Dancing Their Way to Marriage at The Gerewol Festival
From dinner dates to long walks on white sandy beaches, courtship looks different in various parts of the world. But for a Wodaabe of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and northeast Nigeria, courtship comes in the form of a yearly dance. As the rainy season comes to an end - around the end of September - clans of the Wodaabe tribe gather to celebrate the annual Gerewol Festival. The festival is a time to socialize, hold tribal meetings, barter over dowries and baptize babies. But most importantly, the Gerewol Festival is an opportunity for the young members of the tribe to meet, date, and marry - in the grandest showing of courtship.
Who are the Wodabee?
The Wodabee — also known as Mbororo or Bororo — are a nomadic tribe of cattle herders and traders. With around 100,000 tribe members, smaller clans continuously migrate from areas stretching from Senegal to Sudan -- with a strong presence in Niger, Chad, and Nigeria. Being a nomadic tribe, groups are in constant search of green pastures for their cattle. They often only stay in one location for a few days. The tribe is known for their elaborate attire and lavish cultural ceremonies that are elaborately put on display at the annual Gerewol Festival.
Image by Dan Lundberg
The Significance of The Gerewol Festival
The Wodabee is best known for its annual Gerewol Festival. The festival is the yearly meeting of various clans of the Wodabee tribe who meet in Chad and Niger. From babies being baptized to tribal meetings being held, a variety of things happen at this festival, but the most significant events being the extravagant beauty contests and courtship rituals. In most cultures, beauty contests see women walking across stages flaunting their bodies. But during the festival, its the young men of the tribe who dress up in elaborate attire and wear traditional face paint. The young men then gather for a beautiful courtship ritual, which involves dancing and singing in hopes of winning the attention and addiction of marriageable young women. The young women judge the men on their charm, dancing skills, stamina, and appearance.
At the end of the day of playful flirting, the outcome of this ritual may lead to a night of love and pleasure or a marriage proposal. Whatever the outcome, there is no stigma attached to the young men or women as virginity is not a significant concern of the Wodaabe.
Image by Dan Lundberg
A Unique Tourism Experience
The Gerewol Festival in both Niger and Chad has grown to become a unique tourist attraction — and overlooked African experience. Because of the beauty of the festival, it has attracted many tourists. The tourists are often left in awe of the rituals and festivities that take place. Due to the remoteness of the festival location, no set date until June, and lack of accommodation options, tourists are encouraged to visit a travel company that specializes in this festival.
The Gerewol Festival is something special for both the Wodaabe and anyone privileged enough to experience it.