I've stolen all my wives
November 26, 2007 10:33 PM   Subscribe

Wife thief - the Wodaabe of Nigeria are one of the world's few remaining Nomadic peoples, retaining age-old customs and ways. Physical beauty and charm are highly prized, qualities much in evidence at the annual Gerewol ceremonies. After donning elaborate makeup and clothing, men engage in stylized dance and preening to win the favor of a desired woman - often one who is already married.

More accounts and photos:
Amanda Jones account for the Los Angeles Times

The Wodaabe's Cure Salée - text and photos by Christine Nesbitt Hills

Mr. Sahara 2004

And Still the Men Dance
posted by madamjujujive (20 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
More accurately, the Wodaabe migrate through regions in northern Nigeria and southern Niger, as well as Cameroon and the Central African Republic.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:42 PM on November 26, 2007

Very interesting post, madamjujujive. I'm bookmarking it so I can peruse it at length later. If only my husband had engaged in "stylized dancing and preening" to win my favor! He'd be a happier man today, I'll tell you that!
posted by amyms at 10:43 PM on November 26, 2007

all your wives are belong to me.
posted by bruce at 10:48 PM on November 26, 2007

post,thank you madamjujujive.
posted by hortense at 11:21 PM on November 26, 2007

"The use of artificial stimulants among contestants is permitted, indeed universal. Before lining up for a yaake, the young men will drink a cocktail containing a psychoactive bark that will assist them in putting on their best face, making their most elegant moves, and staying on their feet all night."

Sounds a Hell of a lot better than the Long Island ice teas North Americans use in their traditional mating rituals. Where do I sign up?
posted by louche mustachio at 12:15 AM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Very interesting people, thank you for the post.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 1:28 AM on November 27, 2007

(uh oh, now we have languagehat and backwardshat.)

Michael Palin visited the Wodaabe during the Cure Salée on his trip through the Sahara. Great series.
posted by blacklite at 1:44 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

After donning elaborate makeup and clothing, men engage in stylized dance and preening to win the favor of a desired woman - often one who is already married.

This description makes them sound as if they are more similar to us than different. Nice video.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:36 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Helluva place, Nigeria. Enormously interesting, astonishingly varied. Thanks for this post, mjj.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:57 AM on November 27, 2007

I'm curious about the statistics regarding the number of women who stay with their arranged-marriage husbands by choice... and I'm also wondering about how it all balances out.

The men are polygamous, but the women aren't, so it seems like there must be a lot more women than men (unlikely), or a lot of men with no wives at all, finally. I'm sure it's all extremely complex.
posted by taz at 4:15 AM on November 27, 2007

Sounds like New Jersey.
posted by tommasz at 4:42 AM on November 27, 2007

WTF?! Why does my wife now insist we have a "talk".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:14 AM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Neat. The interconnectivity of organisms through courtship rituals is so cool. I love what we'll go through instinctively to chance on finding the right mate...so universal from a species to species perspective...really interesting and so basic. The most exciting time of a relationship for most guys imo. Thanks madam.
posted by greenskpr at 5:14 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

From the video: "What a wife doesn't like is when you bring home girlfriends."
posted by craniac at 6:39 AM on November 27, 2007

Fantastic post, mjjj—one of the best I've seen in ages. I usually skip over most of the links in multilink posts, but these were so interesting and gorgeous I kept clicking and wished there were more. I feel my understanding of the variety of ways to be human has been enlarged.

Some fascinating bits from the second link:
* never speak directly to their 1st or 2nd born children or refer to them by name
* only physical contact that isn't taboo between a mother and her 1st & 2nd born is nursing.

* young women may sleep with 2 men before she’s married.
* Keep their clothes on during sex.
Helluva place, Nigeria.

Very true, but these links are about Niger, to the north of Nigeria (though the Wodaabe also wander into Nigeria). Wikipedia: Cure Salée, In-Gall, Wodaabe. The name Wodaabe means 'people of the taboo [woɗa]' in Fula/Fulani/Fulfulde; an alternate name is Bororo, though I'm not clear on which they call themselves and whether Bororo is a larger group that includes the Wodaabe.

This has been distracting me from my work, but I can't imagine a better distraction—thanks!
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on November 27, 2007

"A man who can roll one eye and smile at the same time is considered especially desirable."
posted by ewkpates at 7:20 AM on November 27, 2007

As usual, in-thread comments and links make the effort of posting so well worth it. Blacklite, I will have to get the Michael Palin book now - I didn't know he did the Sahara. Greenskpr, your links are marvelous - I love that second one. And languagehat, thanks for the clarification about Niger / Nigeria. I set things off on the wrong foot because I often confuse the two, and the Wodaabe roam through both, but Niger is, indeed, the primary domicile.

I've been attracted to these people ever since I saw a national Geographic photo of the Gerewol some years ago. Since I first got on the web, I have periodically tried to ferret out more on them, but there was so little for so long. We mentioned them in this thread on African Ceremonies. It's nice to see so much more information available now, including the awesome videos.

I love the first clip, it is very intimate, I really feel in the scene. The reaction of the woman in the first clip - her shy captivation is so evident and the sexual tension between her and the dancer is almost palpable.

Photographer Amanda Jones had an up close and personal encounter with one of the dancers, that I enjoyed:

The men were performing the ruume, the men facing inward, shoulder to shoulder, clapping, chanting and shuffling sideways. Eventually, when about 15 men had wandered in to join the ruume, one dancer broke away and approached us, gently taking me by the hand and leading me into the circle.

My graceful partner, Jirma, tried to teach me the song lyrics. He held my hand during the breaks in the dance and blocked other men if they tried to step between us.

The forthright Wodaabe don't bother much with courtship. If a man wants to have sex with a girl, he simply asks by scratching her palm with his index finger. If she's willing, the couple disappears behind a bush.

Irma had warned the women in our group about "The Handshake." But I was still flustered when it came, stammering like a teenager. Apparently I should have considered myself lucky to solicit any offers at all. It was later explained that my blond hair was sort of a turnoff.

posted by madamjujujive at 8:30 AM on November 27, 2007

This is like ashleymadison.com for nomadic peoples.
posted by autodidact at 9:08 AM on November 27, 2007

There is an incredible video of this ceremony at the Brooklyn Museum.
posted by boots at 3:11 PM on November 27, 2007

Then there's the well-worn blues lyric:

Woman I got, stole her from my best friend
But he got lucky, stole her back again...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:21 PM on November 27, 2007

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