Bling earrings, shaved eyebrows, and funky hairstyles are not what many normally associate with Fulani herders in Nigeria, who spend most of their time in the forests herding livestock.
But on occasions like last week’s Eid al-Kabir, as Eid al-Adha is known locally, when they travel to inner cities in northern Nigeria to celebrate with other Muslims, their colorful outfits really stand out.
And unlike many Muslims in this conservative part of the country, they choose not to wear traditional dresses or kaftans, but trendy clothes inspired by hip-hop and afrobeat stars.
Jackets, ankle boots and head warmers are reminiscent of the hip-hop scene of the 90s, while many young Fulani ranchers now say they are more influenced by the Nigerian afrobeats scene. Naira Marley, based hundreds of miles away in Lagos, has been repeatedly mentioned as having the most impact on their style by revelers in the capital, Abuja.
“I love Marley,” said Musa Sani, who had a Bluetooth MP3 player hanging from his neck with his underpants visible above his low pants.
He and around 300 other people gathered in an open field on the outskirts of Abuja in Lugbe near the airport, as authorities closed parks and other recreation areas to enforce Covid-19 regulations.
There, with lots of sun and far from the security guards, the young shepherds had plenty of time to strut around and take pictures on their phones.
While the young are in town to celebrate with their peers, the older ones are usually at home to receive guests or organize joint meetings.
It is considered disrespectful for Fulani children to attend the same events as their parents, so adults stayed away when young people visited downtown Abuja.
Few Nigerians, especially those in the south of the country, get to see the shepherds dressed so stylishly.
Most only see Fulani herders when they walk their cattle across the country, which has become a deadly problem since 2017 because clashes between them and farmers over pastures have left thousands dead.
Cattle rearing is mainly carried out by Fulani men. Most Nigerians imagine them wearing their rubber flats, straw hats, and tight jeans.
So when they go out in all their style, they turn a few heads.
Glitzy sunglasses, trendy ripped jeans and effervescent shirts that together form a gorgeous color palette.
Most men in northern Nigeria normally wear a kaftan, a loose dress that reaches to the ankles with matching pants.
Those with more cash prefer the babariga, a richly embroidered three-piece outfit with an extra-large outer robe that the wearer spends a lot of time rolling up their shoulder, favored by politicians.
But even when wearing caftans, some young men do it in style.
Women were not left out, although most stick to traditional fabrics and the elaborate henna designs on their hands.
Nigeria is a conservative country, especially in the Muslim-dominated north where the cultures of the Fulani and Hausa – the dominant ethnic groups in the region – have long preserved their traditional values in music, clothing and language.
So while young Fulani herders might gain new influences, especially in music, from other parts of the country, “this is nothing new,” said photographer Mudi Odibo, who has spent the last decade in photograph them.
“It’s the exuberance of the young people, they all come back to caftans and sandals over time,” he said.
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