Mud Hairstyling

Men and women throughout Africa have smoothed clay or mud on their heads as decoration for thousands of years. Clay and mud is used to hold their hair stiffly in place or mounded into helmets that can be painted with colorful designs. Clay is also used on longer hair, which is wound or woven into elaborate styles, or as complete coverings for shorter cuts. The Kuria, Masai, and Turukana peoples of Kenya weave their hair into sculptures supported by wire or sticks and held in place with sheep fat and red clay. The Bumi and Karo peoples of Ethiopia cover their closely cropped hair with clay to create helmet-like headgear that hold macramé bands, which they use to secure peacock or other bird feathers. Clay and mud hairstyles crack or break easily so people sleep with their heads resting on special wooden boxes that keep their hairstyles intact.

The hair of a young Masai minister is covered with mud. Hardened mud is used to hold hair stiffly in place, sometimes mounded into helmets. Reproduced by permission of © .


Gröning, Karl. Body Decoration: A World Survey of Body Art. New York: Vendome Press, 1998.

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