The Cultural Importance of Hair
By Sandra Colony for the NABBW
I think it’s safe to say that many American women obsess about their hair. No matter our hair type, we spend much of our time, trying to change it. We wash it too frequently, blow dry it regularly, dye it, curl it, straighten it and put all kinds of chemicals in it. We actually label some weather according to how it will affect our hairdo – as in “bad hair’ days.
But we aren’t the only culture devoted to our hair. The hairstyles of the semi-nomadic Himba people living in remote Namibian communities are not only complex– they reflect the individual’s gender, stage of life and marital status. This is a short synopsis.
Hairstyles for the Young
Young Himba girls who have not reached puberty wear their hair in two plaits in the front of their head, unless they are twins. Twins may wear a single plait. Young boys also wear a single plait, but they wear theirs in the back of their head.
Girls and Boys Eligible for Marriage
As girls mature they start a life-long commitment to unbelievably elaborate hairstyles. Using a mixture of goat hair, mud, butter and extensions, they create lengthy braids that they cover with red ochre each morning upon rising. Young men continue to wear a single plait.
Married Men and Women
Once married, men and women have antithetical hair strategies. Men go simple by donning a turban and leaving it on for the rest of their lives. (They carry thin picks with them to itch the hair underneath) Women on the other hand spend hours and hours embellishing their already ornamented dos to make them even more extravagant. Lengthy extensions may be added to the braids and a headress of animal skins placed on top of the head.
Visiting the Himba and learning about their traditional culture and lifestyle is one of the highlights of a Namibian safari. If you want to go on an incomparable adventure – one that also includes tracking leopards, cheetahs, rhinos and desert elephants; the opportunity to watch the sun rise over the most spectacular towering red sand dunes imaginable; and enjoy the company of 9 other seasoned travelers–check out my Personalized Odysseys’ trip to Namibia next July at www.personalized-odysseys.com.
I am a traveler – I have been my entire life. For the past 30 years I interspersed my travels with working in the corporate sector. Last year I turned my full attention to travel, founding Personalized Odysseys – a travel service for baby boomer women who want to explore remote regions of the world.