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  • February 3, 2013

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Paul Salopek
Afar Triangle, Ethiopia, 10°32'35'' N, 40°22'37'' E

The concept of the Web arrived long ago in the nomad strongholds of Africa. Fast, reliable information is a survival tool—not a luxury—when it comes to locating scarce water holes or avoiding roving cattle raiders.

In the pale thorn country of Ethiopia, the Afar herders have formalized a system of news-sharing called dagu. Anyone walking through the landscape can be stopped and buttonholed for information in a ritualized verbal exchange. Participation is obligatory. Phrases such as, “how is it?” (wagari) and “it is clear” (sahali), are repeated in long cycles between more substantive questions, until the participants squeeze each other dry of details. The word me’enahai signals the end of transmission. To outside ears, it can sound like two computers “talking” in binary code.

La’ad Howeni and Ahmed Alema Hessan swap news in the Afar badlands. When pastoralists meet, information flows. Photograph by Paul Salopek

“It’s more accurate than our Internet,” said Kassa Negussie Getachew, an Ethiopian anthropologist who’s written a book on Afar culture. “You have to tell things exactly in a dagu. Whether a man has a scar on the left side of his forehead, for example. This will be passed precisely through many people. Even your walk will be part of the dagu exchanges all the way to Djibouti.”

DMU Timestamp: March 21, 2014 21:54

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