Academic journal article Africa

Gleaming like the Sun: Aesthetic Values in Wodaabe Material Culture

Academic journal article Africa

Gleaming like the Sun: Aesthetic Values in Wodaabe Material Culture

Article excerpt


The Fulbe Wodaabe from Central Niger--like other nomadic pastoralists--seem to be highly resistant to the influence of global consumer goods, the consumption of modern products being more of less confined to satisfying practical needs. The article presents a notable exception to this attitude of abstinence, the domain of female household goods which are procured on seasonal travels to places as distant as Dakar or Freetown.

The Wodaabe case is distinctive in that the gift/commodity model does not adequately describe the forms of acquisition in question. The author suggests a third term: 'booty', implying that, for the Wodaabe, consumer goods ate not part of a genuine transaction. In a further step she analyses the cultural appropriation of newly acquired goods by exploring the parallels between the ceremonial exposition of female household items and male dances, showing that the modern elements incorporated into the expositions exhibit a certain aesthetic quality, namely brightness and radiance, which the Wodaabe regard as a characteristic trait of themselves. Thus, the adoption of new things leads here to an intensification of the original cultural expression.


Les Foulbe-Wodaabe du centre du Niger, comme d'autres pasteurs nomades, semblent tres resistants fi l'influence des biens de consommation mondiaux, la consommation de produits modernes se limitant plus ou moins a satisfaire des besoins pratiques. L'article presente une exception remarquable a cette attitude d'abstinence, a savoir le domaine des articles menagers feminins acquis a l'occasion de deplacements qui peuvent aller jusqu' a Dakar ou Freetown.

Le cas des Wodaabe se distingue par le fait que le modele don/marchandise ne decrit pas de maniere satisfaisante les formes d'acquisition en question. L'auteur suggere un troisieme terme: << booty >> (signifiant litteralement butin), suggerant que pour les Wodaabe, les biens de consommation ne s'inscrivent pas dans une veritable transaction. Dans un second temps, l'article analyse l'appropriation culturelle de biens recemment acquis en explorant les paralle1es entre l'exposition ceremoniale des articles menagers feminins et les danses masculines, en montrant que les elements modernes integres dans les expositions presentent une certaine qualite esthetique, a savoir de luminosite et d'eclat, que les Wodaabe considerent comme un trait caracteristique d'euxmemes, Par consequent, l'adoption de choses nouvelles conduit ici fi une intensification de l'expression culturelle d'origine.


This article focuses on the consumer behaviour of a nomadic pastoral people whose contact with global commodity flows is particularly unusual as a result of their extreme mobility and marginal geographical position. The Wodaabe (singular: Bodaado) are part of the Fulbe people spread across West Africa and throughout the continent as far as the eastern parts of the Republic of Sudan. They represent a relatively small group compared to the Fulbe as a whole, numbering scarcely more than a hundred thousand of a total population estimated at between nine and seventeen million (Azarya 2001: 263). Most of the Wodaabe live in the Republic of Niger; smaller groups are also found in northern Cameroon and Nigeria. The article will look exclusively at Wodaabe groups from Central Niger, more precisely from the regions north of Maradi and Tahoua, where I carried out extensive field research. (1)

As the 'pure' nomads among the Fulbe, the Wodaabe enjoy a unique status in ethnography; at the beginning of the 1950s, they were to become the subject of the first important field research on the Fulbe. (2) Their marked mobility, however, is quite a recent phenomenon, and first emerged as a result of the jihad carried out in the nineteenth century in the area of present-day northern Nigeria/Cameroon, and particularly after the colonial 'pacification' of the region. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.