Phenoms Herstory

Honoring Her Rich Heritage



Women from the #Hamer tribe

use raw butter

and fresh ochre

made of

red clay paste

to paint their

hair a

deep terracotta color.

Then they twist

the colored hair


thin locs

called #goscha



The Samburu are a tribe in north-central Kenya. They are semi-nomadic people and live isolated and uninfluenced by other cultures and have retained unique and color-ful artistic traditions.  Samburu girls and women wear distinctive beaded necklaces called mporros. These necklaces are stiff or ridgid rather than relaxed and flowing. Social status is identified by the number of necklaces worn. Necklaces of red beads predominate, but many are also made with alternate patterns of two colors such as black, yellow, black and so on. Young women ready for marriage rub their necklaces with fat to make them glisten in sun. This, they believe, makes them more attractive to suitors. Once married, a young woman’s Moran (husband) will heap strands of beads upon her so that after a few years she has barely space left around her neck for another strand.



Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove. She created specialized hair products for African-American hair and was one of the most successful, self-made women entrepreneurs.
Walker was born on December 23, 1867, on a cotton plantation near Delta, Louisiana. Her parents, Owen and Minerva, were recently freed slaves, and Sarah, who was their fifth child, was the first in her family to be born free from slavery. She took the name of her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, a St. Louis newspaperman.  After suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her own hair loss, she invented a line of African-American hair care products in 1905. She promoted her products by traveling around the country giving lecture-demonstrations and eventually established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train sales beauticians. She was also known for her philanthropic endeavors, including a donation toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA in 1913.  Walker quickly immersed herself in the social and political culture of the Harlem Renaissance. She founded philanthropies that included educational scholarships and donations to homes for the elderly, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Conference on Lynching, focused on improving the lives of African Americans.  According to her great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, Walker did not invent either the relaxer or the hot comb, as has been widely reported. She focused more on hair growth. Madam C.J. Walker died of hypertension on May 25, 1919, at age 51, at Villa Lewaro.



The Afar region lies in North Eastern Ethiopia and is the hottest inhabited place in the world. The Afar people of Ethiopia are nomadic pastorlists who survive by herding camels, cows and goats. An Afar nomad woman from the Danakil Desert of Ethiopia wears amber jewelry and indigo dyed blue veils. She exudes a fierce beauty that reflects the challenge of her survival in one of the harshest environments in the world. Mostly dark-skinned with long black hair braided in straight lines. Their jewelry is a display of their wealth. The woman, for her part, educates the children, builds the tent, collects the wood, is responsible for the chore of the water, keeps the flocks of goats and sheep, takes care of the lambs and goats, churns the milk. Unfortunately, Female genital cutting (FGC), which is illegal in Ethiopia, is still performed on young girls. Humanitarian groups have made it their mission to educate and train people from the grassroots level that these harmful traditional practices can be stopped.


Phenom Herstory


The Himba are a tribe of pastoralists who live in Kaokoland, a vast stretch of land in northwestern Namibia and bordered by Angola to the north and the Skeleton Coast and Atlantic Ocean to the west.
From the time a girl is born,  her hairstyle visually identifies her status in society.  The hair is made up of goat fur, and a mixture of red ground ochre and butter called otjize.  Straws are used to create dreadlocks.  Some females add Indian hair to their locks.  The men cover their heads with turbans from the moment they marry and never remove them.  Himba women color their skin with the  otjize mixture.  It's rubbed all over their bodies, clothes, jewelry and hair.  It acts as a sunscreen and insect repellent. If they do not have enough butter, they use vaseline. The red color on their skin is considered a sign of beauty.  Overall authority is in the hands of the men but economic issues are decided by the women.  The Himbas practice polygamy, with both men and women being allowed to have multiple partners.



Even though Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, she had Caribbean roots, her father was from Guyana and her mother from Barbados. She spent part of her childhood in Barbados with her grandmother while her parents stayed in New York and worked through the Great Depression. At the age of 9, she moved back to Brooklyn, New York. An academic scholar, Shirley graduated from Brooklyn Girls’ High in 1942. Brooklyn College cum laude in 1946. Master’s degree from Columbia University in early childhood education in 1952. She was a prize-winning debater in college, a skill that would serve her well throughout her political career. After college, Chisholm worked as a nursery school teacher. In 1949, she married Conrad Q. Chisholm, a private investigator (they divorced in 1977). Shirley ran and won a seat in the New York State Assembly in 1964 becoming the second African American in the New York State Legislature.
In 1968, Chisholm won a seat in Congress becoming the first black woman elected and introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation. She hired only women for her staff and served seven terms. During the tenure in Congress she was later assigned to Veterans’ Affairs, and then moved to the Education and Labor Committee in 1971.
Chisholm’s quest for the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination was met with discrimination. She was blocked from participating in televised primary debates, after taking legal action, was permitted to make just one speech. She entered 12 primaries and garnered 152 of the delegates’ votes coming in fourth place.  Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983. She taught at Mount Holyoke College. In 1991 she moved to Florida, and later declined the nomination to become US Ambassador to Jamaica due to ill health.
Chisholm passed away on January 1, 2005 at age 80 in Ormond Beach, Florida. She is buried in Buffalo, New York, and the inscription on the mausoleum vault in which she is buried reads “Unbought and Unbossed.”


