There’s no Tinder in the desert: This is How Chad’s Wodaabe nomads find love.
The nomadic Wodaabe tribe, made up of subgroups of the Fulani people who have migrated along this part of central Africa for centuries, graze their cattle through the Sahel desert from northern Cameroon to Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
At the end of the rainy season, each year, a specific place is chosen by the local elders deemed to be the best grazing for the cattle, and the semi-nomadic Wodaabe people gather for a week of incredible celebrations known as the Gerewol Festival and to exchange news. The festival is a mass courtship ritual where the young Wodaabe men decorate themselves with elaborate paint, layers upon layers of Jewelry, fancy hats, and elaborate costumes in a display to attract the young women in search of a partner.
The men will spend hours applying makeup and dressing up, which differs greatly from clan to clan. The Sudoskai typically paint their faces in red and orange wearing beautiful tall hats and turbans, while the Njapto paint their faces in white dots and patterns wearing ostrich feathers on their heads. Once presentable, they gather in groups singing for hours while making wild eye movements to impress the beautiful young tattooed ladies. During the festival, the young girls will approach one of the dancers and signify their choice by humbly touching him. This can signify either a desire for marriage or for something brief
“LADIES, LADIES ALL AROUND, WHO’S THE FINEST DUDE IN TOWN?”
Gerewol is an amazing spectacle and the fact they can create such an incredible show in the middle of the desert with next to nothing, is testament to their resourcefulness. The Gerewol festival is also a grueling test of endurance for the men, who dance for hours in stifling heat in the hopes of impressing a woman.
Whether their joy in taking pride in their appearance and beauty is a celebration of the toughness of the Wodaabes’ daily existence or, conversely, a distraction from it, is unclear. But their ability to make the most out of what’s available to them is evident.
Watch: Gerewol Festival