By Amber Persson
The small Saharan desert town of Ingall is lit up with an explosion of color and culture when thousands of nomadic herders from the Tuareg and Wodaabé clans come together in celebration of their traditions for Niger’s annual Cure Salée festival. The festival symbolizes the end of Niger’s rainy season, usually at the end of September, and the culture of Nigerien pastoralists. It is a time and space for meeting friends, exchanging news, music, and reinforcing traditions.
Importance of the Cure Salée Festival
The Cure Salée Festival is one of few times a year where pastoralists can relax and mingle mainly because of their difficult living conditions. Clans such as the Tuareg and Wodaabé face problems such as lack of work, water, and land. Historically, Nigerien policymakers have paid little attention to the clans’ needs. The lands of Niger can also be dangerous at times due to terrorism, riots, and human trafficking. The town of Ingall is deep in the Sahara and far away from the commotion of the rest of the country, allowing the festival to be safer and more joyous than if it was in another location.
In recent years, the Nigerien government has supported the Cure Salée Festival by making it a tourist attraction for Western visitors sponsored by brands like Coca-Cola. On one hand, it does create social cohesion in Niger and brings attention to Nigerien culture. On another hand, this has allowed the government to put an end to certain nomadic traditions that the rest of Niger does not practice. Organizations like UNICEF are also present in order to increase vaccination and promote health education. Outside involvements may upset some nomads because the festival may have strayed away from being a simple celebration of nomadic herders’ culture and has now become more of a spectacle.
Music and Dancing
At the festival, electric guitar riffs and DJs can be heard starting from the early evening and going throughout the night. The music attracts many young people to dance under the stars, wearing their colorful robes and headscarf (boys) or veils (girls). There is no alcohol at the festival, but street vendors can be found selling cigarettes and cola amidst the crowd.
The festival is a great time to meet a potential spouse! It is believed the festival is key to courting and meeting one’s future betrothed. There are certain dances such as the Yaake dance Wodaabé men perform to show off their beauty, charm, and elegance. It is similar to a beauty contest. Women watch the men and score them based on their beauty as they dance, sometimes all night long!
Wells Bring Hope
One of the hardships that nomadic herders face is difficulty finding safe water, or water at all, in such an arid environment. Wells Bring Hope drills wells that will increase accessibility to safe water for communities in Niger. In doing so, the quality of life and health is improved for all Nigeriens and will continue to improve with every new well.