African People: Wodaabe Flirtation Festival

African People: Wodaabe Flirtation Festival


As Mette Bovin, a Danish anthropologist who has spent much time with the Wodaabe put it:

In the West, we have become disenfranchised as creators of art. We think we can participate by looking at art. The Wodaabe all create art. Every individual is an active creator, decorator and performer—and a potential innovator.

In Wodaabe society all individuals actively decorate their bodies and actively create the cultural elements of the material culture. A specialized class of artists does not exist in this pastoral nomadic society. There are no full-time artists who are different from other people, as in Western societies.



Wodaabe or Bororo are a small subgroup of the Fulani ethnic group of Fulani Nation in Nigeria.

The Wodaabe are a proud nomadic people who are scattered across the sub-Saharan Sahelian steppe in Niger and North Africa. They are said to have originated in the upper Nile basin, and their exact origins are heavily debated by scholars; some say they are from Ethiopia, while others insist they are from Egypt. The Wodaabe keep largely to themselves and rarely marry outside of their own group, which has enabled them to keep their cultural and genetic identity pure. The Wodaabe people trace their origins to two brothers, Ali and Degereejo. A sub-group of the Fulani people, the Wodaabe are traditionally known as the Bororo. (


A parade of cultural costumes with basic introductions. Swimsuit category follows, and finally an evening wear segment. Elimination of participants as about five emerge as finalists. Final appearances, each one of the finalists answers a couple of quick questions. Audience waits in anticipation. Compere announces judges’ decision and the winner is crowned.

Basic routine of a beauty pageant. Whether an international one like, Miss Universe, or Miss World, or a local or national affair: Miss Nigeria, Miss Kenya, Miss Campus, etc. it’s always a female affair with the finest ladies on parade. But somewhere in Africa, a beauty pageant is organized, and the contestants are not females, but males.

Welcome to the Gerewol, an annual beauty pageant among the Wodaabe tribe, where the men wear the make-up, while the women decide the winner.  (



Wodaabe people ( man ) NIGER

Wodaabe men pride themselves in their beauty and they woo and gain women through elaborate make-up and dance. Both men and women consider tall figure, light skin, thin lips, long jaws, white eyes and teeth to be beautiful in a man. These main features are accentuated with carefully applied make up during the dances in order to attack the opposite sex. (

Colours like yellow is being applied on the face bring out a man’s charm and personality. This makes him more irresistible. Black natural paint is applied onto the lips to make his white teeth more prominent. Preparation (of the make-up) takes hours or even a whole day. In addition, they want to look as tall as possible. (



Wodaabe men rarely seen without a mirror in her hand. They are always looking for ways to impress women, hope can be agreed and reception. (

The yaake, or charm competition, requires much preparation by the men. Men devote many hours before the yaake to make themselves beautiful.


The members of the Nigerian Wodaabe tribe pride themselves on their physical beauty, and their appearance is essential in finding a suitable partner with which to share their life. Each year, the Wodaabe engage in a mating ritual known as Yaake.

During this seven-day festival, men adorn their bodies to highlight their most “attractive” features; they paint their faces yellow to make their expressions and facial structure more prominent; lips and eyelids are painted black to bring out the white of the teeth and eyes; they wear intricate costumes and stand at their full heights, attempting to make themselves as physically appealing as possible to an audience of critical female tribe members.


Wonaabe Dancing Ritual

The men then participate in a dance, swaying and singing while rolling their eyes back and grinning, a display which is considered highly attractive in the Wodaabe culture. Women stand at a distance, discreetly watching, yet never making eye contact with their love interest, as it is considered taboo to do so.


“Ladies, ladies all around, who’s the finest dude in town?”

For the Wodaabe, the week-long Gerewol symbolizes a time for love through a courtship contest where the men beautify and adorn themselves to try and win a lady. A key part of the festival is dance. During the seven-day period, several dance routines takes place with the men standing shoulder to shoulder and moving around slowly a circle. (


The men are judged by the three most beautiful women of the tribe. These women are not married, are normally from another clan, and aren’t even allowed to look into the eyes of these men. However, these judges aren’t the only ones checking out the stock and come the end of the ceremony, looking will actually be the least of what’s on these tribe members’ agenda!


The three most attractive women  stroll up and down the line of dancers, tapping the chests of those they find most attractive.


And what is she looking for in a man? Well, for starters, he must be tall. A lot of the festival dances involve the men swaying on their tiptoes to show off their height, although many of them are already nearing 7 feet! Women are also looking for long sharp noses, which is accentuated with the face paint, and bright white teeth. What is the  secret of Wodaabe men having some of pearliest whites ?

