Niger: The Wodaabe Wife Stealing Festival

Photo: Face to face Africa
Wodaabe men.
15 August 2018

The Wodaabe tribe is a Fulani tribe in Niger, West Africa. The males in the tribe are regarded as very vain because they believe that they are the most handsome set of men and they always carry mirrors.

In the Wodaabe tribe, people are given in marriage in infancy and the women can have as many sexual partners as they desire before marriage.

In the tribe, marriage is always contracted in infancy, and the women can have as many sexual partners as they desire before marriage.

The tribe holds an annual festival called the Gerewol during which men dress elaborately, wear make-up and hold a beauty pageant of some sort. During the festival, men dress to impress the wives of other men.

The culture believes that beauty can be judged by the whiteness of the eye, the firm straight bridge of the nose and white teeth. Therefore, the make-up done is to accentuate these features.

Before the festival begins, it takes the men six hours to prepare and get ready so they can dance and show themselves off.

They paint their faces with red clay, use eyeliners to make their eyes appear whiter, and wear a shade of lipstick that will make their teeth appear whiter. They also wear white ostrich feathers in their hair making them appear taller.

During the festival, three of the tribe's most beautiful women are chosen to judge as the men display through a dance, moving in circles.

Other women, already wives of other men, admire the men they most desire to choose as their second husband. If a man successfully steals a wife without being caught, the man automatically becomes her husband and the union is accepted.

The tribe is a polygamous one hence the wife stealing is widely accepted. In spite of this, some men do not wish their wives to be stolen, and so do not allow them to participate in the festival.

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