September 15 - 17 marked Niger's most vaunted festival - the Cure Salee - and RAIN was there.
My first time attending the festival in my decade of visits to Niger found me gripped with anticipation to finally see the festival of all nomadic festivals: the Cure Salee (Salt Cure). I joined the women artisans of RAIN cooperatives to gawk, socialize, and proudly display our unique hand crafted leather and embroidery items for sale.
The name Cure Salee actually refers to multiple celebrations that happen throughout Nigerien herding regions at the end of the rainy season. The Ingall region has attracted nomads for centuries - their herds enjoy the salt licks and people take part in salt cures. It is time for reuniting with other clans, to plan for the upcoming dry season, and to meet possible marriage partners. The local celebrations are fascinating, especially the Wodaabe dancing and Tuareg camel races.
This year's festival was a mix of tradition and hype, with tradition sadly losing out. It was quite a spectacle, though, a true fantasia, put on for government representatives and international NGO's.
|Niger PM with Bess|
Brigi Rafini, Niger Prime Minister and friend of RAIN, led the government delegation. Later, he would visit us at our booth and wish me "Bon Courage!"
The fairgrounds featured a viewing area with bleachers and chairs, with a performance arena in the middle. Wodaabe and Tuareg performers made appearances in the arena for various competitions - Tuaregs with donkeys decked in full wedding regalia and camels fully outfitted in their traveling gear and good luck charms, women drumming and men dancing, and the Wodaabe men performing their gerewol dances for potential partners.
As pictured above, the Wodaabe dancers stood quite a ways away - we could only see them on the widescreen TV. The women in the singing competitions were interrupted at 3 minute intervals for commercials. I suppose no place is immune to the 21st century - even the most remote desert on earth.
Yet, the legendary Cure Salee festival stills offers one of the best opportunities in the world to witness the magic and beauty of wholly unique West African desert traditional cultures. Do join us there soon.