By SARAH BRIDGE and RUTH STYLES
- The Afar tribe is famous for its butter-covered ‘asdago’ afro styles and elaborately curled ‘dayta’ ‘do
- But the Afar aren’t the only ones to use dairy products as an unguent – the Bofana and Hamer also do
- Particularly spectacular is the look adopted by the Karrayyu tribe who allow butter to drip through their hair
Whether you use serums, oil or gels, for most of us, lovely locks are an everyday essential. But for the Afar tribe who live along Ethiopia’s northeastern border with Djibouti and Eritrea, the pursuit of a gorgeous ‘do involves one very unusual ingredient.
Their distinctive ‘asdago’ Afro hairstyle is created using butter, which lends their locks a slightly ashy appearance as well as protecting it from the sun and keeping it perfectly supple.
But it’s not just asdago hairdos that benefit from a spot of butter: another look, the ‘dayta’, also relies on dairy as a means of keeping the elaborate curls, created using a stick, in place.
Looking good: An Afar man shows off his buttered asdago haircut, accessorised with a natty beaded grip. Using butter on hair is common among the Afar tribe
View from the back: A man shows off his elaborate dayta hairstyle, which is created using a long stick to make the curls that are held in place using butter
Elaborate: The datya hairstyle starts life as an asdago afro but is transformed into an elaborate curled affair using a long stick and liberal amounts of butter
Effective: The liberal use of butter keeps curls in place for days, as well as keeping hair supple and moisturised and helping to protect the scalp from the sun
‘They apply the butter to keep the curls in place,’ explains photographer Eric Lafforgue. ‘They look a little bit like Victorian ladies, or, if you prefer, Rastas. The curls are full of cow fat and butter.’
The Afars, who are grouped into unique mini-kingdoms, each ruled by its own sultan, also like across the border in neigbouring Eritrea and suffered much persecution under the Communist Derg regime.
More than 20 years after dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam was forced to flee, the people’s fortunes – and talent for hairdressing – have recovered, although like other tribes living traditional lifestyles, they are under threat from encroaching modernity.
Impressive though the Afars’ grasp of hair dressing is, they aren’t the only Ethiopians to use butter to keep their hair in tip top condition. The Karrayyu, are an ancient nomadic group who live in the Awash Valley in the Fantalle district of Ethiopia, also create elaborate looks using the foodstuff.
Sadly, like the Afar, their way of life is also under threat, largely as a result of persecution during the last century of their ethnic parent group, the Oromo, as well as the establishment of national parks and the construction of sugar and cotton plantations which have deprived them of their land.
Traces: This man’s intricate dayta hairstyle bears clear traces of the large amount of buttery unguent needed to create it
Accessories: The asdago hairstyle, the starting point for the more elaborate dayta hairdo, is often accessorised with beautifully beaded hairpins
Colourful: A group of Afar people show off their elaborate hairstyles and beautifully bright patterned textiles. They also carry traditional weapons
Looking ahead: Although encroaching modernity is the greatest threat to the Afar way of life, the people aren’t averse to embracing innovations such as sunglasses
Sultans: The Afar tribe is divided into kingdoms, each with its own sultans – all of whom make a living from their cattle
Persecuted: The Afar tribe suffered appallingly under the regime of dictator Mengistu but their fortunes – and hairdressing skills – have since recovered
Traditional: Men from the Karrayyu tribe cover their beautifully cut afro hairstyles, known as gunfura, with butter as a means of keeping the look in place
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Dwindling: Thanks to land grabs, the Karrayyu, famed for their hairstyle and their traditional Gada ceremony, are facing an uncertain future
Tribesman from the Karrayyu tribe wear their head in a distinctive afro hairstyle called a gunfura, and will make a hole in it when married and add butter to it
Unique: Newlywed Karrayyu young men make a hole in their gunfura and put some butter in the morning, which runs down their necks as they go about their business
The Karrayyu also practice the Gada system, an ancient and complex form of African democracy which is traditionally based on the passing on of power from one generation to another every eight years.
The rules, which divide the tribespeople into around 11 strictly-observed group, governs the life of individuals in Oromo society from birth to death, controlling everything from economics, art, history, property ownership and making laws.
Every eight years under a full moon, around 10,000 people – strictly no tourists – gather for the Gada ceremony to transfer power from one group to the next.
There’s no such prohibition on watching the Karrayyu hairdressers at work however, creating intricate looks that can take up to a day to complete.
‘Karrayyu young men who are newly married make a hole in their “gunfura” (afro haircut) and put some butter in the morning, reveals Lafforgue. ‘All day long, the butter goes through the hair and down in the neck. It’s natural for them!’
And the buttery look isn’t reserved solely for the men, as Lafforgue points out: ‘Karrayyu girls also put butter on the hair. Sometimes you can see the men from the family spitting on the top of the head full of butter, which, although it sounds disgusting, is actually a blessing.’
Blessing: A man blesses his sister by spitting on the top of her head as her hairdo is completed and right, a man neatens up his friend’s hairdo
A young girl from the Karrayyu tribe makes some shampoo with butter. Sometime men from her family will spit on her butter-covered head, which is seen as a blessing
Hamer women use butter and red soil to put on their dreadlocks and often put some much on that it runs down their backs, looking similar to blood
Other tribes to embrace butter has an unguent for hair include the Borana, who believe it protects their scalps from the sun, and the Hamer, who mix it with red ochre to spectacular effect.
The Hamar, a semi-nomadic tribe of cattle herders, have a set of unique rituals surrounding the use of butter as a beauty product. The food is most often used by newly-wed women, who are completely covered in a butter and ochre mixture and shut in their home alone for six months after the wedding to ensure that any child she has belongs to her husband.
But it’s not solely a wedding tradition: Women also use the mixture to keep their dreadlocks in place. ‘Hamer women use butter and a little red soil
to put on their dreadlocks, explains Lafforgue.
‘They put so much that it streams down the back and looks a lot like blood.’ To keep the look tidy, regular haircuts are also on offer, although as Lafforgue explains, they aren’t of the type found in a high street salon.
‘They take a stone and a knife to cut them with,’ he explains. ‘A few minutes and it is done!’
Elaborate: Hamer women use a mixture of butter and red ochre to keep their dreadlocks neatly in place. They are cut using a knife and a stone
Elegant: The Hamer’s hairstyle of choice is also a practical one, with the mud and butter mixture keeping locks out of the eyes as they do their work
Intricate: The full extent of the talent needed to create the delicate braids is revealed in this pair of stunning photos