WoDaaBe Courtship and MarriageThis is a featured page

The Wodaabe are part of the Fulani Nation in Nigeria. They live as nomads along the southern edge of the Sahara. Because they are depised by their neighbouring countries, they are known as "Bororos" which mean 'herdmen in tatters'. However, they call themselves Wodaabe, which mean those under ‘the taboo of purity’ They consider themselves as the most beautiful people on this earth (p106, Bovin).

The traditional aspects of the culture that will be explored are as follows:
1) Forms of Marriages
2) Mate Selection (Most Important): Courtship Practice through War Dance
3) Sexuality and Marriage Norms
4) Restrictions

1. Forms of Marriage
There two different forms of marriage:
A) Betrothal arrangements made by parents when Wodaabe children are around 2-4 years. This form of marriage can only take place between people of the same lineage. Most of the time Wodaabe marry cousins. In this type of marriage, known as Koobgal, the woman along with her heritage does not leave the patri-lineage.

B) The second form of marriage is more important, that of love marriage. Known as Teegal, couples involved in this type of marriage are allowed to marry across clans and chose their partners based on freewill. In this case, the woman leaves her first husband and group and “runs away” with the other man; although not entirely severing the ties with her first husband. In contrast to the first form, the woman in this form is considered to have “ran away” from her lineage.

Most Wodaabe experience two or more Koobgal and Teegal in their lifetime. Some would even prefer to have them both at the same time. The Wodaabes are one of the few societies in the world where both man and women can be married to two people simultaneously. This is known as Sigisbesim.

2. Mate Selection (Most Important)
Wodaabe men pride themselves in their beauty and they woo and gain women through elaborate make-up and dance. Both men and women consider tall figure, light skin, thin lips, long jaws, white eyes and teeth to be beautiful in a man. These main features are accentuated with carefully applied make up during the dances in order to attact the opposite sex. Colours like yellow is being applied on the face bring out a man's charm and personality. This makes him more irresistible. Black natural paint is applied onto the lips to make his white teeth more prominent. Preparation (of the make-up) takes hours or even a whole day. In addition, they want to look as tall as possible. Wodaabe women are considered attractive to the men if they have beautiful figures and facial features, intelligence and personality. They seem to be prized more for abstract characteristics as well, such as the latter two features mentioned. In the video above, we see Wodaabe men and women discussing about their ideal mates.

The men find their mates at festival called Yaki. Here is where game of love begins. Young men compete in tests of dance and beauty. Men will make use of this seven-day (some may even last to ten days) festival to show off to the women. The wives of the men also attend this festival and it becomes an opportunity for them to find a new love interest as well. The men prepare to make themselves attractive to the opposite sex with jewellery and make-up. Before the dancing ceremony,men will approach the women that they are interested in to come and watch him dance, in the hope that she will eventually be convinced to go off with him. At the dancing ceremony, men will sing and sway to gain attention. The men dance on tip toes to make themselves look taller and show off their widened eyes and teeth at the same time. The ability to roll his eyes and grin at the same time is considered attractive and he will be highly looked upon if he is able to do so. Women make use of this opportunity to look for her love interest even though she may be married. The dance is to radiate their charms and to attract the women. The women, on the other hand, stand shyly in a crowd at a distance and it is taboo for women to look directly at her object of desire.

Moreover, there is also sacred dance at night which is guided on basis of "natural" physical beauty alone. Men normally do not apply make-up during this night dance. Only men who are confident enough of their own looks will participate in this dance. By midnight, couples would have been paired up and they would spend the night in the bushes together. After a week of dancing and several nights together, the new to the men’s home and be married. Thereafter, the Wodaabe nomadic life continues.It is common that Wodaabe men "steal" women, but if the women refuse to be taken by the men they would be allowed to return home. ‘Wife stealing’ may thus last for a night, few months or a lifetime. After marriage, the man will be a hero in his own family and clan while his bride’s clan will despise him for their loss of a valuable and pretty young woman.

This ceremony of weaving charm and enchantment occurs on a 52 week cycle. Dates and location of the ceremony as often kept secret until just before the event. It is thought of as a marriage market, a Wodaabe celebration of love and beauty.

Besides the Yaki dance (normally take place after the rainy season), there are also other more common forms of dances that take place year around such as the Ruume dance which takes place during the rainy season. These “lower” form of dances are also avenues for man and woman to initiate courtship and marriage. Also common amongst these dances is the act of flirting. At the end of the rainy season in September, Wodaabe clans gather in several traditional locations before the beginning of their dry season transhumance migration. The best known of these is In-Gall's Cure Salée salt market and Tuareg seasonal festival. Here the young Wodaabe men, with elaborate make-up, feathers and other adornments, perform the Yaake: dances and songs to impress eligible women. Wodaabe clans then join for the remainder of the week-long Geerewol: a series of barters over marriage and contests where the young men's beauty and skills are judged by young women once again.

3. Sexuality and Marriage Norms

The Wodaabe are sexually liberal; unmarried girls may have sex whenever and with whomever they wish.
wodaabe men
The Wodaabe practice polygamy, for both men and women. The first marriage is typically arranged among members of the same lineage by parents when the couple are infants (called koogal); later additional "love marriages" (teegal) are also possible, when a woman leaves her husband and joins another one. A bride stays with her husband until she becomes pregnant after which she returns to her mother's home, where she will remain for the next three to four years. She will deliver the baby at her mother's home and then she becomes a boofeydo which literally means, "someone who has committed an error."

4. Restrictions

A) There is a risk in losinwodaabe danceg one's life when it comes to the ritual of "wife stealing". Such love marriage can have fatal consequences where the husband can take his wife back and if the new couple disagree, fights may occur, which may lead to death.

B) The Geerewol or War Dance is the “highest” form of dance in the Wodaabe and only men take part in it. This dance is also seen as a competition between tribes/clans. Tribes and Clan take turn to hold these dance “competitions” yearly. The prize for these competitions would be the women from the other tribe, where the men from one tribe will dance and try to “steal” the women away from the other men.

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