Africa

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's get a street view of the country of Senegal, where people have heard of TV shows like "American Idol" and "X-Factor." But they don't really need those shows because they have their own local version, a hugely popular televised beauty contest. In this show it's not about how well you work the runway, sing or dance. It's all about the curl of your horn, the gloss of your coat, how well you bleat. It's a beauty contest for sheep.

To better understand this Senegalese phenomenon, we called upon NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, of course. She's in the capital, Dakar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC THEME)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The nationwide search is on for the most handsome ram in Senegal. This is the signature tune of a television pageant show called "Khar Bii," which means "This Sheep" in Wolof, the local lingua franca. The show has captured the imagination of the Senegalese, with record audiences. Now in its fourth season, "Khar Bii" has kind of gone viral, says its creator, and my guide, Marianne Bathily.

MARIANNE BATHILY: One day, it just hit me that OK, there is dog competition, a cat competition in America or in Europe. So we must have our own, our sheep competition, because this is what we like. Here in Senegal, sheeps and ram are our pets. You know?

QUIST-ARCTON: Televised regional heats, selecting the prize rams, have been running in the build up to this week's Eid Al Kebir Muslim holy day. There's growing anticipation ahead of the broadcast of the finale of "Khar Bii."

Bathily explains the link between religion and the Senegalese fondness for sheep.

BATHILY: Sheep, you know, is a sacred animal because when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son to prove his faith, the ram, the magic animal appeared and sacrificed itself in place of Abraham's son. So this is the reason why here in Senegal, we believe that having a sheep in the house is protecting the house.

QUIST-ARCTON: Bathily says the specially bred competition rams are not the ones reared for the pot that will feature on Eid menus this weekend.

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QUIST-ARCTON: The atmosphere at Obelisk Square in Dakar is festive. Diodji Xavier Ngom, from Kaolock, is with his regional finalist, Ngomez. He strokes the ram lovingly on the head.

DIODJI XAVIER NGOM: Il s'appelle Ngomez.

QUIST-ARCTON: Did you fall in love with Ngomez?

NGOM: Yes, a lot.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ngom says sheep are good company like brothers. Owners proudly parade their finalists; glossy coats brushed to perfection, curly horns burnished, and sheep bells tinkling as they are weighed and inspected by the judges.

DR. RACINE SAMBA SOW: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Dr. Racine Samba Sow is the head of the national jury and uses strict criteria. Judges measure the rams and make sure they're healthy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLES AND DRUMMING)

QUIST-ARCTON: Sixteen rams from all over Senegal line up for the finals. The winner is bleating for a prize worth about $4,000, says Marianne Bathily. She says the show is hoping to raise the standard of sheep breeding in Senegal, as prospective buyers and breeders come knocking.

BATHILY: Because of all the people of Dakar participate to "Khar Bii," you know, it is a seal of quality. You will be selling. The lamb, yes, will be more value.

QUIST-ARCTON: This year's runner up is Alassane from the Medina. And the winner, Boy Serere, a good looker from Dakar's SICAP neighborhood. Boy Serere's many supporters are ecstatic.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

INSKEEP: Ecstatic, aren't we all?

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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