"The Himba" –
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I tend to agree and would also add that beauty is also influenced by our various cultures and environments. The "Cultural Beauty" portion of this blog will not only celebrate but highlight beauty practices from tribes and cultures from across the globe. While reading, might be surprised which beauty rituals overlap or are similar to yours! First up? The Himba Tribe.
The Himba are a semi-nomadic (traveling) tribe whose long history remains in farming and cattle herding across Namiba.
Here, we see a beautiful Himba woman wearing her hair in the common style of her culture. The tribe's traditional locs, which are also familiar to Caribbean cultures, are a formed by combining goat butters / fat and ground red rock (for the distinctive color). While many anthropologists who study the culture propose that the colored butter / clay is rubbed on the hair, skin, and clothes for its protective properties against the sun or its ability to repel insects … the Himba people themselves say its application is mainly one of beauty. As physical adornment and beauty is a huge aspect of tribal culture, a large effort is made to present well and according to traditional standards of beauty. Himba women create their locs with the above mentioned clay, in addition to woven hay, goat hair, and at times hair extensions. This process can take hours.
Two singular plats worn down the front of a child’s face are braided to indicate a tribal lineage of both mother and father. As the child grows, if she is female, she will begin the colorful locing process with the hair styled down around her face to signify she is in puberty and not available for marriage consideration. Hair styles and work to the side indicate a woman has entered marrying age. Women who have already married may also chose to add a head adornment with jewels, often indicating the number of children she has had. With this tribe, we see how the beauty of hair and its corresponding decorations relates to social standing and marriage rites.
Additional images - photo credit: Erica Lafforgue
Found within the remote Omo Valley, where the countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan meet ... you will find the Karo Tribe. Continuing cultural practices that have been in existence for thousands of years, this nomadic people (closely related to the Himba Tribe) have become world renowned for their beauty practices. With a pastoral lifestyle (living as cattle herders), this tribe celebrates its connection and love of nature through self adornment with materials directly from their environment.
Oils, animal fats, ashes, and various colored ground minerals form pastes which cover the hair and body. These unique pastes form the base for several cultural styles. In addition to the use of hand-crafted painted designs, the incorporation of natural foliage, animal plumage (often ostrich feathers), and animal artifacts (such as horns/tusks) are equally as important as well. Through the combination of these artistic mediums, tribe members are able to display and convey: spiritual significance, social status, pride, respect, courage, (usually from an animal kill), level of beauty / attractiveness, and / or ability to attract potential marriage partners.
On occasion, scarification or the act of permanently scratching, etching, burning, branding, or superficially modifying the skin (tattoos typically not included here) with designs are practiced as well. For men, this represents strength, especially when placed on the chest. For women, this signifies sensuality and attractiveness, particularly when designs are placed along their chests and torso ... the scars allowed raise slightly while covered in ash during the healing process.
What is most beautiful, is that these intricate and historic beauty practices are performed by both men and women. Unfortunately, with the growing rise tourism and infiltration from the outside world, these beauty practices by tribes-folk are beginning to move away from being practiced solely as a celebration of culture, but for profit. This has become especially necessary as the current government plans to implement a water dam, which may drastically affect their traditional way of life. This tribe has been featured in the blog "Before the Pass Away." It is my hope that this incredible art and breathtaking adornment practice never does. Click the following link for a more in depth discussion about the Karo Tribe.
The Kayan Tribe is an ethnic group found in the Borneo region of Mayanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia. Added beginning at the age of 5, women and girls of the Lahwi (a sub group of the larger Kayan tribe) are known for wearing beautiful brass rings around their throats, giving the illusion of longer necks. In the past, when seen by visiting tourists, they were often called the "giraffe necked women."
