed for 13 days out of 23 days in 1971. From my hammock I could hear playing the flute inside the house, as people were relaxing.  As I was resting in my hammock, with my camera ready on my side the couple came back from collecting in the forest.

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Couple returning to palm thatch house after collecting in the forest.

As I was staying with the Hoti, they would give me the same food they were eating, bringing often copious servings to my hammock outside their house. I included bananas, both sweet and plantain, the latter either roasted on embers or served as a gruel; maize of several varieties, often roasted on embers; lute fruit (Dacryodes sp. of the Burseraceae family – Zent & Zent pp. 87 – 88) wich was abundant at this time of the year (1971 trip). Lute fruit are olive-sized, they are lightly cooked before eating or made into a kind of soup. I was abundant at the time of my visit and I ate it almost every day; the fruit of several palms. Meat is eaten communally; when there was meat they invited me inside the house. I kept track of everything I ate, and of all their activities, which I timed as accurately as was possible. I had to keep my belongings ready all the time, as I would sometimes suddenly see them, in their semi-nomadic way, leaving with packed carrying baskets, moving to a camp or to another house without warning. I needed to be ready to follow them. Displacements were usually short, about 2 hours, the rest of the time being spent is subsistence activities. I was the almost daily routine at the end of my stay after the 13 days at the house until they took me back to the Panare.

Same woman as above, preparing food (sweet potatoes), with pet monkey


1971: Woman preparing sweet potatoes. She typically wears collars made of Job´s tears seed and palm seed crossed on the chest. Pet monkey is watching.


1971. Making palm leaf baskets.

Making baskets for collecting or harvesting, using immature palm leaves.

On a few occasions I noticed that a girl from this group, about 10, was apparently sick. The first time, her mother washed her with vine water (see also below, photograph of baby treated with vine water). Days later she was in her hammock, sick with fever and sometimes vomiting. Her father applied his hand on her then blew, keeping his hand on her head.  It lasted more than a week. Despite her being sick, after the first 13 days we left the main house and the group traveled to shelters and smaller permanent houses. On the way to one of the shelters, the father had to carry his sick daughter on his back. An old woman was also seen shivering a couple of times. Once I gave the girl´s father a chloroquine tablet, the malaria preventive used at the time, which I was using. He gave her half the tablet, then he chewed the other half and rubbed the resulting mixture on her body (I gave her later a full tablet). Despite her sickness was seen harvesting sweet potatoes with her mother in a slash-and-burn garden close to the house. (According to Zent & Zent, vomiting can be induced to expel undesirable agents: Ser y volverse Jodï: … p. 209 ; I don´t know if the vomiting I saw was natural or induced).

(Back in New York, a few months later, as I had stopped taking chloroquine, I got sick with high fever and vomiting. I had malaria previously in Africa, but the symptoms were very different, so I did not immediately think of malaria. I was hospitalized, all kinds of tests were made, with no results. The doctors were puzzled, until I suggested to test for malaria. The results were positive, so given the right medicine I recovered in a few days. Then came the worst of it all: a New York hospital bill!)

Two other groups lived relatively close to the main house of y hosts, no more than an hour´s walk, forming a “neighborhood”.

South America, Venezuela, Guiana Highlands. Hoti Indians.


At one of them I had a hint at shamanism, when my hosts visited the house of this old woman, about an hour to the south. She wore the typical collars crossed over the chest, but  much more ornamented than most people, with what looked like amulets or perhaps containers of magical material. Both my hosts went into the house with the old woman, and with members of the third group, also present, asking me to stay outside; the old woman gave me food to eat while waiting. I suppose must have dealt with transactions with the supernatural. On a couple of other occasions I was asked to stay away while my host was talking to her.

(it was confirmed in an email by Egleé Zent, who studied the Hoti for the last 20 year with her husband Stanford: “As far as the woman definitely she is a jkajo jau! a little one, a visionary, a wisdom woman, a shaman… no doubt to me! some old women were supposed to be strongest or stronger than the men.”

South America, Venezuela, Guiana Highlands. Hoti Indians.


Here she is seen in informal conversation, probably without any ritual significance.

Venezuela: Indians of Guiana Highlands


A man from this group was probably also a shaman, as my host asked me to stay away while talking to him.

Both Robert Storrie and Stanford and Egleé Zent documented Hoti shamanism.


1971. Man making fire with fire drill.

Arrival at camp: man making fire with fire drill…

… and girl fetching water in calabashes near her house.

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1973 – Girl returning from fetching water at stream. (click to enlarge)

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1973 – Girl going to fetch water. (click to enlarge)

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1973. Girl carrying baby going to palm thatch house, caño Mosquito region.

