Despite the touch of modernity that has engulfed much of Africa, some cultures are still strongly identifying with their long-held traditions and customs. They are proud in them, and continue to practise them up to now. They are intriguing, but for some, they could be taboo.
The Wodaabe wife stealing festival in Niger, West Africa, is pretty much intriguing. It is a custom loved by some, while at the same time despised by some who do not entertain the idea of their wives going to some people.
The festival is practised by the Wodaabe tribe, which is a Fulani tribe in Niger, West Africa. This tribe is proud in its outlook, with the males being regarded as very self-conceited because they strongly believe that they are the most handsome men. They even carry mirrors to glorify this 'vanity'.
Marriage is a somewhat a liberal concept at the core of the tribe's existence, but still attached to the strong foundations of patriarchy. Marriage for women is something done in infancy, although the women have the freedom to have as many sexual partners they desire before marriage. Marriage is a concept amenable to the whims of patriarchy.
Every year, the tribe holds a festival called Gerewol during which the men dress intricately, wear carefully done make-up and hold a beauty pageant of some sort. The major purpose of the festival is that these men dress to impress the wives of other men.
The Wodaabe tribe pride themselves in the cultural belief that beauty can be judged by the whiteness of the eye, the firm straight bridge of the nose and white teeth. Therefore, the make-up done is to greatly emphasize these features. Before the festival commences, men invest up to six hours to prepare and get ready so they can dance and show themselves off.
Their faces are painted with red clay, and they use eyeliners to make their eyes appear whiter and also wear a shade of lipstick that make their teeth seem whiter. To appear taller, they wear ostrich feathers in their hair.
The men perform a dance, moving in circles,and three of the most beautiful women of the tribe are chosen to be judges. Other women, already wives of other men, admire the men they most desire to choose as their second husband.
With this festival, if a man successfully steals a wife without being caught, the man then becomes her husband and such a union is rightfully recognised. Wife stealing is easy because polygamy is widely acceptable.
Despite the perceived glories of this, some men do not want their wives to be stolen so they do not allow them to participate in the festival.
Would you live in such a tribe and accept this way of living? Should it have a place in the 21st century? Is it taboo?
Header image credit: Face2face Africa