Women of Africa in their Finery



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Although traditionally women were prevented from participating in many religious ceremonies or from wearing the masks shown on the African art page, they had roles in other rites and ceremonies throughout Africa. Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith have put together a stunningly beautiful portfolio of African women "in all of their finery," as seen below.

This Fulani woman from the present day nation of Mali adorns her body with her wealth in the form of amber beads (around her head,) gigantic golden hoop earrings, and a golden pendant. Clearly, she enjoys both high status and prosperity. Her earrings may have been handed down to her from her mother or come as a gift from her husband.



Another Fulani woman waits her turn to participate in a cattle-crossing festival when the cattle are brought home, swimming across the river, from distant pasture lands. They dress up in their best and prepare to "dance the cattle home."



Another group of Fulani girls wait their turn to dance at the cattle crossing festival. The gold earrings on the two girls to the left were gifts from their husbands.



This young Himba girl from Namibia participates in a courtship dance at a Himba wedding. Her body is beautified with ocher mixed with fat giving her an orange glow. When she marries, she will receive a cowhide headdress to indicate her new status (see girl behind her.) The white shell worn between her breasts also signifies that she is a married woman




These little girls of the Shai people in present day Ghana imitate their older "sisters" in the Dipo dance that marks a young woman's acceptance into womanhood. The little girls practice to prepare for their own introduction to society. The older girls, probably, thirteen or fourteen, wear elaborately draped and folded cloth around their waists and pounds and pounds of beads around their necks. As part of their presentation ceremony, the older girls will perform a dance for the assembled community.


This coy lass is a Surma girl from Ethiopia; a man, probably a suitor or her prospective husband, paints her face and breasts either with a brush or his fingertips to accentuate her natural beauty; the patterns are considered highly attractive and enhance her desirability.



These young women from Togo are being initiated into the mysteries of the Voodoo belief system as priestesses; they have been "chosen" and then spent time, as much as six months, in the sacred forest communing with the spirit world and learning the language, secrets, history, and healing of the cult.


It is customary in traditional African societies for boys and girls to move together to different stages of responsibility and status in the community. These Bassari women from Senegal prepare to participate in the rite of passage marking their entrance to stage five (out of eight.) Their elaborate beaded headdresses with crest-like decorations signify their membership in this level.



Fisher, Angela and Carol Beckwith. "1996 Calendar--Women of the African Ark." Rohnert Park, CA: Pomegranate Calendars & Books, 1996.

How to cite (McKee "Some Women of Africa in their Finery").