1973. House with girl carrying baby, Caño Mosquito region, on the way to the Hoti heartland.

Group of Hoti Indians, Caño Mosquito region. While staying briefly with this group on our way toward the headwaters of Rio Cuchivero, we had a demonstration on how carefully the Hoti manage their resources, taking only what they need. Our guide, a semi-acculturated Piaroa, had a shotgun. One day he went hunting with one of the 4 men. He killed 7 peccaries to take the tusks to make collars to sell to tourists, letting the dead animals rot in the forest.  In the evening the leader of the group (man at left on the photograph) made me understand (I don´t remember how!) that he was not happy about it.

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1973. Group of Hoti Indians from caño Mosquito region.

Thereafter a woman and children became sick; I was made to understand that the cause was the killing of the peccaries with the shotgun. The older man rubbed his hands on the barrel, then rubbed his hands on his belly, seemingly to transmit to himself the force of the shotgun.

South America, Venezuela, Guiana Highlands. Hoti Indians.

1973. Man dripping vine water on head of sick baby, caño Mosquito region.

Curing: he blew the water of a water vine on the head of a sick baby.

I made sure to tell the guide not to kill animals that are not for eating anymore. Management of resources is well documented in Zent & Zent, various articles.

Young man processing bamboo stems to make blowgun.

South America, Venezuela, Guiana Highlands. Hoti Indians.

1973 – Young man from house at foot of Maigualida Mountains near Cuchivero headwaters where bamboo grows, drying or straightening a bamboo stem with fire. These bamboos form the internal tube of the blowgun; the external tube is made of stronger palm wood to give it rigidity

Children playing with annatto seed (which children don’t like to make a mess with colors?). They must be in their early to mid-forties now. What is their life as adults?


1973: Children playing with annatto (onoto in Venezuela) (Bixa orellana) seed, which are used for body painting.

Did they go to the catholic mission school (which did not exist during my visit) and learned to read, write and speak Spanish? Or did they decide to stay in the forest, living the traditional semi-nomadic life,  going only occasionally to the mission to get such things as metal tools? Or have they been contacted by illegal miners and do cheap labor for them in exchange for manufactured goods? Or, perhaps, they were taught to use a GPS to identify their traditional land and help with the demarcation of their territory (unfortunately this demarcation is being delayed by a cultural conceptual difference of the relationship between man and land and by an ever-increasing bureaucracy: Zent, Zent & Molo, IWGIA 1911; Bello, IWGIA 2013).


After 23 days the Eñepa (Panare) came to get me and left me in the savanna to wait for the helicopter. They left, leaving me alone, waiting for the helicopter, if it ever came as it has not been paid for yet. I had observed how the Hoti build their temporary shelters; so I cut some saplings, tied them with vine and covered the frame with false banana (Phenakospermum sp.) leaves. It wasn´t very pretty, but I had a place to hang my hammock. The next days were spent cutting small trees in the savanna to make a heliport. I also gathered dry wood to make a fire to signal my presence to the helicopter. On the day it was supposed to come I cut some branches with green leaves to throw on the fire to make smoke. Than I waited anxiously… Suddenly a black point appeared at the horizon. He was coming! I threw the leaves on the fire, and soon the helicopter was there. He told me he had seen the cleared area before the smoke came up. So we went back to the Guaniamo mine. He told me the money had not arrived from New York, but Corradini had paid for the flight. Merci Henry!

Purchase photographs:  Photo gallery: Hoti (Hodi) Indians of the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela

Photo Gallery: Geography, geomorphology: Sierra de Maigualida, Tepuys

Contact and purchase images



Egleé and Stanford Zent studied the Hodi: list of their publications at Academia.edu  (ecological relationship with the forest)

Among their many publications I selected:

Treading & threading memories: a personal encounter with forest and people in Southern Venezuela,  by Stanford & Eglee Zent.  A vivid personal account of first contacts with Hoti groups.

Amazonian Indians as Ecological Disturbance Agents: The Hotï of the Sierra de Maigualida, Venezuelan Guayana by Egleé López-Zent and Stanford Zent .

Jotï ecogony, Venezuelan Amazon , by Egleé Zent, (pdf download also from Academia.edu list above) (abstract) which shows how the Hoti interact with the environment, both at the material and immaterial levels.(published in Environmental Research Letters).