Judith Jamison

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Judith parents exposed her and older brother to art culture and African American heritage. Enrolled into the Judimar School of Dance at the age of 6, she performed in her first dance recital. During her eleven years at Judimar, she trained and studied various dance styles and worked with a variety of teachers while attending public school. After graduating from Judimar and Germantown High School, Judith enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee on a physical education scholarship. But eventually transferred to Philadelphia Dance Academy, which offered her more opportunity to challenge herself as a dancer.  Judith auditioned for a role in a Harry Belafonte television special, the audition did not go well but she peaked Alvin Ailey’s interest who asked her to join his Dance Theater. As a lead performer in Ailey's company from 1967 to 1980, Ailey choreographed some of his most memorable works for her, most notably "Cry," a 15-minute solo piece and three-part tribute to African-American women, in 1971. Judith left the company to appear in the Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies, with the late Gregory Hines and started the Jamison Project.  Before Mr. Ailey passed away in 1989, he asked Judith to succeed him as Artistic Director. During the 22 years that followed, she brought the company to extraordinary heights. In 2011, Judith became became Artistic Director Emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater handing over the reins of Artistic Director to Robert Battle. Ms. Jamison continues to dedicate herself to maintaining the importance of the arts in African American culture, and remains dedicated to promoting the noteworthiness of the Ailey legacy.


The Borana Women

The Borana are nomadic, artistic people shifted from Ethiopia into the South and Northern areas of Kenya.
The Borana live in harsh weather and depend on milk from animals they rear, which include cows, goats, sheep and at times camels. Milk supplemented by corn bread is their staple food. The Borana women play a major role in the community having to; build houses, usually portable traditional round grass huts called the dasse, organize  tea ceremonies during the opening ceremony of the new houses, perform elaborate dances to celebrate the birth of a baby.  They also have the responsibility of  relocating the villages from place to place by camel or sometimes donkey.  Women are also in sole charge of raising their daughters and usually insist that they become excellent housewives. Men, when they come to choose a wife, will often judge the girl by her mother, which makes getting it right all the more important. Older women are honoured as the keepers of tribal culture. Women wear scarf head coverings while men often wear a “prayer beanie” cap or a turban.


Nina Simone

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina on February 21st, 1933, Nina’s prodigious talent as a musician was evident early on when she started playing piano by ear at the age of three. Raised in the church on the straight and narrow, her parents taught her right from wrong, to carry herself with dignity, and to work hard.  She was one of the most extraordinary artists of the twentieth century, an icon of American music. She was the consummate musical storyteller, a griot as she would come to learn, who used her remarkable talent to create a legacy of liberation, empowerment, passion, and love through a magnificent body of works.  She earned the moniker ‘High Priestess of Soul’ for she could weave a spell so seductive and hypnotic that the listener lost track of time and space as they became absorbed in the moment.  In order to hide the fact that she was singing in bars, Eunice’s mother would refer to the practice as “working in the fires of hell”, overnight Eunice Waymon became Nina Simone by taking the nickname “Nina” meaning “little one” in Spanish and “Simone” after the actress Simone Signoret. 
Nina Simone died in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rout, Bouches-du-Rhone on April 21, 2003, she left a timeless treasure trove of musical magic spanning over four decades from her first hit, the 1959 Top 10 classic “I Loves You Porgy,” to “A Single Woman,” the title cut from her one and only 1993 Elektra album. By the end of her life, Nina was enjoying an unprecedented degree of recognition. Her music was enjoyed by the masses due to the CD revolution, discovery on the Internet, and exposure through movies and television. Nina had sold over one million CDs in the last decade of her life, making her a global catalog best-seller.


