Beauty has no gender but in relation to the man, he is referred to be handsome while the lady, beautiful if not pretty. To most of our folks, the beauty of a man is trickily called “handy some” while touching the left palm with the right fingers. But then, It would not be bad if that headline is added to the contemporary list of English similes because it is expedient to be used when talking about a tribe where ‘beauty and charm’ are honoured and revered.
Why? You might ask. Follow me closely, as we view life from the mirrors of the great people of Wodaabe.
Once upon a time a people who are popularly known as “People Of Taboo” or “People who respect taboo” surfaced Mother Earth. These people are a subgroup of the Fulani ethnic group who are traditionally nomadic cattle-herders and traders in the Sahel region of West Africa. Being stray herders, their migration border stretches from Southern Niger, through northern Nigeria, towards Northeastern Cameroon, down to the Western region of the Central African Republic and their population as of 1983 was estimated to be around 45,000 (men, women, and children alike).
They communicate in the Fula language and as well as dwell in camps as Cattle herders they are, their being camp dwellers as herders gave them a pejorative name, Bororo translated as Cattle Fulani.
Talking about names now, it is quite understandable they are called Bororo because of being herders but the fact they were named Wodaabe translated as “the people of Taboo” is of great concern to curious and inquisitive persons like me.
And that made me to ask, “Why will a people be given such a name?”
Do the persons who gave such a name failed to understand the meaning of such a gross word, Taboo?
Is it that the tribe accepts taboos as a way of life? Or that they practice what others reject?
For God sake, this is a people whose code of behaviour has its roots in characters of reserve and modesty; patience and fortitude; Care, forethought, and loyalty.
Even relationally, they do not concur with husbands holding their wives’ hands or speaking in a personal manner with each other in daylight!
Should the taboo here be the fact that nuclear parents are not allowed by practice to talk directly to their first two born children? That cannot be! Those children are being cared for by their grandparents besides this is tradition for crying aloud, Yes, their tradition!
But wait, maybe the taboo here is this, their men rub what will be called Pancake in our contemporary times. I mean they wear make-up (local makeup sort of) or could it be that their unmarried girls are supported to have sex whenever and with whomever they chose?
If you do not mind, let us investigate this together!
Once every year, these nomads do come together in a festival known as Gerewol. It is the biggest event as far the tribe of Wodaabe is concerned.
During this festivity, young men do engage in pageantry with other men just to be selected by the representatives appointed by these young marriageable women (with ages 12-13 upwards) as the most charming. And to win this pageantry, Trever Cole, a tourist photographer who saw this event firsthand describes the price these young men pay below.
In his words, “these men adorn themselves using an array of colourful face paints. Their outfits are also vibrantly decorated, embellished with beads, feathers, buttons, and baubles in the brightest of colours. Mirrored tunics and hats add to the exuberance and adornment. The overall appearance with the paint, makeup and outfits can only be described as feminine from our cultural perspective.”
Trevor, in his way to complement what he explained earlier teased: “These young and energetic men dance like male peacocks or birds of paradise, their plumage just to attract females” and further he described them as “animists at heart” to have emulated such character from the animal kingdom.
Very funny right?
Well! It was also said that to look beautiful and charming, a sect of men goes as far as using scarification on their faces and bodies, like razor blades on themselves and then cover up the open wounds with ash. A black tattoo with a slightly raised keloid is often the result of this act.
Promise me you will not laugh if I tell you that a typical Igbo man will jokingly slur these men for spending such a time just to attract a lady.
From my own view, I would neither blame the Igbo man nor the Wodaabe man because this is culture -a people’s way of viewing life and that is the fact!
Even, Trevor went on to tell me that, for the women to take part in this festival, they must have gone through their normal menstrual flow ahead of time so that when choices are made, they know that they are going to have sex with the chosen Wodaabe male, that is, if the male accepts though. If he does, it is either a one-night stand or longer, sometimes the casual act culminates in marriage.
So, I was like, “Trevor! Wait! Do you mean these people eat the forbidden fruit before the main meal?” He smiled and casually replied, “Maybe!”
“Their men are allowed to have few wives though, with the second or third wife regarded in good stead by the first wife” he continued. “If a husband is infertile, he may ask a fellow tribe member to impregnate his wife, and in most cases, men will prefer their wives having sex with more handsome men, to groom more handsome children in their stead. Besides, children to them are a sign of machismo, wealth, and labour, and breeding them in quantum helps offset the high infant and child mortality rate prevalent amongst their community.”- he concluded.
Such a liberality to copulation, right? Could this be the reason these men are labelled as the People of Taboo?
Anyways! the last time I checked, I was well informed, they practice Islam and this religion I believe will bring reforms to the dark patterns of their culture, especially when moral laws like the Sharia Law is introduced to the rural heads and efficiently practised by the subjects.
At this point, Inestimable reader, calling it a halt will not be hurt, I guess. At least, we intend to give you more updates in the next edition of this article, and that will be possible if you allow either I or Trevor, the time to rest, sleep and buckle up for the next Gerwol festival coming up this September.
How do we get to know if you ask?
Well, the Gerwol festival does take place once the rainy season is over. Though an exact date is not fixed, we will not mind camping around for some days and bringing to you on this platform more exciting moments and tourist adventures from the beautiful tribe of ‘Beauty and Charm’ and beyond.
For now, amiable reader, This is Wodaabe!
Ifeanyichukwu Chukwu emeka Ezenwanne