Jodï horticultural belief, knowledge and practice: incipient or integral cultivation? (pdf download) Crença, conhecimento e prática horticultural Jodï: cultivo incipiente ou integral? Stanford Zent, Egleé Zent  Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas. Caracas, Venezuela   Abstract

Ser y volverse Jodï: la construcción del ser, el cuerpo y la persona a través de las prácticas curativas   p. 191, in PERSPECTIVAS EN SALUD INDÍGENA –  COSMOVISIÓN, ENFERMEDAD Y POLÍTICAS PÚBLICAS, Germán Freire, Editor, Grupo de Estudod Antropológicos, Universidade Politécnica Salesiana

LOS JODÏ ( Hotï ) by Egleé L. Zent y Stanford Zent in Salud Indígena en Venezuela, vol 1, p.77 – Academia.edu

Being Human: personhood, cosmology and subsistence for the Hoti of Venezuea Guiana, by Robert Douglas Storrie.                                   PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 1999

The Politics of Shamanism and the Limits of Fear by Robert Storrie (pdf)

Language link:

Macro-Daha: reconstrução de um tronco lingüístico do noroeste amazônico, by Marcelo Jolkesky (UNICAMP). ROSAE – I Congresso Internacional de Lingüística Histórica, 2009

Salivan Language Family: State of Documentation and Brief Typological Sketch, by Jorge Emilio Rosés Labrada – The University of Western Ontario

The Hoti – Now and future

Políticas Públicas y Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas en Venezuela (1999-2010)
Luis Jesús Bello (editor)       IWGIA  1911                                          (pdf download)

STANFORd ZENT, EGLEÉ L. ZENT y LUCAS JUAE MOLO: Un largo y sinuoso camino:            breve historia de la autodemarcación territorial Jodï en su décimo aniversario ……….97

IWGIA – IPES – 2013 (various authors)                                             (pdf domnload)
VENEZUELA               INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN RELATIVE ISOLATION                                                                                                                                                            By Luis Jesús Bello………………………………………………………….. 130
Location of isolated indigenous people………………………………131
History of contact with isolated indigenous people……………. 135
The current situation facing Proposals to protect indigenous people in ‘relative isolation’…………………………… 144
Policies to protect the lives of indigenous people in ‘relative isolation’……… 153

Sierra de Maigualida:

Botanical novelties from Sierra de Maigualida, southern Venezuela. I by Shingo Nozawa, José R. Grande  & Otto Huber. Anales del Jardín Botánico de Madrid Vol. 67(2): 195-202 julio-diciembre 2010:                                                                               (pdf download)

“The almost unexplored Sierra de Maigualida is the largest and highest non sedimentary, granitic mountain system in the Guayana Shield.”

“In contrast to the famous sandstone table mountains (“tepuis”) sparsed over the territory of the northern Guayana Shield such as Mt. Roraima, Mt. Duida or Cerro de la Neblina, the Sierra de Maigualida is a mountain system made up of igneous-metamorphic rocks”


THE PANARE –  Tradition and Change on the Amazonian Frontier, by Paul Henley. Yale University Pres, 1982.                                                                                                 (BOOK)

Yoroko: A Panare shaman’s confidences by Marie-Claude Mattei Muller (1992)   (BOOK)


(I don´t remember the circumstances of these photographs, taken during my military service in 1959, probably during training or reconnaissance trips. )

This post will be updated after I receive additional information from specialists of Luba culture and religion.

The Luba:

The Luba are a bantu-speaking people. Linguistic and archeological evidence trace early Luba people in the Upemba depression around the 6th or 7th Century (Ehret p. 262, Christine Saidi p.43), later forming what Ehret has called the Upemba kingdom, which later expanded into the Luba Empire, an association of kingdoms, that dominated commerce (iron, copper, salt, ivory) in the south-eastern savannas West of Lake Tanganika in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, trading both with the Portuguese on the Atlantic coast and with the Arabs on the Indian Ocean coast through intermediaries. It declined when Swahili-Arab ivory and slave traders cut trade routes and stopped Luba expansion. Luba territory was incorporateded into the Etat Indépendant du Congo, later Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Luba world is constructed around the sacred power of the chiefs whose ancestors are revered, the Mbudyie secret society that keeps alive the history of the Luba kings, the Bilumbu diviners who practice while possessed by spirits. Women have a special prestige in Luba society, inclusive as diviners.

The first crossing of Africa from the Pacific (Zanzibar) to the Atlantic (Benguela) was done by Verney Lovett Cameron, commander at the Royal Navy, between 1873 and 1876. He provides us with the first image (engraving) of Luba diviners, in a village near the Lovoi River in the Upper Lualaba watershed.

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I met and photographed men in similar ritual attire, unfortunately not being able at the time to get information on their status or function.

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Luba diviners, Katanga, 1959. The contrast between traditional and Western elements (bycicle, industrial activity in background) is a witness to the resilience of Luba culture.

Luba diviners (alternative terms: medicine-man, or, erroneously, witch-doctor) dancing to the sound of a slit drum in a Kaluanzo, a village in Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo (still Belgian congo when the pictures were taken in 1959). (I wish I had been there during the whole ceremony, and had collected information on it)

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Slit drum (idiophone)
















Diviners and drum.

