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The Wodabé man

Colombe  Cambourne

Manly Vale, Australia

  • Artist
  • Artwork Comments 19

Artist's Description

From a photo by Johan Gerrits.

Johan Gerrits kindly allowed me to paint this amazing photo. He has captured beautiful, beautiful images of many peoples throughout the world.
Many thanks to you Johan.

Pastels on Colourfix paper. A3

Wodaabe (or Wodabé) peoples are a subgroup of the larger Fulbe-speaking Fulani. They prefer to call themselves Bororo. The Wodaabe live in northern Nigeria. They are known for their striking beauty.

Once a year the Wodaabe hold the Gerewol celebration. It provides a venue for men and women to meet and attract mates. The Gerewol is a kind of contest whereby the women choose the most beautiful man.
They look for precise characteristics: tall, lithe limbs with graceful movements, long, straight hair perfectly braided in a beautiful style, and light, smooth skin. A slender nose, thin lips, sparkling white eyeballs and teeth, and an elongated face are desirable.
To enhance their physical traits the men decorate their faces in a traditional way that is very symbolic:

Red ochre, which coats the face, is associated with blood and violence and so only used on special occasions. It makes the face appear narrower.

Yellow clay, used by some dancers to paint patterns on the face, is the colour of magic and transformation. They draw a line down their nose to make it appear more streamlined.

Black in the form of finely ground charcoal, to darken lips and emphasise eyes, is a favourite hue, partly because it is the opposite of white – the colour of loss and death.

Adding to the black lipstick’s significance, it is made from the charred bones of the cattle egret, a bird the Wodaabe associate with “expressivity”. To have charm – that is to have expressivity and charisma – is highly valued in a young man.
Sometimes the lips are coloured with blue to help make the skin look lighter and the teeth whiter.

Artwork Comments

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