10.29.2010

Behold the Himba

Some consider the Himba of Namibia to be the most beautiful women in Africa.  If the fashions of the Fulani and the Hausa are some of our most ornate and exquisite, then the fashion of the Himba must be one of our most sensuous.

And it's not the topless factor.  Countless tribes go topless, if not fully naked, in Africa.  That's what you do when it's ridiculously warm where you are.  My father told me stories of his travels to one of the northernmost villages in the Cameroons where it was 102 degrees in the shade...on a good day.  The people went naked.  I mean, they wore their makeup and ornaments and such, but no clothes.  My father, of course, is a Cameroonian Highlander; in our Northwest Province, it really can get cold sometimes.  He hadn't gone naked since early childhood, and couldn't bear to part with his clothes.  Nor could the European student he was traveling with.  He said the villagers remained very polite to them, never pressuring them to undress, even if it was for their own good.  Later he found out it was because they believed he and his friend had some sort of skin disease they were ashamed of, hence their "hiding behind clothing".

But I digress.

Back to the Himba...there are no more than 50,000 of them (they survived attempted genocide at the hands of the Germans).  They are nomadic, but they control their lands.  To accommodate their way of life, the Namibian government has created "mobile schools" to move with them and ensure their progeny is literate (take notes, America...).

The reddish tinge upon their hair and skin is a protectant called otjize, made from red ochre powder, butter fat, and herbs.  Their climate is harsh, and the Himba don't wear much so otjize is necessary.  It's also considered attractive, which is no surprise.  Reddening has been found attractive all across Africa for a long time...I mean a long time.  Western historians, for a while, couldn't figure out "the red people" Ancient Egyptians painted, or why they were even depicted with red skin.  Had they simply asked Africans - not even African historians, but the Africans indigenous to the region - they would've learned a lot sooner exactly who the Egyptians were painting: their damn selves (note the similarity in hairstyles, ladies...and the similar harshness of the climates).

And about the hairstyles...for the Himba, they represent the different stages of a woman's life.  They're also natural.  That's hair growing long from twisting and constant conditioning, ladies.  The Himba tend to the reject the so-called modern world, so they don't do that relaxing nonsense.  And their hair grows long.

One more thing about reddening; I noted the red dusting on a Maasai woman's face in the last post, and I mentioned here that it's done all across the continent.  Not everyone does it the same way, of course.  The oldest known dye to come from a wood, for example, hails from the West African camwood tree (also known as African sandalwood).  Some folks in West Africa dust themselves with it, usually after oiling themselves first.  It features heavily in folklore; I remember reading stories about how Tortoise wanted a wife, so to make himself attractive "he bathed, oiled his skin, and dusted himself in red camwood..." (chuckles...the things you find amusing as a kid).

Depending on the region, red clay is used.  The Maasai, for example, use a red clay which softens the hair and deep cleanses the skin.  Rhassoul clay from Morocco does the same thing.  If you search hard and long enough, you will find some of these items on the net.  They might not be cheap though!

Recommended Reading
Black Girl with Long Hair
Story of the Red
Nous sommes très belles

14 comments:

  1. What a coincidence that I'm reading this after looking at a documentary called, Babies. (I just looked at it yesterday.) It featured babies from four different continents. One woman and her baby was from Namibia. The documentary shows the woman putting the otjize on her body, too. Then both the woman and her new born are shown with the otjize on them both. Wow! It was so beautiful and interesting. Thanks for talking about the hair, very imformative. What a timely post.
    Thanks!

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  2. I recognized the hairstyle from Babies also. The 2 Himba babies were hilarious.

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  3. This post is so full of win! Yoruba use a lot of camwood but it appears ours is of the burnt variety. And you have folktales with the torotise as well? Cool.

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  4. so this is my first time hearing about otjize which is a shame since it or similar natural skin protestants seem to be common

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  5. the redden factor makes the skin so beautiful.
    I watch this movie"babies"that came out this year: http://www.hulu.com/watch/112660/movie-trailers-babies

    where they featured a mother and her baby from that region, it was beautiful.

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  6. I always learn something new when reading your blog. This is good stuff, girl! And I agree with Chizzy D; the reddening is awesome!

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  7. I just happen to be working on a series depicting the Himba. (An Idealized version mind you), but I agree... its the red tinge that does it for me. Please be kind, its a work in progress.

    http://www.mgibson.350/GEDC0723.JPG

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  8. @Ankhesen Mié...

    (Genuflecting humbly)
    Thank you... my master.

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  9. Himba women are just too fine. No wonder they're your muse. How long have you been working on that piece?

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  10. Ankhesen Mié said...
    "Himba women are just too fine. No wonder they're your muse. How long have you been working on that piece?"

    Off and on for about a year now, since viewing the documentary on the Travel channel, “Tribal Odyssey: The Himba.” I’m motivated by mood (bi-polar artistically) so there were times when I simply wasn’t in the 'mood' to render anything. I work primarily in soft-pastel, as I find the medium easier to control.

    What impressed me about the Himba is that they’re a culture unto themselves; with an uncompromising standard of beauty. Their Esteem is of reaffirming red ocher; drawn primarily from a rich cultural heritage and resilient traditions. These women are Sovereigns of their realm; proud and defiant- borne of a long line of convention.

    And please forgive my misspeaking earlier- I should have said... 'My mistress'.

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  11. @ M Gibson

    Awwwwww...blushes.

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  12. Damn...why is this post so popular?

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  13. I wish I knew...there only seems to be 13 posts total. Took the liberty of updating my link. Behold my Himba.

    http://www.mgibson.350.com/My_Gallery.htm/GEDC0723-web.jpg

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