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Shrine (scanned from faded color print)




Purchase photographs:  Luba Diviners in Katanga, Congo

Luba statuette_COPYRIGHT_72ppi-625px_

Luba statuette

Wikipedia: Luba People

Wikipedia: The Kingdom of Luba or Luba Empire (1585-1889)

Across Africa  by Verney-Lovett Cameron   (Publication: 1878). (illustration between pp 314/315)  (ebook)

Luba religion and magic in custom and belief, 1961 by W.F.P. Burton  (pobably 1961 edition; original edition: 1939) (Pentecostal missionary)  (ebook)

Les Baluba (Congo Belge), by Pierre Colle, Avec une préface de Cyr. van Overbergh (1913)  Monograph written by a catholic missionary in early colonial times; while the purposes may no longer be accepted, this early detailed description of Luba culture is invaluable (I did not read it but it is cited by all scholars of Luba culture).

Vol. 1:

Vol. 2:     (see plate XII at the end of Vol. 2: “sorcier” = diviner; compare to the 1959 photographs)

Kingdoms of the Savanna: The Luba and Lunda Empires by Alexander Ives Bortolot
(Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003.

Luba Art and Divination by Mary Nooter Roberts (University of California, Los Angeles) University of Iowa Museum of Art: Art and Life in Africa

Luba : aux sources du Zaïre. “Exhibition: Paris, Musée Dapper, 25 November 1993-17 April 1994”       Luba : to the sources of the Zaire by François Neyt ; [English translation, Murray Wyllie]               (BOOK, not seen)

reviewed by Pierre Petit  in African Arts Fall 1996, Vol. 29, No. 4: 87+89+96  (Citation | JSTOR)

Luba: Origins and Growth by JOHN C. YODER. Encyclopedia of African History, Kevin Shillington, Editor, Fitzroy Dearborn 2005. (pp 854 – 855)   BOOK

Luba: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries by PIERRE PETIT. Encyclopedia of African History, Kevin Shillington, Editor, Fitzroy Dearborn 2005. (pp 855- 856)    BOOK

Correlating Linguistics and Archeology in East-Central African History in  Women’s Authority and Society in Early East-Central Africa by Christine Saidi (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2010    BOOK


Color image: first 3-color Kodachrome, ASA 12.        4 diviners, black-and-white: scanned 8″ x 10″ prints.        Shrine: scanned faded color print. I de-saturated some magenta, not completely to show that the right half of the object was red.       Statuette: scanned 6 x 9 cm print.



Hello, I started a new category of posts: a series of pictures on one theme. I will initiate with ethnic groups of Africa and South America. Instead of showing the exotic side of traditional cultures, I decided to show everyday daily life and people relationships, as cultures, however distant they may be from our own, rely on those mundane activities in their various forms, which bring all cultures together at the basic survival level. As my photography appeals to the education market, I wrote a short historical introduction, and I give reference to books and links to downloadable .pdf´s and to websites for additional and peripheral information. These images were initially taken with stock photography in mind, but after retrieving them from stock photo agencies I realized that I could make them into a document of life in these regions. There are some gaps in the culture coverage, but this is what I have…  I will also have posts on nature, an occasional post on historic auto racing etc.                                                                                                                   (click on images to enlarge them)

Summary of Kanem history:


Alifa Ali Zezerti, Alifa of Kanem (referred to as Sultan), with dignitaries, in 1972.

The Sahel is a semi-arid zone of steppe in Africa south of the Sahara desert that makes the transition to the Sudanian savannas, from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea. It is inhabited by agriculturists and cattle nomads. I will present photographs of present-day people (as of 1972) of the Kanem region and the Lac region (Lake chad). The Kanem region has a long history, briefly summarized here (more details can be found at the links at the end of this post). An earlier civilization, the Sao (possibly represented today by the Kotoko and Buduma) was dominated by the Kanembu (belonging to the Teda-Daza linguistic group) around the 8th Century with the creation of the Kanem Empire under the  Duguwa  dinasty. It became islamised in the 11th Century, when the Duguwa dinasty was replaced by the Sayfawa (Sefuwa) dinasty (which some historians controversially claim cam from Yemen or from Assyria). It established the capital in Njimi in Kanem and in the 13th Century it expanded under Mai (kIng) Dunama Dabbalemi to Bornu, forming the Kanem-Bornu Empire, stretching from present northern Nigeria to Libya, including the Kanuri people, whose language is a close relative to Kanembu. Internal conflicts and attack by the Bulala form the east forced the rulers to move to Bornu in present-day Nigeria. A new capital was built at Ngazargamu. After a period of decline, the Kanem Bornu empire reached a new apogee in the 16th Century under Mai Idris Alawoma, mai (king) of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, under whom Mohammed ben ‘Abd Allah took an oath of obedience to Bornu as King of Kanem. The Bornu Empire had ties with the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. The Kanem Bornu Empire economy was based on trade to North Africa of ivory, hides, natron (sodium carbonate), ostrich feathers, and mostly slaves.  It declined in the early 19th Century when it had to fight the Fulani from the Sokoto caliphate who started a jihadist war.


