The Wodaabee: The Tribe Where Men Steal Each Other’s Wives
The Wodaabe or Bororo are nomadic people populating the Sahel desert of West Africa. The Islamic tribe migrates, stretching from southern Niger, through northern Nigeria, northeastern Cameroon, and the western region of the Central African Republic.
Travellers have indicated that some Wodaabe groups in Niger are sexually liberal; unmarried girls may have sex whenever and with whomever they wish.
The Wodaabe practice polygamy. Marriages are either arranged by parents when the couple are infants or they can be because of love and attraction.
Wodaabe men typically have one primary child-bearing wife and three other partners.
A bride stays with her husband until she becomes pregnant after which she returns to her mother’s home, where she will remain for the next three to four years.
She will deliver the baby at her mother’s home and then she becomes a boofeydo, which literally means “someone who has committed an error.”
While she is boofeydo, she is not allowed to have any contact with her husband, and he is not allowed to express any interest in either her or the child.
After two to three years, she is permitted to visit her husband, but it is still taboo that she should live with him or bring the child with her; this only becomes permissible when her mother has managed to purchase all the items that are necessary for her home.
During daylight, husband and wife cannot hold hands or speak in a personal manner with each other.
Once a year in a few selected locations, their tribe gathers to celebrate the fantastic tradition of Gerewol, often referred to in the popular press as a male beauty pageant.
At the Gerewol, their beautiful men prepare themselves painstakingly carefully and then perform in front of an opinionated female crowd in the hope of attracting their affectations.
The other exciting thing about Wodaabe culture is that the responsibility lands upon the men to beautify themselves and appeal to the women, a societal quirk that defies a world wide tradition of the reverse.
The Wodaabe, decorate their faces and accentuate their bone structure with colored clay for the annual Gerewol courtship ceremony.
They apply black eyeliner and lipstick, and stick ostrich plumes in their hair. The ceremony precedes the rains that relieve the dry season in the Sahara. It also is a time for pairing up.
The dolled-up guys line up and enact a series of facial movements and sounds including eye rolling, tongue clicking and teeth baring.
Three women, often the daughters of previous winners, are specially chosen as judges to pick the most attractive male of the ceremony.
The same time, the one who looks the most attractive and knows how to strut, will attract the attention of women, which is the main goal of men from the Wodaabe people.
Wodaabe women favour tallness, white eyes and teeth, and facial symmetry in their men, and both the dance and makeup job serve to accentuate these features.
During these dances, the men stand shoulder to shoulder and slowly move round the circle as they dance. Behind them stand the eligible women of the tribe who wait until their favourite beaux passes by, at which point they tap him on the shoulder to signal their interest.
The Yaake dance, however is the one every man wants to excel in. It’s the dance that they spend the most time preparing for, something similar to ‘Best in Show’ at Crufts… any man who is chosen as the most attractive in a Yaake line up will never be short of female amorous attention.
At the height of the dance, each of the three girls shuffles painfully slowly down the line of dancing men with her arm up and head bowed and upon reaching her winner, drops her arm to point him out.
Since every Wodaabe girl and boy has an arranged marriage, but there is always the possibility of a second love marriage, so Gerewol is a dangerous time. Not only may flirtation lead to romance but your own man may be stolen by another woman.
All the girls remain on their guard. Such love marriages will give a man enhanced sexual and social status. They can last a day, a week or a lifetime but will never carry any social stigma.
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