In the beginning of September, the above shoe was the main character of quite a mystery. The shoe had been found by anthropologist Mette Bovin in the desert where she was conducting fieldwork among the nomadic Wodaabe people. The string at the back of the shoe indicated to Bovin that the shoe had been tied to the back of a donkey and fallen off, getting lost (and found again) in the desert.
The mystery of how the shoe ended up in the desert also inspired questions and suggestions among our readers on Instagram. Artist Tim Johnson reached out to suggest that the shoe might have been used as a cap for tent poles so that the timber does not puncture the woven fabric of the tents – thus giving the broken shoe an alternative functional life.
At the exhibition Nomads: homes on the move at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) a Berber tent is exhibited together with a picture of how sandals and boots not only function as footwear, but as a crucial part of the nomadic architecture of the Berber.
Image credit: rammuseum on Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/rammuseum/
Image credit: angelawildgardens on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/B1PU_tPFA34/
Wondering whether this was true for the Wodaabe as well, curator Cecil Marie Schou Pallesen reached out to Mette Bovin to ask her exactly that. This is what Mette Bovin replied:
‘No, I have never seen a ‘shoe placed on top of a tent pole’ – First of all, “my” Wodaabe tribes, that I have studied from 1968-2011 have never used tents! And secondly, they have never protected the tent poles – because they have none! They sleep on the ground all year round, without a hut, without a tent – but with Allah’s starry sky as their roof.’
She additionally suggested that the use of shoes on tent poles might be something that could be observed among other nomads such as the Tuareg, who with their black tents live in some of the same regions of Africa as the Berbers.
So while the shoe above might have lived an alternative (after)life among the Berber, with the Wodaabe it had already served its greatest purpose – being the trust worthy footwear of its owner.
Mette Bovin collected many different pairs of shoes (not just the broken and abandoned), during her stay among the Wodaabe. Among the shoes part of her collection are a great variety of sandals – some made by the Wodaabe themselves and others that they purchased at the Madaoa Market in Niger – made by the Tuareg. The Tuareg sandals are characterized by their turquoise colour and they are called siwreji by the Wodaabe, meaning ‘a 1000 stings’. The leather sandals are known as padde lavral fittingly meaning ‘shoe made from cowhide’.
//Katrine Mandrup Bach