During a birding trip in the arid remote Kunene region of Northern Namibia, I had the opportunity to visit a community of Himba people. While my friends were searching for birds, I spent the afternoon with these fascinating and friendly people.
Our guide, a Himba himself recommended we take goods such as flour, oil and salt as gifts. So our first stop was the general store where we stocked up before our visit.
On arrival, we were welcomed warmly by some woman and children while our guide explained the traditional way of life belonging to these people. We were also invited to tour the community where it was explained to us that the village is designed around a ‘sacred fire’ which is kept burning continuously.
Traditional house of the Himba people
Their homesteads are cone-shaped and made from sapling posts (normally mopane trees), bound together to form the dome and then plastered with mud and dung. They are very small and only used for sleeping with virtually nothing in them other than a little bedding and utensils.
The Himba Women
The Himba women are beautiful – there is no other word to describe them.
The first thing I noticed was their magnificent skin. Every morning they mix a paste of butterfat and red ochre and blend it over their bodies including their faces. This gives them a rich shining burnt red hue. The purpose is twofold. Because they live in an extremely arid area, water is precious and no one has the luxury of bathing. The paste is used to cleanse their skin. The other reason is that it serves as a sunscreen against the harsh Namibian sun. The women wear very few clothes, normally just a skirt made from calf skins, so they need as much protection as possible.
I also believe it is to enhance their beauty.
Himba women also wear the most exotic and ornate headgear. Each style indicates their age and social status.
After a year of marriage or following the birth of their first child, Himba women wear elaborate animal skin headdresses called Erembe.
Young Himba girl with two plaits parrallel with her eyes
Beautiful jewellery made from leather, iron, copper and shells adorn them, especially the woman. Even babies have beads round their necks and wrists. Beaded anklets are wrapped around their lower legs to protect them against animal and snake bites.
The main necklace has a shell or cone shell, which symbolizes marriage and is strung with iron and ostrich egg beads.
Of course, I was itching to take photos of these interesting and photogenic people and had to keep reminding myself to be respectful and well mannered. They did grant me permission, and all the photos on this post are mine. Once the children warmed themselves to me, we ended up have much fun with the camera, especially when I let them take the photos themselves.
I highly recommend, that if you lucky enough like I was to visit a Himba family, don’t hesitate. Take time to get to know them. Learn about them, their lives, their beliefs, their traditions, hardships, and especially their determination to stick to their simple way of life, rather than succumb to modernization.
My visit to the Himba was one of the highlights of my trip and an enriching experience. One that will stay with me for a very long time.