Namibia’s Himba tribeswomen and their elaborate hairdos.

Namibia’s Himba tribeswomen create incredible hairdos using goat hair, butter and MUD.

Hair played a significant role in the culture of ancient African civilisations as it symbolised one’s family background, social status, spirituality, tribe, and marital status. Head dressed, hair, hats and anything worn on the heads of men and women in Africa symbolised different things in different tribes. As much as some of these customs aren’t practiced in some African countries anymore , in Namibia this custom is still prominent amongst the Himba tribeswomen; their elaborately braided hair, skin and clothes covered in a mixture of ground red rock and butter, the women of Namibia’s Himba tribe are a striking sight.

Descended from a group of Herero herders who fled Angola in the early 16th century, the Himba people live in the Kunene region (formerly Kaokoland) in the northwest of Namibia. While these nomadic pastoralists live between two worlds today, they have retained many of their ancient traditions, including the OtjiHimba language, a unique social structure and distinct body adornments.

The hairstyle of the Himba is usually indicative of their age and social status, with children’s hairstyles changing as they mature and pass through particular rites of passage. Married women wear an erembe headpiece with many braids that are coloured and shaped with otjize, while married men will usually wear a cap or head-wrap. Widowed men will usually remove this to expose their unbraided hair, while single men will wear one plait elongated towards the back of their necks.

A young girl typically has two plaits (ozondato) of braided hair, the form being determined by the oruzo membership (patrilineal descent group). Just before puberty, the girls wear long plaitlets worn loose around the head – it can take on various forms and sometimes wigs are worn over it. When the girls have completed their puberty ceremony, the so-called ekori festival takes place and she receives the ekori headdress made from tanned sheep’s or goatskin with three leaf-shaped points, often decorated with iron beads.

Girls belonging to some groups have their hair shaved off except for a small bush on top of the head. The shaved-off hair is then used to make plaits, which are woven into the remaining hair and hang down over the face. When she has been married for about a year or has had a child, the ekori head-dress is replaced by the erembe headdress made from the skin of a goat’s head and fastened under the hair at the back of the head by two thongs. From then on the ekori is worn only during ceremonial occasions.

A few wear a single plait which means they are one half of a pair of twins, while the smallest children tend to have shaved heads, although some have special haircuts that indicate they belong to a clan where taking care of goats with small ears is taboo – a tradition that extends to eating their meat. If you see a teenage girl with strands hanging over her face, it means she has hit puberty and therefore has to hide her face from the men. When a woman has been married for a year or has had a child, she wears the erembe headdress, which is made from animal skin, on top of her head. Keeping the elaborate dreadlocks in perfect shape is a challenge in itself, with women spending several hours a day tending to their hair and complexion.

Himba males also wear different hairstyles, such as the single plait, the ondato, worn by young boys down the back of the head, two plaits, ozondato, worn by Himba men of marriageable age and the ombwiya headdress, a scarf made from fabric covering the hair and decorated with an ornamental band.

Incredible photo series reveal the elaborate hairdos of the Himba tribe.

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