Wodaabe / Fulani
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Learn More - Wodaabe / Fulani
The Wodaabe and Fulani people are nomads who live in the sandy, windswept margins of the Sahara Desert in modern-day Niger. Their tall, lean bodies, light skin and wavy hair contrast starkly to other African groups surrounding them. Visiting Wodaabe in the bush is not easy. The groups move about and are hard to find since their tracks disappear in the blowing sand.

Wodaabe are a subgroup of the large Fulani people and thus share much of the same history. Some Wodaabe prefer to be called the Bororo. The Fulani first emerged as a distinct people group in the

eleventh century in the Sénégambia Valley. Over the next 400 years, they journeyed east and south of the Sahara, which had become an inhospitable desert. Bringing Islam with them, they culturally influenced and sometimes conquered existing West African societies, including the loosely knit Hausa states of northern Nigeria and southern Niger. The Fulani and their religion of Islam have had a powerful influence on West Africa for a millennium.

Breakfast, and indeed every other meal, consists basically of milk and millet. The long, repetitive process of pounding the millet, usually entrusted to the young girls, producing the soft, thudding rhythm that is the heartbeat of so many West African communities. After an hour, sometimes longer, the millet is ready to be mixed with water into the grey paste that will provide their nourishment for the day.

Most Wodaabe are cattle herders and traders. Unlike some Fulani who have settled in towns over time, the Wodaabe remain nomadic, roaming between villages and wells in a constant search for water and grazing land. They trade dairy products as well as a uniquely woven and dyed fabric that brings a high price in markets across West Africa and around the world.

Once you find the Wodaabe in the shifting sands, initial greetings can take at least five minutes (the Wodaabe are the masters of greetings!) followed by the tea ceremony on some mats in the shade. The sweet strong tea is greatly refreshing after a hot trip. A Wodaabe man carries his tea set and materials everywhere with him in a special leather pouch and may stop for tea at least three times a day.

Their cows are their livelihood and pride, so they spend their days finding water and grazing for the herds. Home may be a grass hut (some have no shelter at all), surrounded by a fence of thorny branches. The cooking fire and the donkeys are tended by the women, and goats and sheep are tended by the children. The men tend the cows and camels.

As the bed forms the centerpiece of each family's living area, it isn’t surprising that the Wodaabe can't marry until they can afford one of their own. If they had mortgages, young Wodaabe couples would put them down on a bed. Another much-respected sign of wealth and status is the number and quality of your calabashes, the hollowed-out pumpkins, often painted and decorated, which are indispensable for cooking and eating.

The family of the groom pays money to the bride's family before the two are married. 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." During the

time of being a boofeydo, she is not permitted to see or speak with her husband. It is a cultural sin for him to express any interest in her or the newborn child. After two to three years, her mother will release her to visit her husband, but she still will not be permitted to live with him or bring the child with her until the woman's mother can purchase everything that is needed for her home. Once these items are purchased, she is allowed to go and live with her husband, taking her child with her.
The Wodaabe speak a dialect of Fulfulde, which is the language spoken by the Fulani tribes.
The Wodaabe are most famous for their beautiful dyed cloth which brings a high price in West African markets as well as internationally. The women perform intricate embroidery and also practice the art of carving ornate designs into calabash gourds.

Another artistic distinction of Wodaabe society is the elaborate dancing performed by the men during certain festivals, the most popular of which is the Geerewol. This competitive dancing between men of different lineages can last up to seven days and is a

challenge of endurance as well as beauty. Beauty is demonstrated by the men’s costumes, make-up, body paintings and tattoos.
The Wodaabe practice Islam, though it is often mixed with folk customs and traditions. The Wodaabe are often polygamous and marriages are either arranged by parents when the couple are infants or because of love and attraction.
Photo Credits: Linda Shen, Marge Robinson & Keely McGeehan
Music by Tidawt of Niger
Site Implementation by Bob Kasai
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