After two days spent among the thousands of nomads gathered for the Worso of the Behame’en, Peroji’s lineage, we learned of another festival only a 2 hour drive away. The Worso is a family gathering to which everyone brings their kids, houses and herds. They are celebrating many things like the “humtu” or end of the restricted bofido period of a young woman when she is allowed to go back to her husband after spending at least two years at home with her mother learning how to run a household after giving birth to her first child. The other major festival is the Gerewol.
This is celebrating the Wodaabe standard of beauty. It is where marriages are made and traditions instilled. The Wodaabe have no established religion, no animism, no ancestor worship, no god as such, even though many practice a relaxed version of islam. They have a code of behavior known as Bodagantchi, or the Wodaabe path. The main parts of this are reserve, patience and respect for traditions.
We arrived to find a Gerewol dance just starting. This is done with a very prescribed costume and red paint on their faces. All elements are to enhance the Wodaabe ideal: long slender face and figure, tall, white eyes and teeth, long nose. The women who choose the winner in these categories are also winners as they have been picked by the elders as depicting the Wodaabe ideal. Marriage liaisons are made aside–the choice is merely saying: this one personifies Wodaabe ideals of beauty and charm.
Gerewol dances are held at sunset and at night. The young men “Sukaabe” of one lineage dance for the young women “Surbaabe” of another. In this way, with at least two different lineages participating, bloodlines are mixed.
They set up their little tent villages with blankets as insulation from the sun.
It is often difficult to see cultures losing what has held them together for centuries because of modern influence, but at this festival I saw no change except the presence of “white peoples” tents used by the young as shelter–but made into their own kind of village–with very colorful tents (I wish I knew where they get them–they are very cute) and blankets as insulation from the hot sun (It has been consistently over 100 degrees everyday).
All these new guests are fed by the host lineage–the Bikorney–by long lines of girls carrying bowls of millet and milk. My photographer friends Terri, Diane and Louise soon learned my obsession with “girls with bowls”. Look to see paintings of these soon.
Their chief, Dedji, I was delighted to see, was a stickler for tradition. No blasting boom boxes drowning out the beautiful Wodaabe voices here.
Part of the Gerewol tradition besides offering opportunities to arrange marriages is to instill the Wodaabe traditions in the young–to carry on the Wodaabe way into the future.
For both the young men…
and women…the elders here explain not only the program of the festival, but the expected behavior of the young participants.
The dance is directed by a selection of elders, both men and women.
The crowd is well behaved and watches in fascination…