Wodaabe – Freedom I seek

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C2They are reserved, but jovial and with refined manners. The Wodaabe know how to be courageous and behave like warriors; an important characteristic to have in a region where continuous tensions and ethnic fights endanger life. The transhumance takes them close to the bellicose Tuareg in the north, and sedentary farmers in the south. A feature that distinguishes them from neighbouring groups is the equality in society. All Wodaabe are equal, in solidarity with others, but independent. Never did they experience slavery in their society. The Wodaabe hate strong links, fences, limits to one’s freedom. Born nomadic, they do not know boundaries; they do not like to mingle with other people. They do not like hierarchy and the chief of the clan, ardo, can only offer advice and his power rests only on moral authority. When they travel, they carry with them a few jewels and amulets. Women might want to leave with a few calabashes; while men never move without a long sword.
Life is forged around cattle. Before sun rise, it is time to inspect the animals. Calves are freed from the ropes used to tie them at night, so that they can suckle milk from their mothers. After that, it is time to milk the cows, and let the herd graze. At midday, the cattle rest in the shade, and calves are kept separated from the adults. In the evening, at the time called habba nyalbi, calves are ties to the rope that divides the camp in two sections. The cattle come back from the grazing grounds and the cows are milked a second time. Before going to sleep, all the ropes are checked, at times, older bullocks are let free to graze in the darkness.
C3The beauty of the body is important to all Wodaabe. All are competent in aesthetics. Mothers try to shape the body of their children to conform them to the canons of beauty shared by all. They gently squeeze the head of their newborn, and nostrils are pressed down. The Wodaabe think they are the most beautiful people on earth. A man must have a slim and toll body, the nose ought to be straight, the eye large, teeth white and the forehead high. Women must be sweet and gentle, with long breast and a concave back. Hair must be combed into a chignon and plated in the front. Scars on the face and at each side of the mouth announce to which clan they belong and protect them from evil spirits. Jewels and talismans make them more beautiful.
A woman shares the same rights of her husband. She might have to share her husband with other wives, but she can leave him at any time. Young Wodaabe girls spend much time to take care of their bodies. They use brightly coloured earrings and necklaces, and use light colours for their makeup.C4 They usually live quite freely until they are sixteen.
When a man desires to ask a young lady for marriage, he must arrive at her homestead with a calabash full of milk. If the girl’s family accepts his proposal, he will have to return with a bull for the wedding feast. Every pullo – term that refers to a single Wodaabe – will respect all the rules of behaviour handed down from the past: strength, courage, pride and honesty. If he does not, he will become a pulaku – you are out, i.e. you left the path of the ancestors so you must leave. A second grave sin is to lack of respect towards the wife, especially by refusing to fulfil her sexual desires.
The Wodaabe believe that man and woman are like two poles which attract each other. When she is ready, i.e. she is not pregnant nor breastfeeding a baby, if she finds one who attracts her, she must stop immediately, even if the herd is moving with the whole group. She will stay with her pullo, whom she will never call by name. “What you love you must respect”, the proverb says. There will no public display of love, and breaking this taboo means to fall in the semteende, shame. The Wodabee women are free and independent. Verginity is not a value for them and they can refuse the husband the family has chosen. A married woman is not faithful to her husband, it is their culture, and in any case it would not be right, since the husband is not faithful either.


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