Group of Kanenbu Warriors, in Barth´s Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (1850-1855)


Engraving in Denham, 1822 – 1824

It had a short resurgence under Muhammad al Kameni, a non-Sayfawa scholar and warlord, who built a new capital at Kukawa to the west of Lake Chad. His son Umar assumed kingship, ending the Sayfawa dynasty. The Bornu kingdom declined under his son´s reigns. It was finally extinct by warlord and slave trader from Sudan, Rabih az-Zubayr, while Kanem declined under attacks by the Wadai (Ouaddai) State. In 1900 a French a military expedition near lake Chad defeated Rabih az-Zubayr who was killed in battle together with French commandant Lamy. The colonial period had started, however the French allied themselves with Alifa (highest dignitary of the Sultan) of Mao, who was the governor of Kanem from Bornu while the Kanem-Bornu kingdom lasted, against the Wadai threat. To this day the Alifa of Mao exerts a strong authority in Kanem, besides the Chadian Government. Alifa Ali Zezerti, shown here, has been succeeded since 2010 by his son.++++++


Kanem and Lake Chad are inhabited by a mosaic of people, of which I will present two ethnic groups, the Kanembu and the Yedina (Buduma)


(Photographs of other ethnic groups will be presented in a future post) I combined in this post two very different people, the Kanembu and the Buduma who, living close together (most Kanemby photographed lived on the islands), have borrowed or are sharing many of each other´s cultural (especially material) elements, thus making a somewhat artificial composite portrait of life in the region. The Buduma, separated from the Kanembu by the waters of Lake chad,  were never part of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, although trade occurred between the two people. They also exhibit cultural elements common in the Sahel environment and possibly defined by it. Because of the similarities and by lack of some images most activities are shown only for one of the groups.

The Kanembu

The Kanembu of Nilo-Saharan linguistic affiliation, live mostly on the mainland. Some live on the islands of Lake Chad. They are ruled, like some of the other groups, by the Alifa or Sultan of Kanem (photograph on top of article); they are moderate Moslems, having adopted Islam since the 11th Century. The Kanembu name is applied to a variety of ethnies, patrilineal clans and lineages, and endogamic castes (including nobles and maskin or poor;  duu or haddad (intouchables) and slaves, some of whom were freed, who speak or have adopted the Kanembu language (slavery was abolished by colonization by the French). “At the end of the nineteenth century, Kanembu society was thus cross-cut by three important cleavages opposing Kanembu vs. Duu, freemen vs. slave and master vs. dependant. (Conte 1979 p. 42)” I was not aware of these divisions when I took the pictures and I am not attempting to classify the photographed people in this mosaic of ethnic/social groups. The Kanembu, traditionally semi-nomads, are presently mostly settled agriculturists, cattle raisers and traders.


Kanembu man studying the Quran (Koran), writing verses on a wooden teaching tablet. The tablet can be washed and written over again.

The presence of water is of all-importance in Kanem. Wells are dug near villages.

Kanembu women fetching water across millet field near village: Ngueleydinga.

Each village or town has its market frequented by the various ethnic groups of the region.

Africa, Sahel region, Chad, Kanem. Dromedary camel at market in Ngueleydinga.

Kanem: dromedary camel at market in Ngueleydinga.

Men making a thatch hut in Kanem, Chad, Africa.The Kanembu house is made of thatch from millet straw. It is shaped as a pointed dome, the roof going down to the ground.

Kanembu women


Islands of Lake Chad. Kanembu woman grooming another woman´s hair.


Islands of Lake Chad. Portrait of Kanembu woman.


Islands of Lake Chad. Kanembu fisherman in papyrus reed canoe removing fish from nylon net. Nylon nets were introduced in the 1950s.

Some Kanembu have migrated to the islands of Lake Chad. The island Kanembu borrowed some techniques from the Buduma, such as the papyrus canoe.+++++++ top

The Buduma or Yedina

The Buduma, who call themselves Yedina, pertain to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family (Chadian subfamily). They inhabit the islands of Lake Chad They are known as having been a fiercely independent people, isolated in the islands. Being fierce warriors and protected by the waters of Lake chad, they were never dominated and were never were part of the Kanem-Bornu Empire (Konrad 2009). In pre-coloinal times they raided lake-side villages for cattle and slaves. They converted late to Islam, toward the late 19th  and early 20th Centuries. They are mostly cattle herders and fishermen. They were originally cattle herders, cattle grazing in the wetlands in the day and gathered at night near the settlement. Millet will be sawn later in the fertilized sand. They also specialized in natron (sodium carbonate) trade across the lake.


