West Africa

Nomads who cultivate beauty : wodaabe dances and visual arts in Niger

Upphovsperson: Bovin, Mette
Utgivare: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet | Uppsala : Nordiska Afrikainstitutet
År: 2001
Ämnesord: Niger, West Africa, Anthropology, Nomads, Social anthropology/ethnography, Socialantrolopologi/etnografi
Why do young men use mirrors and make-up more than girls? Why do the Wodaabe nomads of West Africa have beauty parades for men? Wodaabe's extraordinary and unique live performances are often misunderstood by outsiders. The book provides some answers about these aesthetic activities. One answer is courtship and "wife-stealing ceremonies" involving enemy clans, another is ethnic identity. Beauty and existence are linked. Wodaabe dances and visual arts are not "exotic" but are arenas for social action and identity politics in the largely agricultural society of the arid regions of Niger, Nigeria and Chad. The author describes Wodaabe cultural choices as "active archaisation". Different art forms are analysed in the light of identity construction by the Wodaabe. Their elaborate cultivation of beauty in make-up, tattoos, body paintings, calabash carvings, embroideries, and architecture all follow the principle of symmetry and order in the cosmos. The author emphasizes the gendered aspects of social life and identity construction and explores masculinity among nomadic Wodaabe men, who are living sculptures displaying their beauty as a spiritual act, full of honour and dignity. The book has many colour photographs and examples of Wodaabe art.