Is the Wodaabe world disappearing? How are we to place the painted male faces? The very considerable success of this film is the ways it answers these questions. J. Picto
The Wodaabe follow their herds in an endless migration across the borders of Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon in search of pasture. The droughts which have ravaged the Sahel since the late 1960s have devastated Wodaabe cattle herds, and this film looks at the daily pattern of survival of one hard-pressed family group at the height of the dry season. Gorjo bi Rima and his family have been the focus of Mette Bovin's fieldwork since 1968 and she has seen his herds decline from more than 300 cows to less than half a dozen. Yet, as she emphasises, the Wodaabe see their life as a balance between hardship and joy, and the film expresses this in sequences which record a child's naming feast and the Wodaabe's obsession with male beauty and adornment. 'We like beauty,' Gorjo says. 'We like to see people who are young and handsome and this is why we put on make-up.' The elaborate make-up of the young men and their dances, a kind of male beauty contest to gain the attention of women, are linked to a complex system of taboos which the Wodaabe insist they will maintain despite mounting pressures to abandon their nomadic lives.
C. Ver Eecke, 1989. Review of the film. American Anthropologist, Vol. 91, pp. 835–36.