On the left, she is married , she wears the beads necklaces, and on
the right, her sister is not yet married, as she wears the big red
Mwila (or Mumuhuila, or Muhuila) women are famous for their very special hairstyles. Hairstyles are very important and meaningful in Mwila culture. Women coat their hair with a red paste called, oncula, which is made of crushed red stone. They also put a mix of oil, crushed tree bark, dried cow dung and herbs on their hair. Besides they decorate their hairstyle with beads, cauri shells (real or plastic ones) and even dried food. Shaving the forehead is considered as a sign of beauty. The plaits, which look like dreadlocks, are called nontombi and have a precise meaning. Women or girls usually have 4 or 6 nontombi, but when they only have 3 it means that someone died in their family. Mwila Women are also famous for their necklaces, which are central and meaningful as for each period of their life corresponds a specific type of necklace. Young girls wear necklaces, heavy red made with beads covered with a mix of soil land latex. Later girls wear yellow necklaces called, Vikeka, made with wicker covered with earth. They keep until their wedding which can last 4 years. When married they start to wear a set of stacked up bead necklaces, called Vilanda. Women never take their necklace off and have to sleep with it. They also use headrests to protect their hairstyles. However, more and more men and women dress in a western way, because people make fun of them when they go to markets. Women sometimes walk 50 kilometers to sell goods in Huila market. Mwila rarely eat meat, they rather eat porridge, corn, chicken, honey and milk. They kill their cattle only on special occasions. Mwila are not allowed to mention people’s name in public.
© Eric Lafforgue