The West African nation of Niger is home to a complex and profound tribal culture, as is the case with most regions in Africa. With varied cultures, come varying traditions and such is the case with the Wodaabe tribe of Niger as well.
The tribe is known for many things, including their colourful aesthetics and life style. Today though, we will be discussing a bizarre tradition that continues to persist among the tribesmen.
The Wodaabe tribe is famous for a ‘wife stealing’ festival, which is a slight peek into their unique take on romantic relationships. The men of the tribe are famous for being extremely vain, believing that they are the most beautiful men in the world.
Their self-obsession is such that they usually carry mirrors with them everywhere they go. The marriage rituals in the tribe are quite unique as well. Marriages are made during infancy and women have the right to be with as many partners as they wish before the marriage is consummated.
The tribe organizes a festival called Gerewol, where men dress up in an elaborate manner, use make up and present themselves flamboyantly in an attempt to try and entice the wives of other men.
The men take part in what would be the tribal version of a beauty pageant. The tribe values aesthetics like the whites of the eyes, a straight bridge of the nose and white teeth. The make up and ornaments used often focus on enhancing these features.
Prior to the beginning of the festival, the men are given six hours to prepare themselves for dancing and showing themselves off to the women present.
The usual material used for make up includes red clay, eyeliners, lipsticks and white ostrich feathers in their hair which make them appear taller.
To judge the event, three of the tribe’s most beautiful women are chosen, who look at the men while they dance around in circles. Women who are already married to other men, join in to admire the dancers and possibly choose their second husband.
As is obvious, the tribe is polygamous, which makes it socially acceptable to ‘steal wives’. Having said that, some men dislike the idea and do not wish to have their wives stolen. These men keep their women from participating in the festival.