‘Who are the Wodaabe?’
The Wodaabe are one of the most well known sub-groups of the Fula ethnic group. They’re nomadic herdsmen who still practice cultural rituals that other Fulani groups have left and for this they were given the name ‘Wodaabe’ which in the Fulfulde language means ‘people of the taboo’. They’re known also by other Fulani groups as 'Bororo’ which is a sometimes pejorative name with various possible meanings including 'those who dress in tatters’ and 'those who live in cattle camps’. The world really came to know of the Fulani through a Werner Herzog film named 'Wodaabe: Herdsmen of the Sun’, which is a documentary film made in Niger in 1989. This film follows the Wodaabe through their daily life and asks them for their perspective and history; and in the latter half documents the well known Wodaabe marriage ritual. This ritual is know as 'Guerewol’ and is a beauty competition done by the men to win a wife or add to his wives. This is an annual thing, and only happens when various Wodaabe bands come together before they disperse south during the dry season. Guerewol lasts for up to a week and involves an elaborate dancing ceremony in which the men try to impress the women; this is known as 'Yaake’. This custom is unique to the Wodaabe, being that most Fula have now become urbanized and more adherent to orthodox Sunni Islam. The Wodaabe themselves are Muslims, but they are not orthodox like other Fula. Outside of the Guerewol festival most Fulani actually dress in a similar fashion to that of their Tuareg neighbors, of which they’re known to live amongst and have a close relationship with. In fact the largest gathering site for the Wodaabe, known as In-Gall, is a place where both the Wodaabe and the Tuareg coexist symbiotically. Not only are they distinct in their practices from other Fula; but they’re also sexually liberal in regards to women. An unmarried girl may have sex outside of marriage, there is no taboo on this. When a Wodaabe couple is married, they’re still not allowed to live together. The woman must save up all the items she will need for their home and then she can live with her husband, which is an interesting practice. The Wodaabe are one of the last examples of the older Fula culture, and are a reminder of how being different is something beautiful.