Living without waste, excess or redundancy, surrounded by a few useful, beautiful and meaningful objects. When it comes to living, we have a lot to learn from nomads

*Elena Dak, anthropologist and writer, she spent 34 days walking in the Tenéré desert, in Niger, with 300 dromedaries and 30 Tuaregs in a salt caravan


The extension of the concept of nomadism applied to any professional, human, social context is stale and overused. But above all it has nothing to do with the life lessons that nomads can teach us.

Migration, transhumance and all the possible intermediate ways of walking are dictated to these moving shepherds by a specific purpose: to find and exploit the scarce resources, like grass and water, that are scattered over a vast territory.

In this existence there is time for movement, necessary to procure food for the flock or herd. And there is time to stop, to regain strength before resuming the journey.

Creating a temporary camp, erecting light, transportable, demountable and yet welcoming architectures is as much a talent as the ability to cross the space by smelling it, listening to the subtle signals it transmits.

The constant exposure of the nomad to deserts and aridity raises in him a need, which is absolute yet managed with grace and self-control: to create a nest in the span of a handful of moments, a place to shelter from the wind, cold, or scorching sun. A domestic environment that can be as simple as a mat or a blanket.

In the new domestic perimeter that the nomad borrows from the environment, he sets up the very few objects he owns. The essential that furnishes the interior is the reflection of the emptiness of the external environment and a need imposed by having to carry everything personally or thanks to animals.

This process of transformation of the desert into a home occurs quickly and it is followed by the resting time. When a Nomad Touareg sits down on the sand and lays out his tea kit on the ground, lighting a fire with a few sticks, he has asked nature for hospitality consent, while taking a portion of land for himself. He is immediately at ease with his environment and can enjoy the waiting, the stillness, the silence.

There is no excess, waste, redundancy in the life of the nomad who is also armed with a gesture suited to touching everyday objects with delicacy.

Those objects live in migration and pass the time in movement, sometimes swinging or carefully holed up in leather or fabric pouches if fragile. They participate in the rhythm of the animal step. The objects that accompany the nomad take on life and value through the care that comes from the hands of man and from their position on ever new land or sands. They become important through the relationship with the dust with which they live, the sand into which they are pushed to have stability or the branch from which they hang, the drops of milk that soak their fibers, or from being grazed and continually overturned by the paws some animals.

Everything he possesses is useful, serving one or more purposes. Yet in the nomadic world, everything must be beautiful: inexpensive, but aesthetically refined, decorated, gratifying for the eye, which, although accustomed to large spaces, also knows how to settle on details with a spirit of observation.

To understand the laws of the desert and the infinitely large, in fact, one must be able to read the infinitely small, and a gaze trained to look into the distance is trained to perceive the smallest nearby object with the same acumen.

The teaching that comes to us from the nomadic culture, on the subject of living, therefore has a lot to do with the way we live. It tells us that, in life, silences matter as much as words and emptyness as much as fullness; while in the ephemeral house of the nomad everything participates in the movement. Essential does not mean bare or even cold. The simple is never trivial and beauty also leaves its mark on the wooden spoon used by the Mongolian shepherd to splash the grass with milk and bless the path.