The African Tribe Where Men Wear Make-Up to Impress Women

The men of the Wodaabe tribe sing and dance in the desert to woo ladies for marriage.

The men of the Wodaabe Tribe of Niger, Africa, follow an elaborate courting ritual, where they apply face paint, sing, and dance at the annual Gerewol festival in September. 

It’s a woman’s world in the Wodaabe tribe—the nomadic tribe of Africa— where the men court them for days with beauty, song, and dance. Come September, and the men of the tribe gather to compete for the attention of marriageable women in their best make-up, clothes, and accessories.

This ancient practice is performed at the annual, migration Gerewol festival that is held after the rains are over. Here, the men apply elaborate face paint and patterns on their faces, wear detailed outfits and crowns with large feathers, and sing and dance for upto days to impress the ladies.

A young man rolls his eyes and shows his teeth to impress the women. (c) Weidinger

Also known as the “people who respect taboos”—for that is what the word Wodaabe loosely translates to—the men of this cattle herding tribe perform the ‘Yaake’ that includes performances to catch the attention of the women. This ritual can, sometimes, continue for seven days, and for hours under the sun.

The women, meanwhile, stand at a distance and judge them to decide who will win their hand in marriage. The criteria for winning this nuptial content is height, pearly-white teeth and eyes, and performance skills. For this, the men flaunt their teeth and eyes in an exaggerated manner to catch attention.

The men perform the 'Yaake', or songs and dance, while standing in a line. (c) Mortarino

To make the competition even tougher, they consume a drink made of fermented bark that has a hallucinogenic effect. As a result, looking sharp and elegant becomes all the harder after that.

Today, the Gerewol festival has become a major tourist attraction of Niger, attracting journalists and cultural enthusiasts from across the world.

The men take a break from their performance. (c) Rosemary Sheel

But at the heart of this festival is an appreciation of the female form. In fact, looking beautiful and putting up a mating dance is the most common way that male animals and birds in the natural world attract their female partners.

Perhaps the men of the Wodaabe tribe, then, are truly in tune with what mother nature had ordained.

The men consume a fermented drink before their performance, which makes the competition tougher.

All images: Courtesy and Wikipedia