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In the Afar Badlands, Paul Salopek's guide Alema and Afar herders use dagu as a way to share vital news along the trail.


5 - 12


English Language Arts, Social Studies, Geography, Anthropology, Storytelling

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In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of Paul Salopek's first steps on his Out of Eden Walk journey, this dispatch is now available for educational use in fifth- and eighth-grade reading levels. The original text is available as the default reading level, as well as on the Out of Eden Walk website.

By Paul Salopek


The concept of the Web arrived long ago in the nomad regions 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 thorny plains of Ethiopia, the Afar herders have formalized a system of news-sharing called dagu. Anyone walking through the landscape can be stopped and pressed for information in a ritualized verbal exchange. Participation is required. Phrases such as, “how is it?” (wagari) and “it is clear” (sahali), are repeated in long cycles between more significant 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.

“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.”

View the original dispatch on the OOEW site to hear an Afar dagu exchange.

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Oliver Payne
Text Levels
Web Producer
Bayan Atari, National Geographic Society
Instructional Designer
Dan Byerly, National Geographic Society
With help froms
Claudia Hernandez-Halper
Kate Gallery, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

January 22, 2024

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