The Mwila Women of Angola and Their Fascinating Cow Dung Hairdo

The women of the Mwila tribe prepare a paste made from a red stone called Oncula. They then mix the paste with oil, butter, tree bark, herbs and dried cow dungs before applying the concoction to their dreadlocks.

The Mwila Women of Angola and Their Fascinating Cow Dung Hairstyle
Photo: Eric Lafforgue

The Mwila people live in Angola’s southwestern highlands. They are a semi-nomadic people who farm, raise animals, and then move when there’s a need for better grazing and hunting.

Hairstyles are very important and meaningful in Mwila culture and the women of the tribe are famous for their very special hairstyles.

The Mwila Women of Angola and Their Fascinating Cow Dung Hairstyle
Photo: Eric Lafforgue

The women wear elaborate and unique hairstyles which have much value for the people of Mwila.

The Mwila Women of Angola
Photo: Eric LaFforgue

The dreadlocks-looking hairstyles are not just for the aesthetics. The plaits are called nontombi and the number of nontombis on a woman’s head has a specific meaning.

To create the ornate styles, the women of the Mwila tribe prepare a paste made from a red stone called Oncula. They then mix the paste with oil, butter, tree bark, herbs and dried cow dung before applying the concoction to their dreadlocks.

The Mwila Women of Angola and Their Fascinating Cow Dung Hairstyle

They also decorate their hairstyle with beads, cauri shells (real or plastic ones) and even dried food. Shaving the forehead is considered as a sign of beauty. The plaits, which look like dreadlocks, are called nontombi and have a precise meaning.

The Mwila Women of Angola
Photo: Eric LaFforgue

Women or girls usually have 4 or 6 nontombi, but when they only have 3 it means that someone died in their family.

Mwila Women are also famous for their necklaces, which are central and meaningful as each period of their life corresponds with a specific type of necklace.

The Mwila Women of Angola and Their Fascinating Cow Dung Hairstyle

Young girls wear necklaces, heavy red made with beads covered with a mix of soil land latex.

They keep this necklace until their wedding. When married they start to wear a set of stacked up bead necklaces, called Vilanda. They never take their necklace off and have to sleep with it.

However, more and more men and women now dress in a western way, because people make fun of their hair and attires when they go to markets.

The Mwila Women of Angola and Their Fascinating Cow Dung Hairstyle
Photo: Paul Barrero
Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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