Wodaabe Charm Dances

Wodaabe Courtship


Wodaabe Charm Dances

The Wodaabe nomads live in the Sahel between the Sahara Desert and the grasslands of Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Northern Nigeria. Throughout the long dry season, they migrate in small family groups with their cattle, camels and donkeys in search of pasture.

They are amongst the last pastoralists in Africa to maintain a fully nomadic existence.

The word Wodaabe means People of the Taboo, referring to the rules of social conduct handed down by their ancestors Adama and Adama. As one elder explains, “We have a code of behavior that emphasizes semteende (reserve and modesty), munyal (patience and fortitude), hakkilo (care and forethought), and amana (loyalty).” Along with this code, the Wodaabe place great emphasis on beauty and charm, which form the basis of one of the most unique and unusual courtship rituals in Africa. 

At the end of the rainy season, a magnificent celebration called the Geerewol takes place, marking the climax of the year. For seven days, up to 1,000 men participate in a series of dance competitions judged solely by women. During this week, women single out the most desirable men, choosing boyfriends, husbands and lovers. A Wodaabe man may take as many as four wives. The first must be a cousin, selected by his parents at his birth; the others are chosen for love.

The celebration is dominated by three dances: the Ruume, a daytime dance of welcome and a nighttime dance of seduction; the Yaake, a competition for charm and personality; and the Geerewol (after which the festival takes its name) in which young men vie to be judged the most beautiful. The Wodaabe believe that among all the dances the Geerewol best expresses their birthright of beauty, and that this legacy and their ability to express it distinguishes them among African societies.