Rendille Women

Semi-nomadic pastoralist and Cushitic, the Rendille tribe inhabits the climatically harsh region between the Marsabit hills and Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya.  Their  neighbors are the Borana, Gabbra, Samburu and Turkana.  Originally, Ethiopia was the home of the Rendille people.  They were forced to migrate south into Kenya because of their frequent conflicts with the Oromo tribe over pasture and water for their  animals. Camels are their main source of livelihood as they are best adapted to the desert conditions. An important source of milk and meat for the Rendille people; the animals are also used to carry the family's possessions in specially designed saddles.  Because of their close relationship, the Rendille and the Samburu tribe adopted many of the same practices and customs.  Intermarriage between both tribes, has led to the emergence of a hybrid culture.  Circumcision for men initiates one into warriorhood. The men are in charge of herding the livestock and protecting them from predators and rustlers from other tribes.  Rendille women are charged with household duties and taking care of the children.


Queen Nanny

Nanny was born c. 1686 in Ghana, Western Africa, into the Ashanti tribe, and was brought to Jamaica as a slave. Nanny and several relatives were sold as slaves and sent to Jamaica. Upon arrival in Jamaica, Nanny was likely sold to a plantation in Saint Thomas Parish, just outside of the Port Royal area. She and her brothers, Accompong, Cudjoe, Johnny and Quao ran away from their plantation and hid in the Blue Mountains area of northern Saint Thomas Parish. The most famous of her brothers, Cudjoe, went on to lead several slave rebellions in Jamaica with the aid of her other brothers. Later, they separated to organize more Maroon communities – Cudjoe to St. James (Cudjoe Town), Accompong to St. Elizabeth (Accompong), Nanny and Quao to Portland, where they controlled an area known as Nanny Town.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Nanny, a small, wiry woman with piercing eyes, was a leader of the Maroons, she was well known for organizing and participating in fierce fighting with the British during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. For over 30 years, Nanny freed more than 800 slaves, and helped them to resettle in the Maroon community.
In 1739, Cudjoe signed a peace treaty with the British. Later, as a result of that treaty, Nanny and her maroons were granted five hundred acres of land upon which to settle, which became New Nanny Town.  Some claim that Queen Nanny lived to be an old woman, dying of natural causes in the 1760s.
In 1976, Nanny was named National Heroine, the only woman to be so honored. Her likeness graces the face of the Jamaican $500 note. The “Nanny.” Her portrait is also used as the logo of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Abolition and Resistance at Yale University.


General Hazel


Born in West Chester, Pa. Hazel Winifred Johnson was one of seven children. Racial prejudice created difficulties for job opportunities for Hazel. When she applied to study at the local hospital after high school, she was rejected. Eventually, Hazel enrolled into the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing.  Johnson earned her nursing diploma in 1950 and enlisted in the Army in 1955, seven years after President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the military. While serving in Japan, Hazel rised in ranks.  She trained Vietnam War surgical nurses and her superiors took notice of her skills in the operating room.
Her military decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal and Army Commendation Medal. 
In 1979, President Carter  promoted Brown to Brigadier General and Chief Nurse of  the Army Nurse Corps. She was the first black woman to hold both posts.  After her Army retirement, Gen. Johnson-Brown enjoyed a distinguished second career in academia.  She headed the American Nurses Association’s government relations unit and directed George Mason University’s Center for Health Policy.  At 83, Hazel Johnson-Brown died on Aug. 5, 2011 en route to a hospital near her home in Wilmington, Del. Her funeral was held in Arlington National Cemetery, where she was interred with a ceremony fitting her accomplished career.  General Hazel Johnson Brown quote:
“Race is an incidence of birth. I hope the criterion for selection didn’t include race but competence.”


Mursi Women

The Mursi tribe are one of the last remaining tribes in Africa to still wear traditional dress and accessories. 
The Mursi (or Mun as they refer to themselves) are a Nilotic pastoralist ethnic group in Ethiopia. They principally reside in the Debub Omo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region, close to the border with South Sudan.
Their religion is often classified as animism. The women are known for wearing spectacular headresses.
There are 18 different Mursi clans residing in Omo. It’s considered taboo to marry into another clan. Each clan slightly differs in attire, rules, and clans are not always friendly to each other. A young unmarried Mursi girl will have her lip cut and held open by a wooden plug until she reaches the age of 15 or 16. It is up to her to pick lip plate size, but it’s assumed that the larger the lip plate, the more bride-wealth the female has.  This mark traditional rites of passages including those for educational and disciplinary purposes. After the bottom lip is pierced, the cut is plugged with a piece of wood, and once this initial piercing has healed, the girl can begin stretching her lip with clay or wooden discs.  Once healed and stretched, she suffers no discomfort, and apart from minor effects on her speech, the disc does not impair her health. 
The Mursi women often carve their own patterns and designs into their lip plates, which can vary in size. She wears the plates for a period of time  because they are so heavy and uncomfortable.  A popular activity with men is the stick fighting ceremony, which is a form of ritualised violence.
Photos: Hugo Santarem Rodrigues @hugnos

