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Photo of the Month - exploring the Story behind the Image...

Himba Women Hairstyles

Himba Women Hairstyles

Year: 2011, Month: March

Namibia > Kaokoland > Orotjitombo

In North-western Namibia, just inland from the notorious Skeleton Coast, is the dry and wondrous desert wilderness of the Kaokoveld. This is one of the great wilderness areas of southern Africa, and home to the Himba peoples. The Himba External link opens a new Browser window are a group of nomadic pastoralists, who are famous for covering their skin and hair with a colored mix of fat and local earths called 'otjize' to protect them from the sun. The Himba wear little or no clothing above the waist and not much below it, so have evolved this method of protection to keep them safe from the harsh African glare and UV damage. The mixture also gives their skins a characteristic reddish tinge. The method works well, and the skin of a Himba woman is soft and supple, quite unlike the leather sun tan that the average Caucasian would end up with in similar circumstances.

For the Himba women, the application of their mix of cow fat and local ochreous earths doesn't just stop with the skin. It is also applied thicky to the hair, to produce their unique bunched hair braids. It is these braids or bunches that are the subject of this Photo of the Month. The hair is allowed to grow to just below shoulder length, then coated with the mixture of 'otjize', the colored grease described above. A feather, usually from an Ostrich, which are found in this area, is attached to the end of each braid. Small pieces of dried and curled animal skin are attached to the crown of the skull to produce the striking centre piece. The braids are then bunched together with a cord made from string, discarded cotton fabric, or even an old plastic bag.

The best place to visit the Himba people is in the area around the town of Opuwo. Public transport is practically non-existent, so you will need to organise your own means of getting there. A 4-wheel drive car is preferred, as the roads can be very rough and basic. If you are visiting a Himba village, it is polite to bring a small selection of gifts with you: some food items, particularly flour and other goods that store well. Some local tobacco will also be popular. The tourist information office in Opuwo can advise on this, and provide guides and translators if required. The Himba are very friendly people, and will take great pleasure in explaining about their traditions and customs. They are also skilled craftsmen and women, and produce a wide and varied range of handicrafts. Purchasing some of them during your visit will greatly help the local economy. For more information on the Himba culture and way of life, please visit this reference page External link opens a new Browser window at the Wikipedia website.

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