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The Himba women of northern Namibia live a nomadic life in the desert where water is scarce and the sun is hot. Washing hair in this environment where there is little water is a luxury. However, Himba women dedicate time to their appearance. They are known for a daily routine in which they apply otjize, a mixture of ash from special herbs and plants, home-made butter, and a local red ochre (a type of moist clay) that gives their skin and hair a distinct reddish color, moistens the hair and kills odors, insects, and germs. While the routine is cosmetic it also gives protection from the desert sun while the ochre, oil and fat seal moisture in the skin and hair and keep the sun’s rays off their hair.

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The result is that women in the community have beautiful, healthy long hair that almost always falls below their shoulders – the preferred length of women in the tribe. When the hair is not long enough they use extensions made of goat hair to achieve length but many sport their natural hair worn in twists and coated thickly in ochre except for the ends which are allowed to puff out.

Himba women are also said to have the most beautiful soft skin despite daily exposure to the desert-sun of their environment suggesting that there is something they know about covering and protecting skin and hair. A similar routine is noted among Maasai morans – the age group of warrior men – who defend the Maasai community in East Africa afer they are initiated into manhood (Many East African traditions encourage men to grow and style their hair while women shaved their heads). The traditional Zulu women, Omo women and other ethnic groups for whom hair care is ritual also have similar practices. Every ethnic group that uses the ochre mixture takes pride in long, healthy, hair that is worn and styled in some form of dreadlocks, braids or twists.

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