Although, the men ARE very handsome, they make strange faces throughout the “charm ceremony” (or the yaake) to show off these pearly whites as well as the whites of their eyes, which is also a preferred feature sought out after byWodaabe women. These men would look rather silly by most, bouncing on their tiptoes while crossing their eyes and chattering their teeth…but the Wodaabe women LOVE it!

Each of the selected women, married already or not, choose the man they find most beautiful to spend the night together, before all attendees return to their herds and nomadic rovings.

“Willing abductions” is how I saw it described on one website. Suppose a woman isn’t happy with her husband. She goes to the gerewol and spots out cute boo #2. Cute boo #2 also came with his wife-snatching mission and through a series of discreet gestures, the interest is communicated and arrangements are made. (

Later in the evening, another dance is performed, this time highlighting “natural beauty.” This time, no makeup is worn and only the most confident tribesmen participate. By midnight, men and women are paired, and when the seven-day festival ends, they return to their village together to start a new life.


In the Wodaabe culture, perhaps the reason is simply to find a suitable spouse with which one will find success and happiness. (

The highlight of Gerewol is the Yaake dance which lasts hours under the desert sun – a show of stamina, fueled by a strong fermented bark concoction with alleged hallucinogenic effect drunk by the participants.

Wodaabe gathering


Wodaabe Women

Wodaabe women are considered attractive to the men if they have beautiful figures and facial features, intelligence and personality. They seem to be prized more for abstract characteristics as well, such as the latter two features mentioned. (


In the shade of a tree in Niger’s hot Sahel, Wodaabe nomad girls are turning odds and ends into simple jewelry.

Although the responsibility is with the men to beautify themselves and attract the women at the Gerewol and throughout daily life, women of the Wodaabe still care deeply about aesthetics and beauty.Wodaabe Women

The Fulani Wodaabe Tribe are gorgeous!

Wodaabe women are absolutely stunning and the way they style their hair would definitely give this wack-ass mohawk craze a run for its money. Beautiful brown skin and penetrating eyes, the Wodaabe women are just fascinating.

The festival called Gerewol, the Wodaabe woman’s first husband must be her cousin. But after that, she is free to marry outside of the family…or in other words, form a “love relationship”, or a teegel marriage. In this case, instead of the family choosing the mate or even the man choosing the woman, she chooses him!

 Wodaabe women are the ones choosing the men is also an interesting turn from societal norms; especially considering that in the neck of the woods, men are essentially “allowed” to be whores and it’s okay and acceptable. However, let a sexually assertive woman step on the pimp scene and start choosing, and she’s automatically branded a slut in the West.


Wodaabe’s Cultural Systems

The Wodaabe divide themselves into 15 lineage groups. Membership is based on both blood-lines and traveling together in the dry season.

Membership in a lineage groups determines who can marry whom. The only marriages that may occur between members of the same groups are Koobegal marriages arranged during the partners’ childhood and formally recognized by the council of elders. Subsequent Teegal marriages are by choice of the partners.

Lineage-group membership doesn’t exclude people from Teegal marriages, but such marriages often cause friction. They usually involve “wife-stealing,” often with the consent of the woman but never with that of her husband. Teegal marriage is also a source of friction between the new wife and previous ones. More wives means that fewer resources, such as milk from the husband’s herd, are allocated to each. Eloping in a Teegal marriage that carries little stigma allows a Wodaabe woman considerable freedom, but she must leave her children with the ex-husband. The system guarantees the children’s place in society while permitting spontaneity and flexibility to the parents.

The Wodaabe believe in various bush spirits that live in trees and wells and are reputed to be saddened by how people have treated them. All spirits are intertwined in taboos pertaining largely to ecology. Some spirits are dangerous.

The Wodaabe have acquired some knowledge of Islam and invoke the name of Allah in times of death or difficulty. However, what constitutes the notion of Allah for the Wodaabe is ambiguous.

More central is a set of values concerning beauty, patience, and fortitude. Physical beauty – a long nose, round head, light skin, and white teeth – is one ideal quality, particularly for men but for women as well. Wodaabe sometimes wear makeup to enhance these attractions.

Central cultural institutions are the dances – Geerewol, Worso, and Yakke – held during tribal gatherings in the rainy season. During tribal gatherings, flirtations occur and Teegal marriages are negotiated. In the dances, the men of a lineage engage in a beauty contest judged by three young women from an opposite lineage. These young women are picked as judges by the male tribal elders on the basis of their fortitude and patience. They appraise the men on appearance, charm, and dancing ability. (


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