no picture
Caravan

2006
Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Dam Sall and Jakob Hogel
Directed by Davina Pardo
VHS, color, 28 min.
Adult
African Studies, Women's Studies, Anthropology


Reviewed by Miriam Conteh-Morgan, The Ohio State University Libraries, Columbus, OH

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 8/14/2007

A Danish anthropologist travels with a group of women from the village of Termit across the Sahara desert. It is an annual six hundred-mile, round trip journey on camel back to an oasis town up north, and back again. Theirs is no regular business trip, for it combines trade with an opportunity to bond with other women on the trip, and also brings out the women’s self-reliant nature. The caravan is usually comprised of only women, except for the young boys who help with the animals, and the occasional male caravan leader. For the women, this journey is a commonplace activity, one which their grandmothers and mothers before them had undertaken, and which even the chief’s wife has made.

In general, the idea of women traveling great distances for trade purposes is not new to many scholars of Africa. What may be the novelty depicted in the documentary is the all-female make-up of the caravan, showing other facets of the African woman, especially the veiled one. The narrator filters the essence of the journey through feminist lenses, seeing it as status-conferring. Her reading may be right, but she sometimes seems to beg the question in the way she phrases her observations.

The documentary touches on other points of interest such as the leader’s navigating skills in the desert without modern technology, and the potential dangers of desert travel when wells along the way do not always yield water. It also offers glimpses into some cultural beliefs, like how to relieve an infant’s fever (pluck out its tooth with your back turned to any onlookers), and aspects of marriage customs. The documentary’s value lies in the fact that it shines a light on the African woman who is generally perceived as very different, and constructed according to binaries. But more importantly, the film reminds us that these perceptions are not always valid.