Beauty they say is in the eyes of the beholder, and the Wodaabe people take this saying to the next level. In our world, women are mostly seen adorned in magnificent clothing, face beat to perfection, strutting like a Queen to look attractive to both men and women. Different cultures and traditions show off their daughter so that the most eligible suitor to ask for her hand in marriage. The practice has been passed on from generation to generation. However, the Wodaabe people chose not to conform to the norm, as they have a unique way of practising the art of seduction or attraction.
The Woodabe tribe are nomadic cattle herders and traders in the Sahel, with migrations stretching from southern Niger, Chad, Northeast Nigeria, and Cameroon. They are also called the Mbororo or Bororo tribe and are known for their elaborate traditional attire and rich cultural celebrations.
The Wodaabe people have been ranked one of the vainest tribes and they have a traditional festival that reaffirms this title. The Wodaabe tribe comes together once a year for the Guerewol festival. The Guerewol festival is an annual courtship festival celebrated by the Wodaabe people. This festival is rated high because of its uniqueness and importance in its community.
The purpose of the Guerewol festival is for the women in the community to pick a man they want to mate with or marry. The Woodabe men adorn themselves in beautiful traditional wear decorated with feathers, then they apply elaborate makeup to other faces to look attractive enough to be picked by a Wodaabe woman. The art of looking good is not foreign to the Wodaabe men because every day, they put on their best clothes and admire themselves in a mirror before going about their daily lives of cattle rearing.
The Guerewol festival features different segments like the Yaake dance, bartering over dowry, competitions or camel races among suitors. The men are made to compete for the women’s attention and they have mastered the needed skills for this. They shave their hairline so that their forehead can appear elongated, then they practise eye-rolling and teeth-baring. All these are what the Wodaabe women find attractive.
The Wodaabe women are the judges during the ritual dance that puts the men in a trance-like state. The trance-like behaviour happens because of the erratic movement of their eyes and teeth. The wider the eyes and whiter the teeth is how more attractive you are. The women also look out for the rare skill where a man can roll one eye and grin at the same time. These kinds of men are more desirable. After or during the ritual dance, the woman taps the shoulder of the man she finds most attractive to pick him for herself. Being selected is a huge honour.
The women find this practice liberating because they pick the man they want to start a family with or just spend the night with. Married women looking to change their partner are also allowed to be judges at the festival. If she finds a man, the approval of the first husband is sought.
The festival has gone on for years, and it has attracted a lot of attention both internationally and locally. This is one of the few cultures that consider matriarchy crucial to their culture. However, the population of the Wodaabe people keeps decreasing and it leaves us to wonder if this unique culture will be around to be witnessed years from now.