The many countries that constitute African culture have their own traditions, each as unique and colourful as another.

But one that has survived time and space and generations is headwear - it symbolises strength and pride like few other pieces of clothing, and acts as a marker of the culture you belong to.

Of all of the different cultures and subcultures, that of the women in Gao, in Mali, is particularly interesting.

Reuters reports that the radical Islamist group Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have condemned traditional headdresses as being anti-Islamic. MUJAO's nine-month rule of this country ended with the arrival of French and Malian troops, which is good news.

But the fact something as innocuous and colourful as a headdress should attract the wrath of religious and military groups is a point not, perhaps, to be dismissed lightly, particularly on the occasion of International Women's Day (which fell on 8 March).

These headdresses, traditionally worn by members of the upper class on special occasions, are made of beads, gemstones, fabric and even fake hair and are worn by women from the Songhai and Tuareg communities.

Check out stunning photographs of colourful and exotic African headdress

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