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Wara, The Local Cheese

Jun 8 2018

Whenever I travel I always seek out local food and learn the process of making it if possible.
I grew up in the gateway to the Northern State, that is Kwara State and I have met my fair share of Fulani. Reading the ‘Burning Grass’ by Cyprian Ekwensi was my introduction into the Fulani culture proper.

Back then they will come to the market in their colourful attires, the women with their colourful embroidered jumper top with a cream embroided wrapper to go and the men with their danshiki like with threads bare at the side and their trousers and their sticks. They were always a fascinating site to behold.

I always look forward to seeing them whenever I go to the market and prayed I witness the shiro dance at one point. More importantly is the Wara they make. It is the local cheese made from fresh milk gotten from the cows they rear.
Hearing the recent Fulani crisis made me wondered if they were the same Fulani I loved watching as a child, are they the same Fulani I read in Cyprian Ekwensi’s book? If they are, then something is not right somewhere.
I looked forward to spending some time in a Fulani settlement to study their daily lives and more importantly learn how to make Wara.
I finally got my wish.

I spent some hours with a little Fulani family in their little community and I learnt what the issues are and more importantly the real Fulani are not the ones killing but the Niger immigrants referred to as Bororo.


I am presently on an assignment for work somewhere and there are a few fulani community nearby and I have bought ‘Wara’ the local cheese twice from them. I arranged with a local who knew their community to take me there and we set the date and time to go. When we got there i noticed the vibrant presence of agriculture with maize, cassava, and yam in the area.
We were looking for a particular lady and we met her. I explained my plan to document how the wara is made and learn a little bit about their day-to-day activity and she said I will pay o. We laughed about it and she explained that we need to seek permission from her husband since he is the one who milks the cow and she has no authority to tell us when to come around the next day.

The person I went with immediately called the husband who was in town to wait for us at her shop.

Few minutes later we met with the husband and we arranged for me to meet him the next day at 7am. He milks the cow early in the morning and the wife starts to make the Wara by 9am. It was a fair one. We concluded and I went home.


The following morning I was awake as early as 5am and I left for the community around 6:30am. On arriving I met Alfa preparing for the day. I saw a huge herds of cow on the right, on approaching where he was I saw another herd. I expressed my amazement for they were not there when we came around the previous day. He explained that the cows were taken out to graze when we came around. We got talking while he got his kids together to start the days work.

The day started with Alfa and his four kids going in between the cows to check the ones that are breastfeeding. It is only the ones that are breastfeeding that produce milk which is used for Wara and milk for use in the house.
He brought out out two buckets which he filled with the milk when he was done. He started milking the cows while we chatted about the age of the cows and how it works.

According to him, his two older sons go with the cows everyday while the two younger ones go to school. I asked if he had daughters, and he said yes but they are schooling in Ilorin.

If you are used to cows there are two things that is common to them,they do pee and poo a times where they are and there are lots of flies around them.

There is a saying in Yoruba,’Malu ti ko ni iru, Olorun lonba le esinsin‘, that is ” It is God that helps the tailless cow to chase flies away.’ This had meaning for me as the cows were busy wagging their tails not because they want to but because they had to chase the flies away.

If you are milking the mother cow, the calf is a few feet away if not right in front of the cow. I noticed that while Alfa was milking the mother, the baby cow was being tied to a rope and held a few feet aaway by one of his sons.
He explained that the cow only allows half of her milk to be taken while she reserves the other half for the calf. A cow will never allow her baby to go hungry. Immediately he is done with a cow the calf quickly latch onto the breast to feed from the other half. He went on to explain the growth system of the cows to me. The calf are about six months and the next ones are around two years old.

The male fulani start herding cows at the age of three, which explains the presence of BJ, last born who is three years old. I observed the love between he and the cows, they were rubbing their nose on his body and he went around them fearless. “A male fulani is given his own herd at age three to take care of. They learn how to care for the cows like I am doing now,” said Alfa.

One of the boys took care of the flies around the cows by spraying insecticides on their legs to chase the fly away. He has to be careful so it does not affect the cows.

I watched as the boys went about their morning business with their father for at least an hour. This is a method of self discipline for the kids. Learning that you are responsible for lives at the tender age of three is a huge responsibility. Though BJ do not go far with his brothers, he tend to find his way home on his own.

On security for the boys when they go out on their own without their father like they do during the Ramadan season, he said no animal can withstand a herd of cows unless it’s hurt. The cows keep the boys safe.

On how they grow their herds, I learnt the use of the Jacob system from him. People do buy cow from them and give them to herd for as long as they want. The payment system is the sharing of the calves delivered by the cow if it is a female cow that is bought. The first calf belongs to the owner, the second one belongs to him and vice-versa, reason why I called it the Jacob system (Remember Jacob and Laban from the Bible)


After delivering the two bucket of milk to their mother in the kitchen I went inside the kitchen with her when she was ready to start the making of wara.

She made the fire using firewood and ‘oguso‘ which is a bye product of palm kernel roughage. She then went on to pour the milk into a clean pot. She washed her hands again. Then she cuts parts of a long stemmed plant which she called Bomo bomo and started grinding it on the grinding stone. She put the grinned one into the pot of milk, stirred the pot and the squeezed the plant. She put a sieve inside to pick the remaining particles of the plant inside the milk.
Then she puts the pot of milk on fire at a moderate temperature. She explained that the bomo bomo is the plant that allows the milk to curdles into curds that is the final wara. After a while there was a foam like structure on top of the pot, she took a bowl and removed the top foam structure and water which she threw away.
One can start seeing the curds of cheese in the pot. After a few minutes, she brought out some little basket like construction and started pouring the curds inside. This explains the shape that that wara has, it takes the shape of the contraction. After one minute she turned them into the bowl they will use in selling them which already contained the water taken from the curds. The water serves as a form of preservative for the wara.Voila, wara is ready.


I engaged Alfa in a discussion about herdsmen crisis and why are the fulani herdsmen doing so. He explained that he migrated from Kwara State and this is his sixth year living where he is. He has family and roots. This is the difference between a real fulani and a ‘bororo’ who are migrants from Niger and Chad republic. Because they are nomadic like the fulani and they tend to have almost if not same facial structure, people tend to label them as Fulani.

“A bororo will never breed a family or build houses, or put down structures like we do. The bororos tend to live further in the bush and do not want to mingle with others except themselves. They build temporary habitats in a round circle in the bush. They move in groups and will never mix with their host community unlike the real fulanis who integrates themselves ito the community.”, He explained.

On how they get the land which they live in, he explained what leads to them settling down in a place. “The cows choose where we settle down. If the grassland benefits them we then look for a place to stay. After a few days the owner of the land approaches us and we agree on payment for lease or outright buyout if we want to stay for a long time.”

He further explained that “we are hurt by the Bororo people as well. They come into our farmlands, kill our livestock and almost hurt our family. We are not troublesome as a people.”

The conversation I had with him further buttress my belief that something is not right somewhere as the Fulani people that I know do not go about killing people. What measure of security can be taken by government to curb the infiltration of these group of people that have turned our country upside down? I hope this speaks to someone out there.

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