Tribe’s ‘wife-stealing’ festival where men wear make-up to win ‘bonk in a bush’

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    On the egde of the Sahara desert, a group of nomadic tribespeople gather each year for an unusual festival of "wife-stealing" where men wear elaborate makeup in the hope of attracting a bride – or just someone to share their bed for a night.

    For the Wodaabe people of Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria, women have a great deal of say in who they get to spend their nights with.

    And at the picturesque Guérewol festival in northern Cameroon, elaborately made-up men dance to impress a potential partner, while single women simply have to touch their favourite on the shoulder to select them for an intimate night in the bush – or maybe a life-long marriage.

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    New York-based explorer Zann Parker visited the event for a video on her YouTube channel.

    She said: “Some say this ceremony is a kind of beauty pageant. The men put on makeup and their decorative clothing and bring out certain dance movements to show off their strength and power – all with the hope of being chosen by a woman.

    “This is a situation where the woman gets to choose the man that they want to spend the night with or make their husband.”

    Dads do get a say, but sometimes they can be over-ruled. Indeed when Zann was there, she saw a dangerous moment unfolding.

    “It looks like a father might not have been too happy,” she said, as a white-robed man brandished a fearsome-looking machete. Ultimately, he was dragged away from the festival as cooler heads prevailed.

    Wodaabe men spend hours preparing themselves for the annual festival, applying thick black eyeliner to emphasise the whites of their eyes and dark lipstick to make their teeth look brighter. A dark red stain covers the rest of the young men's faces, in a culture where a beautiful face is considered a man’s best asset.

    The whole tribe gathers to enjoy the spectacularly-costumed dancing, but the most important spectators are young women – who have often travelled for many miles to take part in the annual festival.

    “The festival happens once a year,” Zann added.

    “It's a ritual where men show off their looks and dancing skills in hopes of either attracting a future wife or a fling for the night.”

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    The Guérewol that Zann witnessed was particularly special. “In Cameroon,” she said, “they have not had a Guérewol in three years because of Covid and so this one was enormous.”

    After enduring a gruelling 16-hour train journey, followed by a motorbike ride on bumpy trails where she managed to tear off one of her toenails in a minor spill, Zann was rewarded by one of the most remarkable spectacles in the whole of Africa.

    “I am at the biggest Guérewol completely by luck,” she said.

    “Over 3,000 people are here today.“

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    All of the men at the festival will have a small pocket mirror, so they can check that their make-up is absolutely perfect. Some men try to stop their wives attending the Guérewol, in case they are tempted by another man.

    One Wodaabe man told National Geographic magazine: “We all wear make-up and dresses. But what I like most is finding other women and taking them into the bush.”

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    Another added: “Stealing wives is not an easy thing – only the Wodaabe know how.

    “You steal a woman from others and she will give sons to your lineage, even grandsons. Only the Wodaabe know how to do that.'

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