In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Case of the Recurring WodaabeVisual Obsessions in Globalizing Markets
  • Corinne A. Kratz (bio)

The Wodaabe people of the Sahel have been the subject of over seventeen documentary films—indeed, in both 1988 and 2007, three were released (Table 1). Filmmakers from Robert Gardner and Werner Herzog to National Geographic to individual researchers have turned their lenses on Wodaabe life, particularly their visually spectacular geerewol and yaake dances (Figs. 1–2). Likewise, Wodaabe have featured in sumptuous coffee table books (Fig. 3), the cover of National Geographic, Elle magazine, a World Bank brochure, advertising, CD and album covers. Their images have inspired painters and appeared on canvas bags, mugs, and mouse pads (Figs. 4–5). This concentration on the Wodaabe—a seeming visual obsession—is striking given the great diversity of culture and performance on the African continent.

Wodaabe are a pastoral Fulani group of roughly 100,000 people, sometimes known as Bororo.1 Most live in Niger, where they are denigrated and marginalized for their nomadic life and non- Islamic religion. Wodaabe are known particularly for their geerewol and yaake performances, which occur during annual rainy season gatherings. Both involve competitions between young men from two lineages and moieties and selection of the most beautiful dancers (Fig. 6). Since 1950 the dances have also been performed as entertainment and cultural spectacle for various audiences.

This paper considers questions related to these recurring images but it is only partly about Wodaabe. It is more about the circulation, proliferation, and reframing of cultural images and about cultural obsession. But the obsessions are ours, even though presented as theirs. I will sketch the process of proliferation and the story of how this global Wodaabe cornucopia came about.

Wodaabe films, books, and images have circulated in Europe, the US, and African countries.2 Wodaabe themselves have performed internationally in France, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Canada, Morocco, Burkina Faso, and other African and European countries, as a warm-up group for Baaba Mal in Paris (Boesen 2008a:159) and at Eurodisney (Lassibille 2006:116). In Niger, they perform for visiting dignitaries, heads of state, and tourists, at agricultural shows, and an annual post-Ramadan celebration in the Niamey sports stadium (Loftsdóttir 2008:178). Tourists, journalists, diplomats, and expatriate aid workers attend dances that Wodaabe organize for themselves outside town settings (Boesen 2008a:147, 153; Bovin 1998:106–108, 2001:60; Lassibille 2006, 2009; Loftsdóttir 2002:12, 2008:178, 194). The Wodaabe-Tuareg musical group Etran Finatawa also incorporates dress from the dances when they perform their "nomad blues" (Fig. 7), touring in Europe, North and South America, Australia, and west, south, and central Africa.3 In short, Wodaabe dance and images have gained widespread international currency over the last sixty-five years and might now be considered a global phenomenon.

The proliferation and spread of Wodaabe imagery and performances offer a way to understand how cultural resources—in this case visual representations, people, and performances—circulate in global economies. The Wodaabe case highlights complications and convolutions in those disparate circulations and social processes and shows how they can entwine across locales and scales. African art is no stranger to the marketplace, but the Wodaabe case points to transformations in how markets are defined, how interconnections and circulations work, and how cultural resources—knowledge, products, and practice—are involved in creative production. Transformations might be local, regional, cross-regional, international, multinational, and at times global, with conjunctions that produce collaborations, debates, tensions, and conflicts of many sorts, with positive and negative outcomes (Kratz and Karp 2006:2; Karp, Kratz et al. 2006).

These shifts, recontextualizations, reinterpretations, and interactions might lead to a range of transformations and changes. Formal changes include Wodaabe circle dances restaged in lines facing European festival audiences and framed by a presenter (Lassibille 2006:120-122; Loftsdóttir 2008:195), or mixing dress and make-up styles, genders, and generations in tourist performances (Lassibille 2009:328; Loftsdóttir 2008:195).4 Structural changes include expansion of Wodaabe performance venues to towns, agricultural shows, [End Page 24] and international settings, coordination with tourist itineraries, and articulations with market processes. Processual changes often encompass transformed social relations: shifts in production as lineage...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 24-45
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.