The Wodaabe speak the Fula language, with no written form. Woda means "taboo" in Fula, and Wodaabe means "People of the Taboo," meaning "the people who respect taboos." They live to the south of the Tuareg and herd long horned Zebu cattle across the Sahel. The Wodaabe value reserve and modesty (semteende), patience and fortitude (munyal), care and forethought (hakkilo), and loyalty (amana). They also place great emphasis on beauty and charm.
The Wodaabe have their own desert history rich with tradition. Their festivals, in which men chant, dance and wear distinctive makeup to attract potential wives, are moving and unique cultural experiences. Wodaabe men, in elaborate feathers and make-up, perform the Yaake - dances and songs to impress marriageable women. The Wodaabe male standard of beauty includes tallness and whiteness of eyes and teeth; these characteristics are exaggerated as part of the dance. A week long festival will include these dancing rituals, along with barters over marriage and contests where young men's beauty and skills are judged by young women.
Women in Wodaabe society do not have many of the privileges Tuareg women enjoy. However, they participate fully in RAIN programs, earning money through our cooperatives, mentoring girls, and enrolling in literacy classes. When asked if their husbands support these efforts they usually respond that they do, but that their husbands don’t understand the importance of education and good health for their children.
The Wodaabe are famous for their embroidery. Wherever they take their encampments, the bed is foremost, and the centerpiece of their dwelling. A simple platform is transformed with a beautiful hand embroidered wedding blanket in vibrant colors. Another special item are the tunics created for men to be worn in their elaborate dancing ceremonies. At right, two women relax on a traditional bed decorated for the Cure Salee. At left, Wodaabe men wearing special dancing tunics.
Another traditional art form involves elaborate decorations of calabashes, often carried by women as symbols of status and passed down through generations. At left, decorated milk calabashes on display.
Click on the tote bag at left to purchase beautiful hand embroidered items by Wodaabe artisans.
RAIN for the Sahel and Sahara is a nonprofit 501(c)3 working to make a lasting difference in Africa.