As with many tribal groups, there is often mystery and speculation around the true purpose of the beauty practice. Some say the brass rings protected women from being abducting by other tribal factions by creating physical "deformities." Others have proposed that the brass rings give the wearers special powers of protection against attack and tiger bites by resembling mighty tigers. Yet still others, including women from the tribe say they wear their neck adornments as a symbol of pride, respect for their tribe, and for beauty purposes. From a biologically standpoint, a long exposed neck on women is seen by men as inherently attractive. The thinking here is that these long brass necks exaggerate this naturally attractive feature. By pushing down the clavicle and shoulders, women of this tribe are given the appearance of a longer neck. The neck itself? Never actually grows in length.
While this beautiful tradition, continues in some of the modern pockets of these countries, unfortunately as seen with The Karo Tribe, the traditions Kayan tribe is under attack. As travel and the desire to view increasingly more "exotic" cultures rise, so do the number of Kayan women who are kept in captivity and forced to present themselves to tourists (who are sometimes unaware of living conditions) when tour guides arrive to villages or government sanctioned (in Thailand) hostage townships where trucks rumble through for visitors to stare and photograph the women. The international tourist money generated from these women in this "human zoo-like" atmosphere not only lines the pockets of government officials who see no need to end the practice, but it is also destroying a beautiful tradition as many women are removing their collars in protest. To read more about the plight of these women click the following link found in Marie Claire Magazine.
The Fulani people are a nomadic pastoral (farming) people with ties across various parts of Africa including: Senegal, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, ect ... for a total of 16 African nations. Due to their wide-spread nomadic nature, their cultural influence spans not only across several countries, but has resulted in the creation of various subsets of the larger Fulani tribe, including the Wodaabe.
Due to extensive traveling, there is no standard ethnic "look" for this tribe. Rather, physical attributes vary across nations and tribal sub-groups. These subtle differences also extend to languages spoken (which include French, Arabic, Woolof, Fula, etc), as well as style of dress. Yet, for all of the differences, the foundation of this tribe remains the same. Traditional marriage and beauty practices are virtually unchanged.
Take for example the practice of the Yaake Dance. Where as in western society, beauty and makeup are seen as a strictly feminine, in this community, as seen in the Karo Tribe, men of the Fulani accentuate their beauty in full celebration. Lips smiling with inviting exaggerated smiles ... dressed in elaborate garments ... faces painted in colorful patterns ... they compete not only for the attention of young maidens, but also as the tribal man having the most attractiveness that particular year.
In addition to the Yaake dance practice, both men and women adorn themselves with customary beading and jewelry, particularly for wedding ceremonies. In the case of women, they are nearly always gifted gold earrings called "kwottenai kanye." These earrings are given at either the passing of a woman's mother or more commonly as a bridal present. Paid for through the sale of a family's cattle, these earrings are often made of 14k gold and are seen as a prized status symbol within the tribe for those able to afford these beautiful works of art.
Shop earrings directly from the Q.A.C webstore HERE - "Kwottenai Kanye"
Originating from Mali, W. Africa the Mandinka Tribe (also known as the Malinke and more famously the Mandingo Tribe), are a mostly Muslim practicing tribe now settled primarily in the country of Gambia. Today, the tribe has spread throughout Senegal, Gambia, Mali, and Guinea.
Primarily a people centered on agriculture, Mandinka villages are ruled by local chiefs as well as a select group of elders. While many today living in big cities were modern styles of dress are common, in local villages, there is a great pride in maintaining long-standing traditions and forms of dress. As seen in many West African countries, women generally wear a loose, scoop-necked tops over a long skirts with an accompanying headwrap. For formal occasions men and women may wear the grand boubou. For women this is a loose dress that extends to ground level and may be trimmed in lace or embroidery. For men it is a long robe-like garment covering long pants and a shirt.*
While many members of the Mandinka contribute the the larger community as farmers, another large portion are traditionally artists, musicians, craftsman as well as athletes. "Laamb" or traditional hand-to-hand combat wrestling is a very popular sport both in Gambia as well as Senegal. As in many sports, the men who participate take on a great undertaking in training and are highly revered. Traditionally, the sport was also used by young men to court wives, prove manliness, and bring honor to their villages. Oils are spread across the body during pre-fight rituals and amulets placed around their necks for protection against evil or witchcraft.
