What does your hair have to say about you? Imagine having such a unique hairstyle that it tells people where you are from and what society you belong to. What does your hair have to say about you? Does it set you apart from other people or tell them where you’re from. Maybe you have a Mohawk, a Fade, a Mullet or Pink hair that spikes. Is it long in a French braid or short in Corn rows, bouncy, crimped, crinkly or frazzled?
Well if you’re a Himba child from a small tribe in Northwest, Africa wearing plaits and braids, your hair has great meaning to your culture and identification. Their hairstyle actually distinguishes them from other tribes. This very friendly tribe of nomads, people who wonder from place to place to find food and grazing land for their cattle, is still one of the few tribes who have not become westernized. They still wear traditional hairstyles and clothing, although some of them are starting to become a little less traditional by wearing clothes like us in the United States.
From birth, Himba boys and girls have different hairstyles. Boys have what is called a plait growing forward, (like a Mohawk) and girls have two braids going forward. Once Himba boys and girls become teenagers, their hairstyles change. The boys grow their hair long and braid it into one braid going backwards and the girls have extra braids put in (like extensions) which will cover the eyes for one full year. After the year is up, she will receive her erembe, a head covering made of kid goatskin, to show that she has become a women.
When a young Himba man is ready to get married, he will shave his ozondjise, which means hair, completely off and his new bride to be will use this hair to extend her own braids. After marriage the Himba man will only cut his hair once, usually when he reaches 50 or 60, and the Himba womans’ hair will never change other than its color from Otjize.
The Himba, mostly women and children, paint their hair and rub their skin with a mixture called Otjize. Red ochre is made from grounded red iron oxide stone used for the color, and rancid butterfat to make a paste. Add in some resin of the Muzumba shrub and you have a reddish lotion that protects the skin, makes it smell very nice and gives it a reddish glow. Some say that if a Himba girl doesn’t use ochre on her hair and body she is considered to be unattractive.
Tradition and beauty are two areas that distinguish the Himba from all other tribes. A tribe is a group of people from the same race and with the same customs. As a tribe their beauty shows and defines their tradition.
How does your hairstyle symbolize who you are or what culture you are from? I am sure if you look you will see a family tradition or some type of pattern your family has followed. Maybe your dad and grandpa both wore Flattops when they were kids and now you wear a short spike, which is somewhat like a Flattop. Or maybe your sister wears her hair braided and sometimes you do to.
The Himba children are extremely friendly people who take great pride in their traditions and appearance. Their hair holds a very special meaning and reflects their culture through all their stages of life.