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The unusual beauty standards for lonely men of Woodabe tribe

At the end of the rainy season, the Wodaabe people gather for Cure Salée festival where men line up for women to pick lovers among them. This festive time however is also a stressful period for the male physique.

Courtesy: Dan Lundberg

The Wodaabe people are cattle herders and traders in the Sahel, northern Cameroon, through Chad to Niger, and spreading out in neighbouring countries. They speak the Fula language but don't have a written language. In their language, 'woodabe' means 'people of the taboo' or 'those who respect taboos'.

They have elaborate attire and rich cultural ceremonies.

One of these ceremonies is the Gerewol, a male beauty contest, and courtship ritual held during the Cure Salee the "Festival of Nomads" at the end of the rainy season in September.

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After months of enduring the cold and the beginning of the dry season, the men gather to get a lover. However, the process is not so kind to those who are not physically gifted.

The strict beauty standards for men among the Woodabe stem from the core values the tribe places on beauty and charm. Notably, white eyes, white teeth, and tallness. These standards are not as strict for women.

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At the heart of the celebrations, young herdsmen wear full makeup, accessorise with jewellery and feathers, and put on their finest clothes.

The clans then gather in different traditional locations where the men line up to start the ceremony of getting a lover for a night of passion.

During the ceremony, the men roll their eyes and grin broadly among other facial expressions to highlight the highly prized features as a means of flirtation.

This goes on for a week in a series of barters over marriage and contests where three women are picked to judge the men's beauty and skills.

The young men also perform the Yaake a series of songs and dances to impress the women.

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The Woodabe people also emphasise character traits such as reserve and modesty (semteende), patience and fortitude (munyal), care and forethought (hakkilo), and loyalty (amana).

For example, a husband and wife cannot be seen holding hands or any other form of public display of affection and intimacy during daylight.

Parents are not allowed to interact directly with their first two children. The two first born children are often raised by grandparents.

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