The Himba of Northern Namibia are immediately recognisable by their distinctive hairstyles, which are determined by their age, gender and marital status. Both Himba men and women wear various headdresses, of which each symbolises a specific position within the community, and specific phase in life. Girls of pre-puberty age wear a variety of plaits, while slightly older girls wear loose-hanging strands, which are tied backwards after the initiation ceremony, denoting marriageable age. This head adornment replicates the sculptural form of an elaborate coiffure, including a centrally-located, sweeping plait and cascading strings of finely-woven fibre braids. A thick crest of cloth, encrusted with butter and red ochre pigment, crowns the forehead of the wearer, and intricate patterns of beadwork in red, blue, green, yellow and white adorn the back of the densely-woven plait. An ornament of red and green glass beads, which would have been worn below the chin of the wearer, features at the front of the head adornment.
The red complexion of Himba women's skin, as a result of applying otijze, a thick paste of butter, ochre and ashes, is considered a sign of beauty. The raffia fibre 'hair' of the headdress has been anointed with butter and red ochre pigment, resulting in an oily surface patina. Throughout the African continent, hair is often treated like most sculptural forms - created as representational elements that are then embellished, treated, or empowered to achieve intended purposes.
Estimated Period: 1960's
Eds. Roy Sieber and Frank Herreman,'Hair in African Art and Culture' The Museum for African Art and PrestelPublishing (2000), p. 144
(Click on images to enlarge)