Response to innovation in a Zarma village: Contemporary tradition in Niger, West Africa

Date of Completion

January 1991


Anthropology, Cultural|Education, Agricultural|Education, Social Sciences




This study of the small farming community of Boula, Niger and the government sponsored agriculture training center Centre de Perfectionement Technique located adjacent to the village has two objectives: to present an ethnographic account of everyday life of the Zarma speaking inhabitants and to examine the responses within that settlement to some of the many innovative forces to which the inhabitants have been exposed.^ The methodology is that of participant observation supplemented by informal interviews. The paradigm of cultural materialism provides the framework for organizing the etic data, the emic data is enhanced by utilizing the concept of tradition as process.^ The Zarma occupy a highly visible place in modern Niger. However they are only minimally represented in the ethnographic literature. This account contributes to filling that void by describing one of the rural settlements in which most of the Zarma reside.^ Geographic conditions in the Sahel region place severe restriction on agricultural possibilities. Using hand held tools, the Zarma horticulturalists grow primarily millet and sorghum, plus small quantities of vegetables in kitchen gardens.^ Although seemingly isolated from easy contact with influences beyond its subsistence oriented lifestyle, in reality the residents are exposed to a wide variety of innovative forces. Many new ideas and products reach the villagers thru simple exposure to the world about them. Others are the result of changes planned and put into operation by outside agencies, particularly those sponsored by the government.^ The villagers acceptance or rejection of such innovation appears to depend on whether they perceive the new possibilities are adjustive or adaptive. Adjustments create a better fit in an already familiar life. Adaptations move to radically alter the societal pattern by introducing new modes for extricating energy for the environmental setting. Although the motivation for acceptance may be either conscious or unconscious, adaptive innovations, are less willingly received unless the changes they entail are already viewed as worthwhile by the population. ^