The Wodaabe courtship of the Niger tribe….

Understanding the tribe with a unique culture of dancing their way to marriage.

Image ref: See Africa Today

Unlike the usual practice in most cultures where the woman gets to do pageantry, and the men get to choose their wives. The wodaabe tribe of the Fulani has a practice where the men do the display, and the women get to pick their husbands in the pageantry.

The people of woodabe are living in many parts of western Africa – Nigeria, Chad, Senegal, Niger to Sudan. They are nomadic cattle rearers, always on the move in search of greener pastures. The wodaabe tribe is one of the subgroups of the Fulani, and wodaabe translates as “people of the taboo.” To paint a picture, the Wodaabe man wakes up in the Sahel desert, with his shelter and his castles and donkeys as possessions.

Culturally, the men usually tend to camels and cows, while women do domestic chores like cooking and tending to their donkeys. Although they are an Islamic community, they are known for their creativity, which is mostly expressed through fashion style, dyed cloth, jewelry, hairstyles, face decoration, and scarification.

Wodaabe culture values male beauty more than female beauty. The men and women complete their morning beauty rituals religiously, as their physical appearance speaks to their ideals of self-respect. The term ‘Kayeejo Naawdo’, which means ‘hurting man’, is used to describe a man who is painful to look at because of his beauty.

The tribe holds an annual festival called the Gerewol during which men dress elaborately, wear make-up and hold a beauty pageant of some sort. During the festival, men dress to impress the wives of other men.

The culture believes that beauty can be judged by the whiteness of the eye, the firm straight bridge of the nose, and white teeth. Therefore, the makeup done is to accentuate these features.

Before the festival begins, it takes the men six hours to prepare and get ready so they can dance and show themselves off.

Image ref: Richard Turner

They paint their faces with red clay, use eyeliners to make their eyes appear whiter, and wear a shade of lipstick that will make their teeth appear whiter. They also wear white ostrich feathers in their hair making them appear taller.

During the festival, three of the tribe’s most beautiful women are chosen to judge as the men display through a dance, moving in circles.

Other women, already wives of other men, admire the men they most desire to choose as their second husband. If a man successfully steals a wife without being caught, the man automatically becomes her husband and the union is accepted.
The tribe is a polygamous one hence the wife stealing is widely accepted. In spite of this, some men do not wish their wives to be stolen, and so do not allow them to participate in the festival.

Image ref: Nollywood Times

The winner of the Gerewol festival is awarded a night of passion with a beautiful woman from the village. Both parties may or may not be married. This beauty contest indicates women in the Wodaabe tribe have positions of power in terms of beauty and mating.

What a culture right?!

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