Regrading the arts, music and mask making are most prominent. Well known for their particular skill in passing down their oral history, the Mandinka are also well know for their mask making skill as well. Often masks are made depicting the faces of warriors, as this tribe is known for its brave fighters and fighting style. Interestingly in connection the arts, it is said that quite a few of today's African-American descendants living in America today descended from the people of the Mandinka. If this is true, it is no wonder that the strength and power of music / the arts has survived in it's black American descendants, the creators of the most influential form of music today ... hip-hop!
Bonus Film: Watch both Black-Thought & ?uestlove discuss their DNA discoveries and connection to the continent.
Partial source: *www.everyculture.com
The Maasai are a tribal group of Eastern Africa originating and currently living in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Primarily a cattle herding tribe, traditionally families lived in what is known as kraals (circular living quarters made of primarily acacia thorns to keep wild prey from attacking both members as well as prey). Each member of the family and larger tribe has a very distinct role to play with regards to daily life. In traditional / village settings, women concerned with the home construct the living quarters, care for the children, tend to the care of the cattle, prepare meals, and collect water. Men and warriors provide security and herd the cattle. Elders, often offer sage advice and presided over daily activities. Overall, wealth is measured by both the number of cattle one had, as well as the number of children within a family.
Regarding beauty practices, today, typical Maasai dress consists of red sheets, (shuka), wrapped around the body and several layers of beaded jewelry placed around the neck and arms. These are worn by both men and women and may vary in color depending on the occasion. Ear piercing and the stretching of earlobes are also part of Maasai beauty. Both men and women can be found wearing metal hoops on their stretched earlobes. Women, typically are seen wearing colorful wraps of fabric called kangas.
In all this beautiful culture, not only prides itself on its rich warrior heritage, but it also celebrates their ability to maintain and pass on cultural rituals traditions to the next generation of tribal elders … their children.
Tap the video below to learn more about life as a Maasai.
See my modern take on this tribe's shuka cloth wraps by tapping HERE!
The Q.A.C webstore
As we prepare to roll out new additions to Q.A.C’s webstore, namely the accessories collection, our goal this week is to continue focusing on the tribes which influence some of our new releases. This week we celebrate the Rabari Tribe of India.
As with many of our other tribes highlighted in the “Cultural Beauties” collection, traditionally the Rabari are a nomadic people. Today, they live in western / northwestern portion of India. Their tribal name, which translates to “the outsiders” or “the ones who dwell outside” speaks to their un-sedentary nature. While their exact origins are unknown, some tribute their origins to parts of Afghanistan, having migrated to India thousands of years prior. As seen with the Massai Tribe of last week’s feature, the Rabari are also deeply connected to their cattle and therefore practice vegetarianism. While the men are the sole caregivers of family livestock, in a stark contrast to many of the traditional cultures featured so far, it is the women who take center stage.
Within this tribe, it is the women who are the heads of household as they conduct all business and financial affairs. They are the negotiators as well as the artists of the community. Women of the Rabari tribe are not only known for their detailed embroidery, beadwork, and handmade sculptures which contain patterns reflecting tribal history and important tribal rituals … they are also known for their incredible jewelry.
Women of this tribe have been known to wear their heavy silver jewelry in the hottest of climates. Not only is it worn as a sign of beauty, but it is also worn as we a tool to differentiate themselves from the 133 other sub-groups that are a part of this tribe! Rabari women are typically found wearing long black head dresses, heavy brass jewelry, stretched earlobes, and symbolic tattoos on their necks, breast, and arms. The beauty of these women and their cultural aesthetic, especially their jewels, have influenced every free-spirited bohemian across the globe. They are the originators!
*beautiful images via Before They
Interested in owning your owning your own set of bangles direct from India? Check out the latest additions to the Queen Adwoa's Closet accessories collection!
Shop Rabari Bangles
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