Shooting Stars: Thunderstones

By Jheri St. James

(Fragment of Ténéré seen from space)

“Peace be on thee, O Sidi. I know what you came here for, so you may listen what I have to tell you O Sidi. In the caravansaries across Fachi the Tibbu people susurrate of a place, none of the unbelievers has ever got to see. It’s the Mesa of the Thunderstones. Inschallah you may have heard of it. Many have tried to get there but Al Dschumdschab, the glooming breath of the Erg has devoured them all. Death hath come upon them; and Allah is the terminator of delights and the separator of companions and the devastator of flourishing dwelling; so He hath transported them from the comfort of their homes to the dust of the graves. Their bones parch in the valleys of the great Sand Sea while far away in their countries their mansions are void of their presence. As Dschinns they stray through the desert and shall find no rest. But you are young and strong O Sidi, together with me you can dare the challenge. Inschallah my people will recall your name still in a hundred years and those who went with you will know you as “Abu Teckak,The Father of Thunderstones.” We will cross the desert and climb the mesa of thunderstones, and your rejoicing will be great when you load your camels with the black thunderstones—
Allah to whom be ascribed might and glory be my witness.” Abu Selima


Numerous petroglyphs and engravings tell about more humid periods in which most parts of the Sahara were populated. Three major phases can be described, two can bee seen in the pictures. The oldest (top, elephant hunting scene) is dated until 12.000 B.C. which is equivalent to the end of the last ice age. Apart from naturalistic animal and hunting illustration the "Round Head Phase" from 7,000 to 5,000 B.C. shows a broad variety of stylized figures that refer to the mythological imagery of the early hunter clans (bottom).


(Stone meteorite at Timmersoi)

The oldest matter found on earth originates from outer space. This debris from far away worlds falls from the icy depths of space onto the ever-changing surface of our planet. Those fragments tell us about the emergence of the elements and the birth and death of celestial bodies. Today in almost every country there are scientists who work on decoding their messages. Few have investigated in those rare areas in the vast deserts of North Africa, in which meteorites are found in dense concentrations. The study of these meteorite fields was the mission of the team from Meteroite Recon. In early 2002 a group of German researchers launched the first scientific expedition into the eastern part of the Central Sahara. The goal of this mission into one of the most extreme regions of our earth was the search for undiscovered strewfields and, if possible, the salvage of cosmic debris from the dust of the Tenere desert. More recently, an expedition in the summer of 2004 led the team into the Red Hammada and some 1,5000 miles in the trackless expanse of the Libyan Sahara doing fieldwork in their challenging search for black “thunderstones”.

Sometimes with meteor showers you will see bolides, particularly bright meteors which have a long trail and end in an explosion. Bolide is a Greek word meaning "thrown spear."

Mediterranean cultures and the Chinese thought they were dragons, or messengers sent from the heavens. In Siberian legends, the sky was a dome of sewn hides through which the gods would occasionally peer, exposing a flash of the radiance beyond. Several Native American tribes thought meteors were fragments of lunar material and called them "children of the moon."

Many cultures saw meteors as something either very good, or something very bad. For centuries, in the UK it was customary to say that a child had been born each time a meteor appeared, perhaps with the story of the Star of Bethlehem in mind. But in other parts of the UK, it was believed that the sight of a meteor meant that someone had died. As the RMS Titanic was sinking in the frigid Atlantic water, the survivors mentioned seeing an abnormal amount of meteors and some believed it to be their beloved husbands (left aboard the sinking ship,) souls passing to heaven. It happened that just as Titanic was sinking, the Lyriad meteor shower was peaking.

*   *   *

"Amân Imân" - "Water means life", the most common saying among the Tuareg. This natural freshwater reservoir in the Air collects the rainwater and keeps it fresh over the dry periods over several years. The location served some 300 combatants as a hideout for one year during the rebellion.

The Republic of Niger is a landlocked country in Western Africa, bordering Nigeria and Benin south, Burkina Faso and Mali west, Algeria and Libya north and Chad east.

A vast, arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert, Niger endured austere military rule for much of its post-independence history, and is rated by the UN as one of the world’s least-developed nations. Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world with minimal government services and insufficient funds to develop its resource base. The largely agrarian and subsistence-based economy is frequently disrupted by extended droughts common to the Sahel region of Africa.

Niger became independent from France in 1960 and experienced single-party and military rule until 1991, when Gen. Ali SAIBOU was forced by public pressure to allow multiparty elections, which resulted in a democratic government in 1993. Political infighting brought the government to a standstill and in 1996 led to a coup by Col. Ibrahim BARE. In 1999 BARE was killed in a coup by military officers who promptly restored democratic rule and held elections that brought Mamadou TANDJA to power in December of that year. TANDJA was reelected in 2004.

* * *
The nations of Niger and Nigeria are named after the Niger River, a relatively ‘clear’ river, carrying only a tenth as much sediment as the Nile. Both rivers flood yearly, beginning in September, peaking in November and finishing by May. The Niger Inland Delta forms where its gradient suddenly decreases. The result is a region of braided streams, marshes and lakes the size of Belgium. The seasonal floods make the Delta extremely productive for both fishing and agriculture.

The Niger takes one of the most unusual routes of any major river, a boomerang shape that baffled European geographers for two millennia. It source is just 150 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, but the river runs away from the sea into the Sahara Desert, then takes a sharp right turn and heads southeast to the Gulf of Guinea. Westerners only established the true course in the 19th century; apparently come about because the Niger river is two ancient rivers joined together. The upper Niger, from the source past the fabled trading city of Timbuktu to the bend in the current river, once emptied into a now-gone lake, while the lower Niger started in hills near that lake and flowed south into the Gulf of Guinea. As the Sahara dried up in 4000-1000 BC, the two rivers altered their courses and hooked up.

*   *   *

Collection Location: “On the Tillabery Road, halfway between Niamey and Tillabery. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in ’88-90 and fell in love with the country, the land, the people, the smells, the culture. I’ve visited once, in 1995, and again last weekend. Sorry I’m not collecting the sample with a Nigerian, but since I no longer live there, I didn’t feel comfortable getting help from someone I don’t know …” So writes Ruth Estabrook, the soil collector for both Niger and Burkina Faso. We await her photos of the collection in Niger.

Niger is a land of ancient art, history, river currents, shooting stars and thunderbolts; bolides and warfare. It is a land where life expectancy at birth is 43.8 years. Human beings begin as the spark in their fathers’ eyes, shooting into life perhaps unprepared for the land of their emergence. They live on the platform of soil that Common Ground 191 treasures. They end their numbered days under that same soil, beneath the earth. Meteorites are miraculous messages of mankind’s connection with the stars, touching the earth with mystery and magic. We do not know what the results of the 2002 Meteorite Recon were. The first words of this journal entry were, “Peace be on thee, O Sidi” and it is our heartfelt wish for peace, prosperity and long life to the land of Niger.

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight:

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come to you.
If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star, as dreamers do.
Fate is kind. She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of their secret longing
Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.

*   *   *

The word for peace in Niger is “Lumana”…









All images and text © Copyright 2018 Common Ground 191 - All rights reserved