The Sahrawi nomadic communities in Western Sahara have lived in the desert for centuries. They’ve been moving from place to place with their camels and tents. They have a long tradition of oral expression; poems, stories, desert wisdom as well as a nomadic calendar. The Nomadic Calendar is a unique way the Sahrawi used to tell time. It’s not numerical; it is an illustrated way of telling time and documenting history. The Sahrawi nomads give names to years; the years are given names from events that happen in each year. The Nomadic Calendar passes on actual knowledge crucial to living in and navigating the desert, the knowledge covers a wide range of references to historical events, geographies, plants and other knowledges. Saharawi visual artist and poet Mohamed Sleiman has been collecting, documenting and translating these orals and using them in his arts. He explores the collective and micro history of his community through various interviews and people’s stories and testimonies. Through his relation with his father Sulaiman Labat Abd, who narrates his stories and memories and tells about ‘The Year of Balls’, one of the years in the Nomadic Calendar. In 1957/58, the French and the Spanish air forces jointly launched air strikes against different nomadic communities in the northern parts of Western Sahara. The air raids were systemically directed at eliminating the nomads’ goat and camel herds. Sulaiman Labat Abd; Mohamed’s father, narrates the events and what he witnessed in ‘the Year of Balls’. The nomads didn’t know about bombs or planes, when they saw the bombs, they called them balls. Killing the camel herds’ means ending the means with which the nomads could pursue their nomadic lifestyle. With no camels, a huge number of the Sahrawi nomads are left with no means to support their families, and therefore pushed to move to the cities and are forced to be in the system. Some nomads speak of ‘Putting us into the system’ this is known historically as the process of documenting the nomads and including them in the Spanish civil system in different cities along the coast of Western Sahara. The Year of Balls tells about the colonial history in Western Sahara from the perspective of the Saharawi nomads and the systemic transformation of the Saharawi community, the history of violence, and the loss of valuable knowledge, practices and life of the Sahrawi. The story of the Year of Balls and the process of forced dislocation highlight a colonial method to end a lifestyle that has been practiced in Western Sahara for millennia.
The Year of Balls won the second award in FiSahara Film Festival in the Sahrawi refugee camps in 2020.