Himba Hair Styling

by kcurly on January 4, 2011

in "It's just hair"

While viewing the film Babies (see my original post about it here), I became entranced by the hair of one of the cultures featured. Little Ponijao,who lives in Namibia with her family, was one of the babies in the film.

I could eat her up!

Anyway, the women in her village have a unique way of caring for their hair and skin. They are of the Himba tribe, a pastoral and sometimes nomadic group of people. Check out this lady!

The women of this tribe proudly spend hours a day on their appearance. Let’s start with the skin first. You may notice a slightly reddish hue. Clad in very few clothes, they cover themselves in a mixture called otjize. This mixture is made of rancid butter, ochre (reddish earth), ash, and resin of the Omuzumba bush (for fragrance). The red hue is part of the Himba ideal of beauty. I have to admit that it does give them a unique glow. It kind of reminds me of the bronzing treatments I used to see the celebs applying.

Another reason they apply this paste is to protect their skin from the sun. And for those of you who might be uninformed: Yes, black people can get sunburned. I didn’t believe it myself until it happened to me!

So, on to the hurrrrr….

Like a lot of other cultures, hairstyles among the Himba often signify martial status and/or age. The mature Himba woman wears many thick plaits with a headdress. They also rub the otjize into their hair. The above hairstyle has got to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

Factor in the regal headdress (called an erembe) ,  nice skin tone,  the outfit of a goat- skinned miniskirt with  the beautiful jewelry to accessorize…and I could totally rock this look…minus being topless ;)

Looking at the above picture had me wondering about the ends of their hair. At first I thought maybe they were dreaded. Then I found an interesting passage in the book “Lonely Planet Southern Africa” in the words of a Himba woman concerning their use of the clay:

The colour is also important to us. Our bodies turn the same colour as the red earth, which is where all life comes from. We also like big, big hair. We style our hair with oil and ochre but it’s not always big enough. So we can buy extensions in the market place and we weave this into our hair.

So there you have it. They wear extensions. I found one source that said the extensions were made from goat hair which makes sense since the tribe breeds goats. I mean, I don’t think they’re running down to the BSS for 2 packs of  20 inch Yaki ;)

Young girls usually have 2 or 4 plaits. Once they hit puberty, the plaits are brought forward over their eyes.

Young boys also wear plaits like young girls. However once a young man is close to marriage age, he wears two parallel plaits running from the top of his head to the back of his neck. Married men comb their hair out and wear a turban.

Looks like for the Himba it’s not “just hair”. Their tresses are a source of pride and social status.

Pretty neat,huh?

Thanks to my sources:

Nomads at the Crossroads by O.P. Goyal

Lonely Planet Southern Africa by Alan Murphy, Kate Armstrong, James Bainbridge, Matthew D. Firestone



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  • http://curlysweetlife.blogspot.com Shones

    I wondered the same thing regarding whether their hair was loc’ed, so it’s interesting to know it’s actually extensions. Go figure! The Babies movie was so much fun to watch… but wasn’t Ponijao a little boy? What I found most intriguing was that when he started walking he didn’t wobble like the other babies in the film. He just walked upright like older children/adults. Anyway, great post!

  • http://newlynatural.com kcurly

    Shones, I thought she was a little boy too at first. In fact, I could’ve swore I saw a wee-wee at one point, but the film’s official website as well as an interview they did with the mom referred to her as a girl.

  • b.

    I saw this in the theater and was fascinated by the film and the Himbas as well. I remember I kept reminding myself that Ponijao was a girl. Thanks so much for a fascinating post! I wonder if it’s just then ends that are goat hair or whether it’s just woven through to make each piece fuller.

  • sarah

    that was the cutest movie ever. i also thought Ponijao was a boy. apparently there is a big debate about it. clearly, in the movie, Ponijao is a boy, but the website credit Ponijao as a girl.

  • Mikou

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought Ponijao was a boy! I didn’t realize until the end of the movie. Through the movie, I had wondered why she was dressed (covering the loins) whereas there little boys who were more… free, LOL.

    Thanks for presenting your findings. I was also curious about their hairstyles.

  • scotia06

    I love the post…please post more similar to this one. So interesting and I love the stories behind the styles. It really puts things into perspective, for me at least.

  • Heather!

    Wow…fascinating! I haven’t seen *Babies* yet, but am looking forward to it. I’m with ya about the red tone to the skin and hair…it’s lovely.

    Great post!!

  • CocoEuro

    Very interesting peice you did here!! I really want to watch the Babies movie with my 2-year old, she loves babies!!!

  • Ms.Ooolala

    Uber cool!** I have to see this movie, and the Himber are gorgeous!

  • Pingback: Himba Hair Styling | Maximising Potential

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  • http://stupiddopegalaxy.onsugar.com Sensibly-stupid

    This was indeed informative, it answered some of my questions. Thank for posting!

  • RickyboyH

    I’ve met some Himba’s in my life (I am Namibian after all, lol!) , and she didn’t have any extensions in her hair (I asked her). As you wrote in your article (which was very well written btw) they weave in hair/fiber if it’s too short, but hair obviously grows, so after a certain period of time, extensions won’t be necessary anymore.

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