A morning drive through the countryside and into an area quarantined because of the presence of tsetse flies, afforded us a brief visit to a Himba settlement.
The Himba are an often marginalized subgroup of the Herrero. They have managed to hold on to their way of life in the face of encroaching Western culture. For us as outsiders, the easier signs to read are those of the women's garments and specially hair styles.
In their desert environment water is scarce and is not available to the women for bathing. Instead, they cover their bodies with a mixture of animal fat and red ochre which serves to protect them from the sun and biting insects. It also gives their skin a beautiful sheen. The various hairstyles tell of their status within their communities. Young boys wear a braided pigtail towards the back of their heads. Girls wear two forward facing braids which, in a sign of modesty, cover their eyes. Once a young woman is ready for marriage, she will comb her hair back and display her face openly. Married women wear small leather crowns with various numbers of peaks. Each peak represents the number of times that she is a mother. All, even the young, pull their four front bottom teeth. It is said that the Himba language cannot be properly pronounced if those teeth are present. This might be why I had a difficult time with the name of the young mother of three that we can see at the end of the video.