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Himbas girls in profile, Angola

The haircut says everything about the girls: if the hair are on the front, it means she is not married yet. If the hair are in the back, it means they are married. The mariage is an important step in Himba life, but the tribe is very liberal about sexuality.

In fact, i say hair, but i'm wrong: the dreadlocks are not only made with their own hair, as they also can use the hair of some other family members! And if they live near towns, some told us they use indian hair sold in shops!


Himba women are famous for covering their body and hair with a paste made of butter, ochre (hematite powder) and ashes, called otjize, which is supposed to protect them from the sun and the insects. The red complexion it gives to women’s skin, is considered a sign of beauty. Body decoration is important in Himba culture, especially for women. They wear jewelry made of shell, metal, bone or skin. Women usually go topless (as well as men) and wear a skirt made of goat skin. Adult women also wear heavy iron or copper necklaces, that can weigh several kilos, and beaded anklets to protect their legs from venomous animal bites. Himba dress codes and hairstyle rules are very complex. Himba hairstyles are really meaningful as they enable to identify their social status. Pre-pubescent girls wear 2 plaits in front of their faces. Replacing them with many strands hanging all over the head, means the girl is in her puberty period. A girl with long tied back braids is considered ready for marriage. Once married, an « erembe » (a piece of goat leather) is tied to the top of her head. Hairstyle also indicates the status of men.


© Eric Lafforgue


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Taken on August 16, 2010