The Himba People: Red Hair & Skin and Cultural Similarities

Himba woman and her child (photo courtesy of Flickr- "David Siu" under the CC by 2.0)

In northern Namibia (Africa), there exists a group of semi-nomadic people with red hair and skin called the Himba people. The Himba people's beautiful hue and unique way of life have caused them to gain global attention. I've also noticed a few ways in which their culture is similar to American culture.

 The orange red color of the Himba women's hair and skin is due to a paste called otjize in which they apply to themselves daily. Otjize is comprised of red ochre, butter, and fat. Sometimes, scented herbs are added to the mixture to give it a pleasant scent. The otjize paste gives the Himba woman's hair the appearance of clay tendrils. Approximately 2 inches of loose, straight textured hair is left without the otjize. Researchers have stated that the Himba women use the paste for sun and bug bite protection. They also use it to protect their skin from the dryness of the Kunene area.

In addition, the women also use the otjize paste as a traditional form of makeup. They spend a considerable amount of time applying the paste to their hair and bodies. I think that's an interesting concept, because it relates to to our culture in the United States and other parts of the world. Our makeup consists of things like eye shadow, eye liner, lip liner, lipsticks, foundation, etc. Sunscreen are often added to some of those products to protect our skin from the sun. The Himba women have a more natural approach, but it works the same way as one of their standards of beauty. Although, the world is aware of the Himba people, their culture is still know to be uninfluenced or touched by other cultures. says, "For the most part, the modern world hasn't intruded on their traditional way of life which is why (ironically) more and more tourist are keen to visit Himba."

married Himba woman (photo courtesy of Flickr- "Gusjer" under the CC by 2.0)

 Furthermore, the Himba men and woman wear plait hairstyles that indicate their age and marital status. The Himba girls usually wear two plaits. More plaits and headdresses are added when they get married. During puberty, the plaits of the girls are bought towards their face to prevent attraction. Similarly, the Himba boys wear one plait towards the front, and then move towards the back indicating that they are single. When they get married, the number of their plaits increase (like their female counterparts). The Himba men have to wear their plaits in a turban once they are married. Men and women apply otijize to their plaits. The men, women, and children's heads are shaved around the sides and back of their heads.

After seeing the ends of some of the Himba women's plaits, I noticed that most of the hair left loose at the end of the plaits was in a blunt cut. I wondered if they used hair extensions for them. The answer is yes, they do. According to the, the Himba women use Indian hair extensions for braids or plaits.

There is much debate among researchers on how often the Himba people bathe and wash their hair.
Due to the lack of water in the area, the Himba people use ash to cleanse their hair. I couldn't imagine only using ash and not water to cleanse my hair, but I guess if I was a Himba woman I would have no choice, lol. Beautiful people and culture!

Himba girl and boy (photo courtesy of Flickr- "Gusjer" under the CC BY 2.0)

If you could ask the Himba woman any question about their hair, what would it be?

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