Wodaabe-Fulani girl from Agadez in Niger, West Africa with her awesome traditional Wodaabe hairstyle, facial tattoo and earrings ready to participate Gerewol festival where men are dressed and dance to allow women to make a choice for a husband. The Wodaabe also known as Bororo are nomadic cattle-herders and traders that forms a subset of the larger Fulani (Fulbe) ethnolinguistic group in the Sahel, with migrations stretching from southern Niger, through northern Nigeria, northeastern Cameroon, and the western region of the Central African Republic. Nowadays Wodaabe or Mbororo are also found in countries in East Africa, including Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. The Wodaabe/Mbororo–Fulani, who are the largest nomadic group in the world, play a crucial economic role as seen in the following remark by Weeks (1978: 133), “Their herds of cattle and sheep are the major source of meat for hundreds of villagers, towns and cities from Wadai, beyond the shore of lake Chad to the Atlantic coast of Senegal.”
They are known for their beauty (both men and women), elaborate attire and rich cultural ceremonies. Obsessively vain, exotic, strange, and foreign–these are words frequently used by Europeans and Americans to describe the Wodaabe/Mbororo-Fulani. In her 2001 book, Nomads Who Cultivate Beauty, Mette Bovin confronts these stereotypes. She notes that although many may believe that the tall thin Wodaabe men–who paint their faces yellow, widen their eyes, and quiver their black painted lips during annual dance performances–resemble “homosexuals or transvestites,” Wodaabe men are, in fact, dressing “for the sake of young girls” (p. 41). The Wodaabe, especially men, “use enormous amounts of time, energy and money to become pretty, handsome, beautiful, ’exotic,’ attractive, elegant, refined, and symmetrical in poor surroundings” (p. 9).
The WoDaaBe/Mbororo-Fulani have a wonderful Gerewol festival, an annual courtship ritual competition. Young men dressed in elaborate ornamentation and made up in traditional face painting gather in lines to dance and sing, vying for the attentions of marriageable young women. In outlining the the yaake dance, Bovin explained that male dancers strive to imitate the grace and elegance associated with the long-legged white cattle egret, attempting to harness the power of the bird. Bovin writes about Wodaabe women that they appear to play a peripheral role.
For example, Bovin writes that during yaake performances, women “stand in a crowd at a distance, they look shy, but they are in fact active and important spectators. Women judge and choose among the men!” Bovin continues to state that women “choose not the ”Miss Wodaabe“ but the ”Mr. Wodaabe“ of the year!” (p. 47). In fact, the “names of male beauty contest winners are remembered for several generations”
BY: Kweku Darko Ankrah