|© UNICEF/2007/ Holtz|
|A young Peuhl girl receives UNICEF emergency supplies in north-western Central African Republic.|
By Emily Bamford
BOSSANGOA, Central African Republic, 18 January 2008 – Despite the pain and hardship of being displaced from their homes, the Peuhl people of the Central African Republic (CAR) are continuing with their traditional way of life. They remain immaculately dressed in vivid fabrics and beaded jewellery, an amazing feat considering their ordeal over the past several weeks.
Originally from Tatali village in the Bozoum area of north-western CAR, a group of Peuhl fled their homes in terror from the notorious ‘coupeur de route’ bandits who patrol the region.
The Peuhl or ‘Mbororo people’ were traditionally nomadic pastoralists but have more recently adopted a comparatively sedentary lifestyle, settling in villages such as Tatali. Their traditional way of life is centred around rearing large herds of cattle, which provide them with financial security and relative prosperity.
In the past, this prosperity has proved vital in the face of ongoing conflict in CAR. More recently however, it has made the Peuhl an attractive target for the numerous bandits who operate in the north-west.
‘Taking everything in sight’
A disproportionately large number of Peuhl women and children are now residing in the herders’ rest house located on the outskirts of Bossangoa. The structure, which is essentially a barn, leaks when it rains.
Without food or running water, the Peuhl are struggling to survive. For the most part, they have lost everything they own. Many of the women have lost family members.
One woman explained how, in the dead of night, men descended on their homes, “taking everything in sight, attacking and kidnapping those unable to outrun them.”
Stripped of their livelihoods, savings and possessions – and terrified of having additional family members taken away – the families of Tatali left, walking for many days until they arrived in Bossangoa.
Because of heavy rains, the women had to sit on plastic sacking surrounded by water. Abiba, 2, lay beside her mother, Zinabu, looking very thin. Zinabu said she had begged and foraged in order to find enough food to support her four children and elderly mother. She covered her face, rocking back and forth, convinced that her missing husband was dead.
Aid for the displaced
With the help of the local Red Cross, UNICEF has distributed emergency supplies – including sleeping mats, soap, jerry cans and mosquito nets – to the displaced villagers. Zinabu and her daughter were referred to the nearby therapeutic feeding centre, where Abiba received critical nutritional assistance. The centre, supported by UNICEF and its partner Action Contre la Faim, had just opened and was already full to capacity.
UNICEF is further assisting displaced populations through the emergency provision of health care and education. In the long term, the Peuhl hope to be able to return to Tatali, although the ongoing conflict is likely to make this difficult anytime soon.
For Zinabu, Tatali now seems a million miles away. “I would love to go home. It is where I belong, but I cannot return there until I know that my children will be safe,” she said.