It’s that time of the year when the town briefly switches off to a quieter mode, although the word “quiet” and Saint-Louis do not mix very well. The soundscape of the town was already altered by the holy month of Ramadan that was filled with beautiful sounds of people gathering together, and the buzz of Guet Ndar Market after sunset, and with even more emotional reciting of the Koran in street corners. All this was of course accompanied by the usual sounds of sheep and a few odd cows passing by.
About a year ago I shot cows on video here in Saint-Louis and I got rather excited about their seemingly uncomplicated group dynamics that I witnessed while doing it. The cows were first a little suspicious of my hanging around, but soon they just went on with their business of eating grass. Now, since I am collecting exhibition material on these beautiful creatures, I regret that I did not chat with the herder more at that time. If I had the chance, I would now ask him what it is that he says to his cows? Or does he talk to them? And if the cows are far away, does he call for them and if yes, how? I have told about my project to some of my friends and they all tell me that yes, the Sereer and the Peules do have their own ways of calling cows, and yet my friends don’t seem to remember more in detail how – they are so urban! – apart from one whose demonstration went like “ki-ki-ki-ki-ki” and “nyi-nyi-nyi, niy-nyi-nyi-nyi””
Once we went to a nearby Fulani village with a film maker friend of mine and we took with us a statue of a two-headed cow, made out of old bicycle parts by Meissa Fall. The idea was to film cows upon their return home. We were warmly welcomed to the village and the elders let us sit down and have tea while we were waiting for the cows. But after a while, the eldest of the village let us understand that we would have to leave. We realised that the two-headed cow upset him too much, so we left and soon found a herd that was passing by on their way home. We put the two-headed cow on their path and set up a nice angle to shoot on video and waited. When the cows were close enough to see their metallic replica, they got jumpy and slightly nervous, only briefly though, and made a detour. The eldest of the village was right to send us away, you would not want this kind of a welcoming committee in your home!
Apart from this short trip in the bush I have not yet had proper time to go and observe the life of local cows and their herdsmen in more detail, but I will soon be looking for sample sounds that herders make to gather up their cattle. I suppose no cow herder in Saint-Louis is going to read this post, but I would be happy to hear any reaction on this subject from whoever reads this. Have you heard local people call their cows? Or talk to them?