Meet the men who wear makeup so that women can find them attractive
The Wodaabe custom is prevalent amongst the Fulani ethnic group in Africa. The fulanis reside in certain parts of West Africa such as Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Chad, Sudan. By nature, members of the wodaabe tribe are nomadic cattle rearers and are always on the move in search of greener pastures. They are also known as “Bororo” and are usually tall with nice, slender physique.
Once a year, the wodaabe tribesmen gather together to celebrate the Guerewol annual courtship ritual. The Guerewol festival is a period when tribal meetings, dowry discussions and other forms of socialization are held. Other activities such as camel racing, singing and dancing are also done during this time.
Apart from addressing other usual tribal matters, young men who are ready to get married see the Guerewol festival as an opportunity to compete, meet and get picked by members of the opposite sex.
Since the festival happens only once a year, the unmarried tribesmen ensure that they participate in the competition so they can get a wife during the event.
As the festival begins, many young men get dressed in their best attire and ornaments so that they can impress a potential partner. The men compete, while the women judge.
Many men paint their faces so they can look attractive. Their faces are usually coloured in yellow, white and red clay. These colours are symbolic. Yellow represents transformation, while red symbolizes blood and violence. Their lips are also coloured in black, which accentuates the whiteness of their teeth.
The Woodabe men decorate their outfits and embellish it with buttons, beads and all sorts of bright coloured things. Their heads are shaved in front and adorned with shells. They also wear white ostrich feathers in their hair which makes them seem tall.
The Woodabe men have been tagged “the vainest people in the world” due to the amount of time they invest in their grooming routine. They are well known for the mirrors they carry around to glorify their vanity.
As the dance begins, the women or potential wives are on stand-by to adjudge the men. The evaluation criteria is based on the stamina, appearance and dance displayed by the men.
Then the men start parading and singing with the aim of impressing their tribeswomen who also double as judges of the contest.
The dance also known as “Yaake”, goes on for hours. The men with painted faces gather in line and then sing and dance.
While dancing, the men roll their eyes and show their teeth, as a form of sex appeal. They move shoulder to shoulder and slowly move in a circle. As they dance, the older people encourage and cheer them on to give more energetic movement.
Since 1950, this dance has been quite popular as a means of entertainment and a recognition of culture.
Drinking tea is also an important ritual in this custom. The men drink tea with fermented bark because it is believed that the hallucinogenic effect of the tea gives them the strength to dance for as long as possible.
The Woodabe Custom is unlike many African cultures where the women do the dancing and pageantry duties, while men get to choose who they wish to marry.
With the Woodabe tribe, the women pick their husbands. For this reason, the men do most of the display with the hope that a woman will find them suitable and will pick them. The Woodabe women judge the male suitors, while kneeling before the line of dancers and watching.
When a female judge picks a man she desires, she signals by a hand gesture. As the competition ends, they are allowed to disappear and get intimate.
The couple is permitted to hook up during and after the ceremony, as long as they find each other attractive. Once a lady picks a man she likes, whatever they do with each other is up to them. Whether they flirt, remain an item or take the relationship further to marriage is entirely their decision.
The Woodabe do not place emphasis on a woman’s virginity or chastity. Practising polygamy is quite rampant amongst the tribe. Due to the highly polygamous nature of the custom, married women can also attend the Guerewol festival. They are also allowed to pick a second husband if they wish to do so.
The Woodabe Custom is also referred to as the “wife-stealing” tradition. This is because if the chosen man is able to leave with the woman who chose him, he can become her husband and their union will be recognized.
For this reason, many husbands do not allow their wives attend or partake in the ceremony because they do not want their wives to be attracted to or taken by other men.
While some people cherish this long-held custom, others despise it because they consider it a taboo for married women to be allowed to pick and choose other men.
Once the ceremony is over, the woodabe tribesmen return to their lives as normadic herders.