April 12, 2016 3 min read 4 Comments
The Himba Ladies spend a lot of time grooming one another. They are “all about” their appearance, which is one thing they have in common with the Texas ladies! The Himba women not only apply ochre stone (hematite) to their bodies for protection and beauty, they also take their hair seriously—and I mean to a whole new level! In Texas we are fond of our hair extensions. Well, guess what, so are the Himba ladies!
The difference between the Himba ladies and us is that they don’t have a beauty salon to patronize when an extension needs maintenance or falls out…they have each other. And just like the beauty shops and salons in the USA, this is a time for bonding, gossip, tedious braiding and fun! Each Himba lady gets a new set of extensions every few months just like the Texas ladies do. However, when it comes time to work on their hair, it’s is their “sisters” of the tribe that remove the old extensions and apply a new layer of butterfat, ochre and new extensions to keep their amazing “Dos”!
The Himba women have to buy their extensions in town at the store. There is no vendor that comes through the village peddling hair extensions for sale. This means that they have to walk or hitch a ride to the nearest town, which could be miles. This may require several overnights in the bush on their “hair pilgrimage”. The hair that is purchased in the local town is braided into their own hair after it is stripped of the butterfat and ochre coating with what felt and looked to me like talcum powder. Remember, they do not use water for bathing, as this is not part of their custom.
In the situation of regular hair maintenance, after the old hair is removed, the new hair is braided in, and then the new coating of butterfat and ochre is applied to make the hairstyle more beautiful. Historically, this amalgam was also applied to distinguish the women from the men. It is applied when the girls are old enough to be responsible hygienically. The women not only apply the ochre stone (hematite) to their hair, but also to their bodies for protection and beauty. Ochre is rumored to help with sun radiation, keeping the skin clean and to block hair growth on the body. Once women reach puberty, their heads are adorned with elaborate crowns made of cow or goat leather. These are “women only” rituals distinguishing them from the men.
On my recent trip this past summer, I was given the chore of helping to remove old extensions and braid in new ones on a lazy afternoon in the very hot Namibian sun. After getting a crash course in Himba hair braiding, I know all about what it means to “work your fingers to the bone!” As fun as this experience was, I am incredibly thankful that I get to sit in an air conditioned salon with my copy of US Weekly and People and check my emails, instead of taking turns at doing hair maintenance in the hot sun in a remote African village.
Just like time spent with girlfriends here at home, my time with the Himba Ladies of Namibia was girly and fun. I have found that sharing experiences and most of all, “doing” activities together helps me to bond with women anywhere in the world. I definitely decided that a career move to hair stylist was not for me! I shared photos of myself with long hair, and the women touched my silky straight hair and taught me how to braid. They helped me to put the ochre and butterfat mixture on my skin, so I became an honorary Himba lady for a day. We learned a little about one another and made memories that I will treasure for a lifetime.
As I write this I am itching for my next African adventure! Stay tuned! You never know when I will be on the road again.
March 16, 2022
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