My purpose of visiting Chad was to attend the Gerewol Festival held by the nomadic Wadaabe people each year at the end of the wet season.
Each year they migrate with their livestock in response to the seasons and rainfall, as they’ve done for thousands of years.
Their homeland was divided by national boundaries over a century ago and I could have stayed in Niger last week and seen the festival there but like other African tribes such as the Massai, Himba and tribes of the Omo Valley, they’ve become a tourist attraction, which is what I didn’t want to see.
So I flew to Chad and then drove two hundred kilometers into the Sahal to find the two clans I spent time with, the Sudosukai and the Njapto who have no written language and spend their days tending to their long horned Zebu cattle.
The only contact they have with tourists each year is for one week at the end of September. The festival and their culture has been maintained largely intact, and they makes no concessions to the outside world with their traditions unchanged for centuries.
The origins of the Wodaabe are shrouded in mystery but it is thought that they first arrived in the region from the north over a thousand years ago, moving south as the Sahara Desert expanded into their tribal territory.
After arriving at the festival I met the sultan and clan leaders and was welcomed as a guest amongst incredibly friendly people who were genuinely honoured that I had travelled from the other side of the world to meet them and see their festival.
The Gerewol is an elaborate mass courtship ritual and one of the most fascinating ceremonies you can see in all of Africa.
Their emphasis is on male beauty and the young Wodaabe men decorate themselves with extravagant and colourful make up, feathers and traditional jewellery to ‘display’ to young women in search of a partner.
The dancing involves the young men standing in a line, singing traditional rhythmic songs and chants while doing their best to show the whites of their eyes and baring their teeth, two symbols of male beauty.
After a day of dancing the women step forward from the crowd and choose a potential husband.
The older married men who have been through the ceremony previously are allowed to line up again and try for a second wife but most preferred to tend to their cattle, coach the younger men and race their horses.
The Wadaabe people’s homeland, like other nomadic tribes in Africa, is quickly diminishing. Their northern land is becoming drier and the expanding Chadian population and farmland encroaches from the south.
Their future is also not assured because in Chad they hold one of the lower rungs of society. Their nomadic lifestyle and ancient animistic believes are often fround upon in modern day Chad.
After an incredible week with the Wadaabe and ten days in Chad it was time to continue my travels. Both Chad and Niger are difficult countries to access and for my on ground logistics in Chad I used S.V.S an Italian based company who have been working in Chad for over twenty years and were excellent. In Niger I used Zenith Tours, a local Niamey based company who were also excellent.
From Chad I’ve flown to Addis in Ethiopia where I’m spending a couple of days getting my Somaliland and Djibouti visas, as well as finally taking some time to sort through thousands of photos.
After Somalia I’ll fly to Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsular for a week of diving the Red Sea.
Bye for now.