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UNRAVELING THE BEAUTY SECRET OF THE RED PEOPLE OF NAMIBIA

By April 27, 2024No Comments

UNRAVELING THE BEAUTY SECRET OF THE RED PEOPLE OF NAMIBIA

Have you ever come in contact with people who are covered from head to toe in red mud? If you have, you probably would have been staring at someone from the Himba tribe of Northern Namibia. And, I am sure you probably must have been stunned by their appearance. They appear that way because they practice the tradition of mudding, that is, using mud to decorate the body. This is a common practice among many African tribes, but the Himba tribe of Northern Namibia had taken mudding to a whole new level.

UNRAVELING THE BEAUTY SECRET OF THE REUNRAVELING THE BEAUTY SECRET OF THE RED PEOPLE OF NAMIBIA

UNRAVELING THE BEAUTY SECRET OF THE RED PEOPLE OF NAMIBIA

UNRAVELING THE BEAUTY SECRET OF THE RED PEOPLE OF NAMIBIA

The Himba tribe of Northern Namibia is an indigenous nomadic African tribe with an estimated population of 50,000 people. The Himba tribe who carry the title of being the last nomadic tribe of Namibia, are predominantly livestock farmers. They are resourceful individuals who are immensely skilled in arts and crafts. The Himba tribe are a very cautious people. Even though they are friendly and corporate with neighboring tribes, the Himba tribe live in seclusion and avoid anything that would be threatening to their beliefs and traditional heritage. So many things make the Himba tribe stand out from other tribes in Africa. But, one outstanding distinction is the fact that the Himba tribe does not bathe with water.

Yes, you did read right! The Himba tribe lives in Northern Namibia, a desert plain known to many to be one of the most extreme environments to live in, due to the hot and harsh climate, and the limited water of the desert. But even with this deficit, the Himba people are seen as one of the most hygienic tribes there is. How then is this possible?

From time, the Himba people had devised a method that helped them remain clean and hygienic in the scorching sun of the desert, which is, smoke bathing.

 

The Himba people partake in a daily smoke bath to maintain good hygiene. In a hut designated for just that, they put hot charcoals into a bowl of medicinal leaves with branches of Commiphora trees, and with a big blanket to keep the smoke trapped underneath. They bow over the smoking bowl until perspiration comes out their body.

I know what you are thinking! Have the Himba tribe been using a sauna for centuries before Europeans figured it out? One cannot be sure about that, but what we can be sure of is the effectiveness of this method of bathing for the tribe.

After bathing, the tribe then uses their multipurpose lotion, a perfect mixture of butter, and ochre, which is a combination of sandy clay and ferric oxide, known to the tribe as ojitze. This red lotion gives the Himba tribe the spectacular red skin that thrills the rest of the world. According to anthropologists, the complete mudding for the Himba tribe of Namibia represents their beauty standard, and a woman without this adornment is seen as ugly and unhygienic.

Apart from beauty, the ojitze keeps the skin cool from the heat of the desert, it protects the skin from the scorching sun, and mosquitoes at night. It also comes with a pleasant scent. Also, when an individual smoke-bathes, the next morning, the mud easily falls off with whatever dead skin or dirt that must have been stuck to the body.

Although civilization and globalization have broken through a wide range of practices in Africa, the Himba tribe remains resilient in upholding and fostering these ancient customs.

Apart from the ojitze being a skin care product, it is also added together with a special ingredient, Commiphora multijuga known to the tribe as Omuzumba. This ingredient is an aromatic resin added to the ojitze to make a hair gel that keeps the hair smelling nice. The Himba woman is big on haircare and her beauty. In fact, the way a Himba woman styles her hair denotes her status in life. Each hairstyle, its length, and what it is decorated with represents the wearer’s age, status, and social standing, allowing them to identify one another easily.

For example, a young girl on her way to puberty starts off styling her hair into Ozondato a two-braided hairstyle that falls forward and is braided to match her father’s paternal clan. She then covers her hair with the red paste, ojitze.

When that girl grows into a teenager, her hairstyle changes too. Using extensions from goat hair, her braids are styled longer to cover her face and ojitze is applied to beautify and completely cover her face.

Why? you may ask. Since she is being prepped for marriage this hairstyle is to reduce men’s gazes on her. When she is then ready for marriage, her hair is styled away from her face so she can be seen by suitors.

Once she gets married the Himba woman styles her hair based on the number of children she has birthed. If she is without a child, she wears a headdress made from animal skin. But once she births her first child, she then wears an ornate Erembe headdress adorned with beaded ornaments sculpted from the skin of a goat’s head. Her hair is also designed with ojitze and she wears a cone shell necklace known as Ohumba, to symbolize her fertility.

The ojitze is a big part of the culture of the Himba people with so many uses. But even with all its uses, the Himba people see the ojitze as being mainly for aesthetic features and must be used only by the Himba woman.

I feel bad for the men!

The red people of Namibia are truly a wonder. They have survived extreme climate conditions with nothing more than their wits and hard work. They place importance on their beauty and good hygiene and they support the world around them but never let the world’s wrong perception of them change their strong beliefs and standards. These wonderful people remain the last nomadic tribe of Namibia and we are sure that with their strong resilience and love for their culture, they will continue to preserve these beautiful and awe-inspiring cultural practices that have been with them for generations.

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