WODAABE: "PEOPLE OF THE TABOO
These notes are gleaned from a variety of sources including: Nomads of Niger, text by Marion Van Offelen, photographs by Carol Beckwith (NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1983) ISBN 0-8109-8125-4, National Geographic Magazine, and the PBS video Millinnium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World ("The Art of Living").
does Wodaabe mean? People of the taboo. (This tribe is also called Bororo)
- What country do the Wodaabe
inhabit? southwestern Niger
(sub-Sahara, W. Africa)—desert in the north,
savanna south 96,500 sq. miles.
- Dry season Oct-May.
- Nomadic lifestyle:
travel by foot, camel, donkey in small bands of relatives: parents, brothers, their wives and children.
- Origins? No
one knows for sure, but scholars presume upper Nile
because of early rock art depicting people who look like Wodaabe.
Around 6 million Fulani (ethnic group) but approximately 45,000 Wodaabe
Fulfulde (spoken by Fulani)
- Diet: Mostly
- What is a calabash & what are they used for by
the Wodaabe? Gourds,
which are decorated and displayed. They are a mark of female status.
- Little interaction with outsiders has allowed this
code to be passed down through generations with
Wodaabe taboos &
- Greeting—no eye contact
- During daylight hours, a man cannot hold his wife’s
hand in public, call her by name, or speak intimately to her.
- To ensure a child's future beauty, a mother will mold
the skin and bones of her infant by pressing the nose, or stretching the
limbs to make her child more attractive.
- Wodaabe women decorate
their ears with several large rings of brass or silver (up to 8 in each
- Wodaabe women dot their
temples, cheeks and lips with geometric tattoos
to ward off evil spirits.
- Kohl eyeliner.
- Leisure time is a luxury for the Wodaabe, so the Wodaabe
usually commission their jewelry from others, such as the Tuareg, who live nearby.
- Men and women eat separately and elders eat together.
- When a boy becomes a man @ 15, he is given a cow, there is a communal event to mark his coming of age, and he begins to look for women
- value traditions above all else
- ancient codes of chivaly set expectations of behavior.
- shame comes from not demonstrating patience, self-control, mental discipline, prudence, modesty, and respect
- never speak directly to their 1st born children or speak their name
- only physical contact that isn't taboo between a mother and her 1st & 2nd born is nursing.
- Grandparents + uncles + other wives play a prominent role in the rearing and nurturing of children
- young women may sleep with 2
men (at the same time) before she’s married.
- Keep clothes on during sex.
- Men compete for women by dancing
- Because physical beauty is so important to the Wodaabe, a husband who isn’t
particularly handsome will allow his wife to sleep with a handsome
man so that she will bear a handsome child.
- highly valued; it is
customary for male friends to hold hands; females do the same.
- waldeebe--male cousins of the same age for whom many prohibitions are lifted and who sometimes share women.
- 3 glasses of tea before parting: 1st
strong like life; 2nd sweet like love; 3rd subtle
Wodaabe values &
behaviors (code of behavior & taboos given by ancestors):
- Never stay anywhere more than 7 days and never overgraze pastures
- Travel according to moon cycles
- no travel on 1st or 7th day of new moon,
- would rather set up camp on sand than on grass because it offers more protection from snakes and scorpions
- Reserve and modesty semteende
- Daylight hours, a
husband's interaction with his wife is very impersonal.
He may not address her by name, speak to her in an intimate way,
or even hold her hand. This quiet reserve,
called semteende, extends to the first
and second-born children, whom the parents may not directly address at
- Care and forethought hakkilo
- Grace and fortitude munyal
- Charm, personality, magnetism togu
“For us that is far more important than physical beauty. Those blessed with togu will never be alone.”
- Tradition of reserve pulaaku
- Hospitality/generosity: “If you have guests and there is little
milk, you give what you have to them and you eat nothing. With plenty of cows and milk to share,
the heart is happy. Everyone will
come and see you and respect you.”
- Elegance and beauty are at the heart of Wodaabe culture.
- Yakke dance-competition lasts 1 week
- may involve 1000 men competing for beauty & charm
- judged by 3 most beautiful unmarried girls
- watched by large audience
- most are trying to hook up
- woman indicates interest subtly
- if dancer is interested, he'll wink @ her
- she lowers her eyes, but not all the way
- if he wants to up the anty, he flashes her a slight twitch of the mouth to indicate which bush to meet behind
àAt their collective
gathering at the end of the rainy season, there are 3 days of rituals associated
with births and marriages.
àHospitality is key to Wodaabe worldview--there's no
greater happiness, no greater honor, than friends and guests.
à“We are like the birds
in the bush. We never settle down, and
we leave no trace of our passage. If
strangers come too close, we fly to another tree.”