Miriam Makeba  

(Mama Africa)


Born Zenzile Miriam Makeba in the black township of Prospect, near Johannesburg. Her Swazi mother, Christina Makeba, was a  traditional healer, and a domestic worker. Her Xhosa father, Caswell Makeba, was a teacher; he died when Miriam was six years old.  Miriam's mother was arrested for selling illegal homemade beer brewed from malt and cornmeal. Unable to pay the small fine in order to avoid a jail term, Christina was sentenced to prison and could not abandon her eighteen days old baby daughter.  So Miriam spent the first six months of her life in jail with her mother.  At the start of her singing career Makeba sang jazz, covers of popular American songs and traditional South African melodies with all-male groups the Cuban Brothers and the Manhattan Brothers with which she had her first hit.  Then an all-woman group, the Skylarks.  Harry Belafonte was her mentor. He helped her with first solo recordings. One of the songs was "Pata Pata" which became her most famous song.
In 1959, Miriam's four minutes cameo in Come Back, Africa, an anti-apartheid film contributed to her passport being cancelled by the South African government when she tried to return for her mother's funeral after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. Family members died in the massacre.  From this point, she became an outspoken critic of apartheid and the white-minority government.  As a result, her music was banned in South Africa, and her South African citizenship and right to return were revoked.  Things didnt fair better after Miriam married American activist Stokely Carmichael, a prominent figure in the Black Panther Party.  She lost support of white  audience, the American government had her under surveillance.  Travelling was impossible as she was banned from returning to the US and refused a visa.  The couple moved to Guinea. They lived in exile for 15 years.
In 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he invited Makeba to return to South Africa, which she did.Over the years, Miriam invested her time in helping those in need.  Miriam passed away from a heart attack after a performance against injustice in Italy.

There are two groups of Wodaabe, the Sudosukai and Japto. They are both scarred facially and on their bodies using razor blades and ash is then rubbed into the open wound. The result is a black tattoo which is slightly keloidal (raised). This scarification starts with very young children and tattoos are added with time. The Japto are more heavily scarred than the Sudosukai.

Woodabe Wedding
There two different forms of marriage:
Betrothal arrangements made by parents when Wodaabe children are around 2-4 years. This form of marriage can only take place between people of the same lineage. Most of the time Wodaabe marry cousins. In this type of marriage, known as Koobgal, the woman along with her heritage does not leave the patri-lineage. The second form of marriage is more important, that of love marriage. Known as Teegal, couples involved in this type of marriage are allowed to marry across clans and chose their partners based on freewill.





Zulu people refer to themselves as 'the people of the heavens' and are the largest ethnic group of South Africa, with an estimated 10 million Zulu residents in KwaZulu-Natal. isiZulu is the language of the Zulu people.
Women dress according to their marital status. An eligible and single Zulu woman shows the pride she has of her body by flaunting it and wearing skirts made out of grass or beaded cotton strings. A married woman will cover her body to indicate to others that she is taken. An engaged Zulu woman will naturally grow her hair and cover her chest with decorative cloth as a sign of respect to her in laws.
People from the Zulu tribe are known to be amicable and very warm. They are known for their practice and belief in Ubuntu which simply means “humanness” or “good disposition”. Unlike the past people of the tribe who always wore their traditional clothing, the modern-day Zulu’s way of dressing is the same as any urbanite.

Zulu Women




The Karo(AKA Kara) people are an ethnic group inhabiting South Sudan and the Central African Republic. They speak the Gula language, which is a Central Sudanic language. Their religion is an animist faith. As a population, they exceed 100,000 members.
The group are a semi-nomadic people and grow Sorghum, corn, beans, pumpkins and peanuts. Men wear only a piece of cloth wound around the waist, knee high with an extra cloth slung over the shoulder, and always shave their head.  Both sexes wear jewellery.  The women are very attractive and fashionable.  Some of the women, children and men faces are adorned with beautiful paint art and piercings in their chin. The women wear their hair short and use a mixture of red clay and butterfat to form their hair into a beads like shape. Women and girls wear beautiful skirts made of goatskin that are slightly longer in the back. Their bodies are layered with several colorful necklaces and beaded headbands.