If he were to say so himself, this hat belonged to one of the most beautiful men in the world! A Wodaabe nomad.
In the Sahel area of Niger, along the Southern edge of Sahara, a controversial tribe of Fulani origin is renowned for their vanity. Allegedly, they carry mirrors around everywhere to check on appearances, and openly state their place as the most beautiful people in the world! Meaning “under the taboo of purity”, the Wodaabe tribe have even named themselves after their good looks, being too much to handle for the rest of the world.
This hat, decorated with leather and plastic in red, white and black colours, is commonly used at the annual Woodabe gathering, the Gerewol. Wearing make-up and dresses, the tribe’s men are judged by the women as in a beauty pageant, and great dedication is put into finishing the perfect look – bright eyes, white teeth and a sharp nose!
The aim is to win the Yaake dance and a free choice of wife – and everything becomes all the more interesting as married women, during this annual gathering, can choose to be “stolen” by some of the the best-looking attendants, thus leaving their husbands behind! For this reason, the Gerewol has been referred to as the “Wife Stealing Festival”.
Who would have thought a straw hat could shake up the social order in this way!
We strongly recommend a look at the Woodabe men in action in this film clip by German director, Werner Herzog:
Which attendant do you fancy the most? Would you let him steal you?
// Ciara Coogan
Photo: © 2014 Jacob Due, Photo/Media Department of Moesgaard Museum.
Byline portrait: © 2015 Line Beck, lbmfotografi.wix.com