Islands of Lake Chad: Buduma (Yedina) young man milking a cow.

Breeds of cattle on Lake Chad islands. The Kuri cattle are in danger of extinction, by cross-breeding with Zebu cattle of nomadic people.


Kuri cattle (Bos taurus), a breed of cattle with bulbous horns found on Lake Chad.

Islands of Lake Chad: cattle eating papyrus.

Islands of Lake Chad: cattle eating papyrus.

Both men and women often work in groups. Here, men in the field; below, women pounding millet.
Africa, Chad, islands of Lake Chad, Buduma men weeding millet field with hoe.
Buduma houses differ from Kanembu ones, having reed walls and millet thatch roofs.

Islands of Lake Chad: Buduma women pounding millet (pearl millet, Pennisetum glaucum).

Fishing was done mostly by lower castes or slaves; the Buduma have adopted fishing with the introduction of efficient fishing tools (fishhooks, later nylon nets) that made fishing an important activity ; however the recent shrinking of the lake and the increased demand from cities (N’Djamena in Chad, Maiduguri in Nigeria) reduced the fish population. Buduma children fishing, one of them using a floating or swimming log (Konrad p. 158)


Buduma boy carrying fish caught in nylon net in Lake Chad.


Islands of Lake Chad: Buduma boys removing fish from nylon net (introduced in the 1950´s). They are using as swimming aid trunk of Aeschynomene elaphroxylon (also known as ambatch) a lightweight wood like balsa from a small tree that grows in wet areas or swamps.

Buduma men relaxing in late afternoon, playing the biram harp (or bidel, as I was told?).

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Islands of Lake Chad: Buduma man playing arched harp (bidel or biram?). This type of harp was already know by the ancient Egyptians, and is found among various ethnic groups in Central and in West Africa.

Men drinking tea in late afternoon, reciting prayer using prayer beads.


Islands of Lake Chad, Buduma tribe: men relaxing, sitting around drinking tea; note Islamic prayer beads.

Personal note: I had hired a canoe, a paddler and a “goumier” (originally soldier of African unit in the French army) provided by the local district chief (chef de canton). We traveled from island to island, spending the night in island villages. According to a tradition widespread in Africa, in each village the chief would give the visitor a chicken. I was given a total o 7 chickens. On one island the chief had no chicken, so he gave me the monetary equivalent, 200 CFA francs, although he certainly needed it more than I did.


African Sahel: people of Kanem and Lake Chad

Partial zoom of map of the region and its ethnic groups: Ethnographic Regions of Africa (Felix and Meur 2001)

806px_sharp04_zoom map Ethnographic Regions of Africa

The Kanembu, of Nilo-Saharan linguistic affiliation, live mostly on the mainland. Some live on the islands of Lake Chad.

The Yedina or Buduma, who inhabit the islands of Lake Chad, pertaining to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family (Chadian subfamily).

The Kuri, also living on islands of Lake Chad; one source says they are Kanembu who moved early to the islands and adopted the Buduma (Yedina) language.

The Daza, a subgroup of the Tubu of northern Chad (Nilo-Saharan language) (the Kecherda shown on the map are a clan of the Daza)

The Fulani, Fulbe or Fellata, of the Niger-Congo linguistic family, Atlantic sub-family; the Fulani are cattle nomads in Kanem as in other sub-saharan regions; some have settled and created kingdoms, especially in northern Nigeria.

Chadian (Shuwa) Arabs (Afro-Asiatic family). Chadian Arabic (Shuwa Arabic) is the lingua franca used by all ethnic groups.

The Duu or Haddad, an “intouchable” endogamic caste initially iron workers, artisans and bow or net hunters, which can be attached to any of the ethnic groups.

(I am using the Greenberg language classification. It is still the basis of the work of more recent linguists who may have modified it, but I am not competent to judge their work.)


Three factors have altered the Kanem natural and human environment since 1972. First, a series of droughts, the first one in 1973, have considerably reduced the lake area and forced human resettlements, also increasing ethnic tensions. The reduction of the lake area has occurred previously. One of the main factor is  the excessive drainage of the water of the Chari River which feeds the lake for agricultural irrigation. Climate variations also influenced the level of the lake. In 1972 I reached the islands by canoe. “Unlike in earlier times, in 1990 access to Yedina villages was not by boat any longer but “by horse, camel or four-whell drive car, crossing the dried lake bed between the islands” (Chesley et al 1990)…” in “People of the grasses by W. Konrad, Translator´s introduction. The second factor is the internal conflicts between the Muslim North and the Christian-animist South. The Alifa of Mao was able to keep Kanem mostly outside the conflict zone. And third, the threat of the Boko Haram islamist jihadist insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. The intervention of the Nigerian army may have forced some Boko Haram militants to take refuge in Kanem.+++++++++++ top


Purchase images: Africa: people of the Sahel region

Many references (.pdf or e-books) are public domain works, generally published before 1923, as it would have been expensive to buy recent works; some recent publications are however available for free download; their bibliographies should cover most of what is missing here.


