Notes from the field: Cow Color Wars

We had a very interesting few days painting the cows which represented the right to circulation in the Peace Through Human Rights mural. Herding cows was the image chosen to represent this right because Touaregs (the ethnic majority of the camp) are a pastoral people whose livelihood is based on breeding and trading livestock.  The cows were painted and repainted by different participants for three or four days.   After one participant competed painting the cows to his satisfaction, another participant would erase the other’s work without asking.  I learned that their obsession with finding the perfect colors for the cows came from the fact that each of the five boys involved in the “cow color war” wanted the cows to look like the cows they had left back home in Mali. In West African pastoral cultures children are sometimes given a cow when they are born and they grow up with their cow, much as a child in the US or Europe might grow up with a dog or cat.  The coloring of Brahman cows varies greatly, so I can imagine that each participant had a very specific image in their head of their own cow and wanted the cows in the mural to look exactly like theirs.  I had never seen them so intent about color. Lots of different colors of paint were mixed to find the “right” colors and lots of heated discussions ensued about what was a good color for a cow and what was not. At one point one of the cows was pink! It was exasperating sometimes when small containers of paint were wasted in this search to find the perfect color.  It was also a fascinating process to witness.  I finally had to draw a line on how many more times the cows could be re-painted as it didn’t seem like there would ever be an outcome where everyone was happy. Despite the great amount of time taken up by the “cow color war”, it was wonderful to see them so adamant and attached to what was depicted in the mural, and to get to know a little bit more about their culture and how much cattle mean to them.

– Christina

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