Little is known about the Woodabe, a sub-ethnic group of the Fulani people, traditionally nomadic herders that range throughout West Africa from Mauritania in the North to Cameroon in the south and Sudan in the East. The Woodabe of the Azawak rely on herding cattle for their survival. They live in small camps of only one or two families and relocate to find better pastures every two or three days.
Their “homesteads” consist of one traditional wooden bed (which they cover with a plastic sheet when threatened by rain or scorching sun rays) and a wooden table covered with 20 to 30 calabashes.
Only a few of these calabashes are used for conserving grain or milk whereas the rest are displayed for decoration as a sign of the woman’s wealth.
The most important possession in Fulani society is cattle, about which these herders have many traditions and taboos. The number of cows a person owns is a sign of his wealth. The Woodabe is so knowledgeable about his cattle that he is said to cast spells with magic potions that will lure his cattle to follow him wherever he wants to go.
The Woodabe are also notorious for their veneration of “beauty.” They hold celebrations (called Guerwul) to celebrate the rainy season. Guerwul season is the time for Woodabe beauty competitions.
During these rituals the most beautiful woman chooses her future husband as the men, garnished in traditional clothing and face paintings, dance in place, proudly showing off the whiteness of their eyes and teeth.
Men also use these ceremonies to practice teegal, where they “steal” the woman of their choice — married or not — by luring them away with spells and magic potions until the next Guerwul, when yet another man’s potions and charms may attract her elsewhere.