Denham was a British military officer who had taken part in the wars against Napoleon. Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa in the years 1822, 1823, 1824 by Dixon Denham and Hugh Clapperton
Two fascinating books by German scientists and explorers, Barth and Nachtigal, who traveled in the Sahara and in the Sahel in the 19th Century. It shows how scientists of that time had a holistic range knowledge, including history, ethnology, linguistics, botany, zoology, geology…
Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa by Heinrich Barth    Barth published initially 5 volumes; later some of the best chapters were published in one volume (this one). Short contact with Kanembu and Lake Chad in last chapter. Barth did not reach Mao, but according to local accounts it was already a city in decline.
Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa: Being a Journal of an Expedition Undertaken Under the Auspices of H. B. M.’s Government, in the Years 1849-1855, Volume 2 (Google eBook) Appendix I, p. 592, bottom: Edris Alawóma Appendix II, p. 606: Account of the eastern part of Kanem, from native information. Shows the precarious existence of Kanem, torn between the States of Wadai and Bornu. Appendix III, Geographical details contained in “The Divan”, or account given by the Imam Ahmed ben Sofiya of the expeditions of the King Edris Alawoma from Bornu to Kanem: p. 637: Fifth Expedition of King Edris Alawoma from Bornu to Kanem: “Mohammed ben ´Abd Allah took an oath of obedience”
Sahara et Soudan by Gustav Nachtigal    Nachtigal was the first explorer to give e detailed description of Mao, the capital of Kanem, in decline as previously noted by Barth, and of the surrounding people.


Chad a country study, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress Edited by Thomas Collelo (Research Completed December 1988), “The online Country Studies are electronic versions of hardcover books published by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress between 1988 and 1998 as part of the Department of the Army’s Country Studies/Area Handbook Series.”
Kanem-Bornu Empire (Wikipedia)  (The Wikipedia article presents some modifications, especially regarding the early years of the Kanem Empire, although most of the text is identical to the Library of congress publication; some bibliographical references are shared)
Ethnogenesis from within the Chadic State –  Some Thoughts on the History of Kanem-Borno, by Dierk Lange 2011
The founding of Kanem by Assyrian Refugees ca. 600 BCE: Documentary, Linguistic, and Archaeological Evidence, by Dierk Lange, Boston, Working Papers in African Studies° 265.

Kanem, Bornu and the Fazzan: Notes on the political history of a trade route   by B.G. Martin.       Journal of African History, x, i (I969), pp. 15-27         Abstract    (a controversial paper)
« Regards croisés entre deux ports de désert » L’enjeu des sources pour l’étude des relations entre Tripoli et le sultanat de Borno       by Rémi Dewière

Ethnic Groups

Sahéliens et Sahariens du Tchad, by Albert Le Rouvreur.     Kanembou p. 75, Boudouma p. 219, Kouri p. 239, Les Daza du Kanem p. 246, Haddad (the lowest caste among other groups, formed by artisans and bow or net hunters) p. 377. Account from sometimes superficial observations in 1957 and 1958 of the people of Chad, with a special emphasis on material culture.
Kanembu: The name “Kanembu” is given to a heterogeneous group of people; there is some confusion between the definitions or divisions of this group among different authors. Broadly, the Kanembu can be said to be people of various origins who speak the Kanembu language. A further complication is in troduced by Nachtigal (p. 471) who refers to Zezerti (which he spells  Zezirti ), the name of the Alifa of Mao, as the name of a Daza clan.
Survivances précoloniales : les problèmes politiques du Kanem (Tchad) by Esther Rosenkranz. This paper begins with how the author defines the Kanembu, as an assemblage of chiefdoms and clans as an introduction to the privileges attributed by the French colonial authorities to the Alifa of Mao to counter the influence of the other sultanates (especially of Wadai).        ”  … Enfin, parmi les gens de la lance, deux groupes se distinguent,qui sont loin d’avoir toujours entre eux des relations de franche cordialité : les Kogona (i.e. ( les nobles ) qui sont arrivés du Borno avec les Alifa que leur empereur avait délégués au Kanem vers 1640, et les autres kanembou, populations installées antérieurement …” (p. 125 ) … “Avec l’ affaiblissement du Borno et le développement du Ouaddaï, l´Alifa du Kanem changea de suzerain au cours du XVIIIe siècle, mais son pouvoir serait resté entier sur tous les locuteurs du kanembou, sur les Tounjour et sur une partie des Goranes jusqu’à l’arrivée des Français qui l’ auraient confirmé dans son autorité.” (p. 125)
Politics and Marriage in South Kanem (Chad) : a statistical presentation of endogamy from 1895 to 1975, by Edouard Conte (1979). Conte shows how endogamy maintains the distinction between the noble “gens de la lance” (spear people) and the “gens de l´arc” (bow people) who form a lower caste. Both, however, were freemen as opposed to slaves.
Marriage patterns, political change and the perpetuation of social inequality [in South Kanem (Chad)] by Edouard Conte ORSTOM Paris 1983

