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Nigeria’s hipster herders – the funky Fulanis

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By Nduka Orjinmo
BBC News, Abuja

Bling earrings, shaved eyebrows and funky hairstyles are not what many would normally associate with Nigeria’s Fulani herders, who spend most of their time in the forests herding cattle.

But on occasions such as last week’s Eid al-Kabir, as Eid al-Adha is known locally, when they head out to the city centres in northern Nigeria to celebrate with other Muslims, their colourful outfits really stand out.

And unlike many Muslims in this conservative part of the country, they choose not to wear traditional gowns or kaftans, but trendy clothes inspired by hip-hop and Afrobeats stars.

Fulani men in colourful outfits

The jackets, ankle-high boots and head warmers are reminiscent of the 1990s hip-hop scene, while many young male Fulani herders say they are now more influenced by Nigeria’s Afrobeats scene. Naira Marley, based hundreds of miles away in Lagos, was mentioned repeatedly as having the most impact on their style by revellers in the capital, Abuja.

“I love Marley,” said Musa Sani, who had an MP3 Bluetooth player dangling from his neck with his underpants visible above his low-slung trousers.

A Fulani boy with a punk hairdo and radio across his chest
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He and about 300 others gathered in an open field to the outskirts of Abuja in Lugbe close to the airport, as authorities closed parks and other recreational places to enforce Covid-19 regulations.

There, with plenty of sunshine and away from security agents, the young herders had plenty of time to strut their style and take pictures on their phones.
Fulani man holding out his chain
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While the youngsters are about in town celebrating with their peers, the older ones are usually at home entertaining guests or holding communal meetings.

It is considered disrespectful for Fulani children to attend the same events as their parents, so adults stayed away when the young visited the city centres in Abuja.

A man with a yellow head warmer
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Few Nigerians, especially those in the southern part of the country, get to see the herders dressed this stylishly.

Most only see the Fulani herders when they are marching their cattle across the country, which has become a deadly issue since 2017 as clashes between them and farmers over grazing land have killed thousands.

Cattle herding is mostly done by Fulani men. Most Nigerians visualise them wearing their flat rubber shoes, straw hats and skin-tight jeans.

A Fulani herder with his cattleGETTY IMAGES
A Fulani herder with his cattle COPYRIGHT AFP

So when they step out in all their style, they turn a few heads.

Glitzy sunglasses fashionably ripped jeans and effervescent shirts that together form a magnificent array of colours.

Fulani men in colourful outfits
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A smiling girl being hugged from behind
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A boy in colourful shirt
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Most men in northern Nigeria normally wear a kaftan, a loose-fitting gown that reaches the ankles with matching trousers.

Those with more money prefer the babariga, a lavishly embroidered three-piece outfit with an extra-large outer robe that the wearer spends much of time rolling up their shoulder, favoured by politicians.

But even when they wear kaftans, some of the young men do it in style.

Two Hausa teenagers in kaftan
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The women were not left out, although most stuck to the traditional fabrics, and elaborate henna patterns on their hands.

A Fulani woman
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A Fulani woman
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Nigeria is a conservative country, especially in the Muslim-dominated north where the cultures of the Fulanis and Hausas – the dominant ethnic groups in the region – have long preserved their traditional values in music, clothes and language.

So while the young Fulani herders might be picking up new influences, especially in music, from other parts of the country, “it is nothing new”, said photographer Mudi Odibo, who has spent the last decade photographing them.

“It is the exuberance of youths, they all return to the kaftans and sandals with time,” he said.

Two Fulani men in red and yellow clothes
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All pictures subject to copyright

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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