Faux earrings, hoop eyebrows, and funky hairstyles are not what many usually associate with the Fulani herders of Nigeria, who spend most of their time in the forests grazing cattle.
But on occasions like last week’s Eid al-Adha, as Eid al-Adha is known locally, when they head to city centers in northern Nigeria to celebrate with other Muslims, their colorful costumes really stand out.
And unlike many Muslims in this conservative part of the country, they choose not to wear traditional gowns, or kaftans, but rather modern clothing inspired by hip-hop and Afrobeats stars.
The jackets, ankle boots, and head warmers are reminiscent of the ’90s hip-hop scene, while many young Fulani patrons say they are now more influenced by the Nigerian Afrobites scene. Naira Marley, located hundreds of miles away in Lagos, has been repeatedly mentioned as having the greatest influence on her style by revelers in the capital, Abuja.
“I love Marley,” said Musa Sani, whose neck and underpants were visible above his low-cut shorts.
He and about 300 others gathered in an open field on the outskirts of Abuja in Lugby near the airport, as authorities closed parks and other recreational venues to enforce Covid-19 regulations.
There, with plenty of sunshine and away from the security men, the young shepherds had plenty of time to express their style and take pictures on their phones.
While the younger ones are in town to party with their peers, the older ones are usually at home to entertain guests or hold group meetings.
It is disrespectful for Fulani children to attend the same events as their parents, so the adults stayed away when the little ones visited city centers in Abuja.
Few Nigerians, especially those who live in the southern part of the country, can see shepherds wearing this elegant outfit.
Most see Fulani herdsmen only when they walk their livestock across the country, which has become a deadly issue since 2017. Clashes between them and farmers on pastures also led to the deaths of thousands.
Cattle are mostly herded by Fulani men. Most Nigerians imagine they wear their rubber flats, straw hats, and skinny jeans.
So when they go out in all their style, they turn some heads.
Flattering sunglasses, trendy ripped jeans, and sparkling shirts make up a gorgeous pop of color.
Most men in northern Nigeria usually wear a kaftan, a loose-fitting, ankle-length dress with matching trousers.
Those with more money prefer the paparíga, a lavishly embroidered three-piece outfit with an oversized outer garment that the wearer spends a lot of time draping over their shoulder, which politicians prefer.
But even when they wear the kaftan, some young men wear it elegantly.
Women were not left out, although most stuck to traditional fabrics, elaborate henna patterns on their hands.
Nigeria is a conservative country, particularly in the Muslim-dominated north where the Fulani and Hausa cultures – the dominant ethnic groups in the region – have long maintained their traditional values in music, clothing and language.
So while young Fulani herders may be gaining new influences, particularly in music, from other parts of the country, “nothing is new,” said photographer Modi Odepo, who has spent the past decade photographing them.
“It’s the abundance of youth, they all go back to kaftans and sandals with time,” he said.
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