“What do we know about the Buduma ? A brief survey” by Catherin Baroin , Proceedings of the 12th Mega Chad Conference, Maiduguri/Nigeria, 2nd December – 9th December2003. Maiduguri, 477 pp.
“People of the grasses”, Studies on the Buduma (Yedina) of Lake Chad, by Walter Konrad, Maiduguri 2009 (initially published in the 1950s up to 1964) – BOOK


The Languages of Africa by Greenberg, J.H. (1963/1970): Indiana University Press and  Mouton  (The Hague)    BOOK
WEB RESOURCES FOR AFRICAN LANGUAGES    “The main purpose of these pages is to offer easy access to online materials dealing with African languages.”    I will select a few papers from this site:
Afroasiatic Languages    numerous links, map
Origine et expansion de l’Afro-Asiatique: méthodologie pour une approche pluridisciplinaire, by M. ben Hamed, P. Darlu, 2003.    From: Bulletins et mémoires de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, v. 15. The authors are looking for a methodology to conciliate the discrepancies between linguistics and other fields, especially genetics, to locate the origine of Afro-Asiatic languages. I find this paper important, not only for pointing the way to the future classification of Afro-Asiatic languages, but also because it shows that science is not static, it is dynamic, relying on eliciting doubts.
Nilosaharan languages     numerous links, map

Arched harp

Reconstructing African music history: methods and results by Roger Blench (ditribution map of arched harp p. 5) PRESENTED AT THE SAFA CONFERENCE, TUCSON 17-21th MAY, 2002

Kuri cattle

A close look at a rare African breed — the Kuri cattle of Lake Chad Basin: origin, distribution, production and adaptive characteristics by CL Tawah et al. – ‎1997 – ‎Cited by 13 – ‎Related articles Jun 18, 1997 – S. Afr. J. Anim. Sci. 1997, 27(2).
Geographic distribution and frequency of a taurine Bos taurus and an indicine Bos indicus Y specific allele amongst sub-Saharan African cattle breeds    by O.Hanotte, C.L.Tawah et al. Genetics among African cattle breeds, showing the taurine origin of Kuri cattle.


Ethnographic Regions of Africa (Felix and Meur 2001): Felix, Marc Leo. 2001. Peoples of Africa: An Ethnolinguistic Atlas of Africa, map by Charles Meur, Brussels: Tribal Arts s.p.r.l.
Map of Chad    © GEOATLAS.fr
Peoples, States and Cities in Northern Africa ca. 1340 (Ehret)
Peoples, States and Cities in Northern Africa ca. 1550 (Ehret)
Peoples, States and Cities in Northern Africa ca. 1750-1775 (Ehret)

Shrinking Lake Chad

Lake Chad’s Disappearance Leaves A Famine In Its Wake The Disappearance of Lake Chad in Africa

Modern Chad

Le Tchad a perdu un figure historique     Alifa Ali Zezerti, Sultan of Kanem – 1927 – 2010 Survivances précoloniales : les problèmes politiques du Kanem (Tchad) by Esther Rosenkranz
Le lac Tchad et N’Djaména – une relation porteuse de développement ?    by Géraud Magrin et al., L. SEINY-BOUKAR, P. BOUMARD (éditeurs scientifiques), 2010:     Changes in Lake chad area in the last 30 years.
The threat of jihadist terrorism from Nigeria: The Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria: A Critical Study of the Movement’s Ideological Posture and Implications, by Muibi O. Opeloye and FISN, Department of Religious studies,Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria


For those who want to extend their knowlege of pre-colonial Sahel, Islam and slavery in West Africa: To place the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the context of general pre-colonial African history: The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 , by Christopher Ehret (2002). Perhaps one the most important historical book on pre-colonial Africa, presenting 18,000 years of history (BOOK)
Slavery, Commerce and Production – Essays in the Social and Economic History of the Central Sudan by Paul E. Lovejoy
THE NEW CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF ISLAM – The Western Islamic World Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries VOLUME 2, Edited by MARIBEL FIERRO

Sources of links:

Google, academia.edu, Forgotten Books, Scribd, FreeFullPDF, Open Access Library; links from the resulting articles or books.



This post is currently in a preliminary form; more detailed information will be added as I consult the numerous downloads and bookmarks I made while researching  the history of trans-saharan and of sub-saharan Africa. More pictures and more links will be added, so this will be an ongoing project for some time.