Tendé Festival: Building Peace in the Sahel

IOM - UN Migration
Twenty-four traditional music groups are competing in this year’s tendé competition in Afoukada, Ingall. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

Ingall, with its 60,000 inhabitants, is situated in Agadez’s predominantly pastoral region in Niger.

Ingall’s fertile Irhazer Valley has long been of interest to tribes of nomadic herders, and also as a tourist attraction, starting in the 1990s — as the world-famous Cure Salée Festival taking place there each year will attest.

Since 2003, the commune of Afoukada in Ingall has been host as well to a smaller event, the Tendé festival, centered around a traditional musical instrument — the ‘tendé — considered a pivotal instrument in the consolidation of peace in a conflict-prone region.

The festival is the occasion for everyone to wear their best outfits. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

“The tendé was born in Ingall as a musical instrument designed by women for women,” explained Ingall-native Rabdine, a young activist currently living in Agadez. “It gives us goosebumps when we hear it and the courage to persevere to persevere.”

The tendé essentially is a drum made out of goatskin stretched over a wooden frame. Master players can ease out different sounds and timbres, depending on where pressure is exerted, usually done by two women seated at either end. The drumming sounds are accompanied by the women’s chorus. Their clapping and shouts inspire joy, hope and peace in the community. The songs often entice men to dance and parade with their camels, as the women sing about the men’s bravery and the camel’s beautiful leather saddlery.

A group of women wearing traditional outfits watches the tendé competition from the sidelines. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

The Association for Local Integrated Development (ADLI) has been based in Ingall since 2003 and has during that time organized seven editions of the Tendé Festival, previously called “Afoukada” after the camping site hosting it. Besides hosting the festival, the association has partnered along the years with local and international NGOs to carry out activities beneficial to nomadic communities: activities related to education, health, livestock care, the environment and employment.

For example, during the 2017 festival, an immunization vaccination campaign was organized for local communities and their livestock. The event also offers NGO an opportunity for campaigns and for communities to explain their needs to government authorities and partners.

Local community members gather at dusk to see the tendé groups playing in the competition. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

Having the tendé recognized on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites is another long-term goal being advanced through this festival, as well as contributing to Niger’s national tourism strategy. As a musical instrument traditional to nomadic communities, the tendé also deserves recognition. To celebrate the importance tendé holds for local communities, the site for the Cure Salée Festival has been named after the famous Nigerien tendé player Hadija Awi Alher.

Cousins Zeina, Fatouma and Raicha pose for a photo during the first night of celebrations at the festival site. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

With the event, the organizers are hoping to safeguard and promote the culture of the Tuareg, Fulani and Arab communities through the diversity of their tendé music. The instrument is played on several occasions in various countries, for entertainment purposes, but also as a means to reinforce social cohesion between neighboring communities.

To that end, the rural municipality of Ingall invited all the communes in the region to participate, as well as tendé groups from neighboring countries such as Mali or Algeria. The festival hopes to add to the much-needed consolidation of peace in the region, frail due to armed groups and cross-border organized crime.

Local kids and community members are perched on a truck to watch the tendé competition. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

During 2017’s festival, the Toumoust tendé group won the first prize. This year, they returned to compete against 23 other tendé groups. Fatima, a member of Toumoust, who runs a local association in Arlit in northern Niger, journeyed to Ingall to join her relatives and participate in this year’s tendé competition. “We have known each other our whole lives. We have about forty women here today: sisters, cousins, mothers and daughters,” she says. “It’s a family tradition.”

Curious community members gather around IOM’s stand during the festival. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

During the event, the festival-goers camp in traditional tents while various excursions and hikes are organized by local tour guides. Attendees had the option of hiking the Awalawala mountain or visiting the Tameghate site and Dinosaur Fossil museum, both rare paleontological discoveries of Neolithic heritage. Additionally, participants could see the Aniokane or Anigouran rock carvings and the salt mines in Tiguidan N’Tessoumt.

As part of its community stabilization activities, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) contributes to the festival in order to foster social cohesion and support local culture and heritage. At the IOM stand, staff created a space for dialogue amongst festival-goers and community members and led debates on the relation between host communities and migrants in transit.

One of the organizers strikes a pose as the IOM-organized football match is heating up in the background. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

More than 1,500 people passed by the stand, curious to learn about migration and eager to join the IOM quiz on peace and migration. Multiple concerts, shows, camel races and beauty pageants were organized during the three-day celebration. Attendees numbered more than 6000 men, women and children (and 1000 camels).

“I consider this edition of the festival to be a great success. These four days gave further exposure to the tendé and to the women who play it,” said Sidi Mohamed Jules, technical assistant with the Regional Council of Agadez and one of the festival organizers. “The effort everyone put into this year’s edition gives me hope for the future of our traditions.”

Inside IOM’s tent, a girl listens attentively to the information shared by staff, ready for the quiz. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

The activities organized for the Tendé Festival under IOM’s Community Stabilization (CS) projects were funded by the European Union. IOM’s CS projects aim to support governments and civil society in reducing factors that lead to irregular and forced migration, integrating the needs of marginalized groups and host communities, and responding to the impact of migratory flows on communities.

This story was written by Monica Chiriac, IOM Niger’s Media and Communications Officer.

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