Eembuvi braids worn by women of the Mbalantu tribes from the Namibia
By Mwabi Kaira

The versatility of our hair and all of the hairstyles we can pull off is just one of the many reasons it’s great to be melanin. I recently wanted a cornrow style and searched images to show my stylist and ran across an image of eembuvi braids that left me breathless. The black and white image was of three women with their backs turned and braids down to their ankles. Eembuvi braids are worn by women of the Mbalantu tribes from the Namibia. It’s a style that requires preparation from a young age when Mbalantu girls use thick layers of finely ground tree bark and oils– a mixture that is said to be the secret to growing their hair to such lengths.

Eembuvi braids are part of the process of Mbalantu girls being initiated into womanhood. Preparation for this stage begins when the girls are twelve and the hair undergoes special treatment to drastically speed up hair growth. First, the hair is coated with a thick paste made from the finely ground tree bark of the omutyuula tree mixed with fat. The paste is loosened to make the hair visible after a few years. Fruit pips are then tied to the hair ends with sinew strings. When girls reach the age of sixteen, long sinew strands that reach the ground are attached to the hair. In the same year they undergo the Ohango Initiation ceremony, a living tradition with roots in the ancient past. Before the ceremony begins, their hair is styled into four long, thick braids, known as eembuvi. Once the girls complete their initiation ceremony, they are considered to be women. To celebrate this new status, their hair undergoes yet another change. A new layer of the tree bark and oil mixture is applied to the hair to once again encourage growth. After the paste is applied, the long plaits were taken up and arranged into an elaborate headdress, signifying that the woman was married. You can tell the stage of a woman in the Mbalantu tribe by their hair; little girls have nothing in their hair, girls being initiated into womanhood have their hair coated and braided, and married women have their hair arranged in a headdress.

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Learning about the Mbalantu tribe and the eembuvi braids has me thinking back about hairstyles I saw and wore as a young Zambian girl. The only one I remember wearing in the early 80’s involved cornrows that ended in cotton wrapped fabric enabling a pattern to be shaped on top of your head. I found this picture of the style and now I’m thinking it’s time to find someone to revive this hairstyle for me. Man, I love our hair. 

How much do you love our hair?
Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her at