Part of our History: Life among the Toubou and the Kerboubou Tuareg of Niger

The seed of the first community among the Tuareg of Niger was sown in 1951 by Little sister Magdeleine in the Region of Agadez in central Niger. This was a key foundation inspired by the life and death of Brother Charles among the Tuareg of the Hoggar to the north, in Algeria.

Generations of Little sisters have lived either in Agadez itself or in Azel among small farmers or in Kerboubou with Tuareg living and moving with their tents.

However at the invitation of the Bishop of Niamey three Little sisters spent several months in 2008 among a group of Tuareg from the southern part of the country in Bankilare where there is a tiny Christian presence.

After a lot of searching the Little sisters have now decided to make a permanent foundation among the Tuareg of Bankilare which sadly means leaving the Region of Agadez. Bankilare is like a new branch growing from the original trunk, fed by the same sap!

The friends of Kerboubou with their faith in God could understand the Little sisters decision despite their sorrow. On the last day before their departure six men arrived in Agadez carrying 12 big cheeses from the Cooperative that they had set up, and this despite the fact that it had not been a good year for the flocks. As one close friend said:

‘Nothing can ever break the ties of our hearts that are joined.’

The story of Little sister Ria Christine

Little Sister Ria ChristineLittle Sister Ria Christine

Little sister Ria Christine lived in Niger for twenty-six years. She lived with the Toubous nomads for eighteen years and then among the Tuareg in Kerboubou for eight years.  

The Touareg of KerboubouThe Touareg of Kerboubou

‘To be like Jesus and live not separated but intimately linked, ‘as leaven in the dough’. To become all things to all people, Arab among Arabs, nomad among nomads…to learn their language and their customs and even to adopt their mentality.' 

Rule of life of the Little Sisters of Jesus. 

Looking for pasture Looking for pasture

It is with passion and immense joy that I lived among the Touareg nomads of the desert, in Niger, West Africa. They are a Berber people with a very rich culture but called to live in the sparsity of a desert that is without pity. Little sister Magdeleine sent us to live among them and friendship has built up over many years. They have welcomed us and accept us just as we are. I feel so small when I witness their courage and their patience.

Rounding up the goatsRounding up the goats

The climate is without mercy; the sun beats down and the wind blows across the desert. The heat is unbearable, but with calm and great wisdom grandmother Tata says: ‘You must become the friend of the wind, you must become the friend of the sun!’ 

Our foundress Little sister Magdeleine so longed for us to live spiritual childhood and I always felt in complete confidence among the Tuareg who welcomed us as one of them. I learnt patience among them when drawing water at the well to give our animals to drink.
 Collecting wood Collecting wood

I needed patience too to recognise my neighbours’ goats, to look for wood with the women, or to search for the special leaves we cook, sometimes travelling in a twenty mile radius and carrying them home on the back of our donkey. How often I felt tired especially when the women only began to harvest the leaves at sunset and we still had an eight hour journey on the donkeys to get home! I learnt not to grumble but just to go on picking on my knees! The Tuareg have taught me to persevere even when I have no strength left. 

Tent Community Tent Community

Back at the camp, sitting round a wood fire, there was always something to celebrate. We laughed and joked and drank tea and from a single plate and we ate the green leaves boiled in water seasoned with a little onion and salt. The hope of this people is without limit. It influences every aspect of my life and shows me the way ahead. 

Morning prayerMorning prayer

I loved to begin each new day in silence. The Tuareg have taught me that prayer and life are one, and to always turn my heart and mind towards God. 

The Tuareg never leave the sick alone, and death is a time of great importance for all. At a wake, friends arrive from the north and from the south, from the east and from the west. In the presence of the one who has died there is total silence. No one must cry, because to cry would hinder the soul from leaving for Paradise. The young people go to bring the news to other camps and everybody gathers together. 

Nomadic people have taught me that life is a journey and not to hold on to that which is passing, to be as free as the wind. God alone is our security, and He is the strength of our community. My faithfulness as a Little Sister is now intimately linked to the gift of my life to this people. 

Yes, it is possible to love the other who is totally different from me and to let my life be transformed by their way of living and their way of thinking. On important feast days, we followed the tradition of our neighbours. Holding hands we asked each other forgiveness. In the desert we need each other and cannot let the sun set on a disagreement. In the desert there is such a need for God... ‘I take off my sandals’ and walk barefoot in the sand. I am here as a guest in a foreign land.