A photo I took of a young shepherd crossing the River near Niamey with his livestock amidst a sandstorm convinced me that I should explore the extraordinary powers and myths of the Niger River and of its communities. Through my discussions with Niger friends, I found out about Harakoye, the goddess of the River.
In Songhay-Zarma mythology, Harakoye’s legend begins in Timbuktu. She followed the River across Mali and into Niger, eventually reaching Nigeria. Along the way, Harakoye coupled with men from the various communities living on the banks of the River. She still rules the River and is the protector of fishermen. Harakoye and her six children also are called upon to resolve everyday problems: prayers for fertility, abundant rains for good harvests, and settling of family or community conflicts.
Even today, this goddess represents a powerful unifying myth, promoting peaceful coexistence between the communities living along the Niger River. She is often portrayed in people’s imaginations as a very beautiful Fulani woman with black hair who wears a white dress.
As I sailed up and down the River by canoe, a journey of initiation and transformation slowly took shape. I realized that time did not matter anymore along the River and that its populations were living in complete symbiosis with the vegetation and water surrounding them. This essay is an attempt to capture the unique ties linking the different ethnic groups to the Niger River, as well as the ancestral myths that these communities share. It is a work-in-progress.