Himba are one of the most photogenic tribes in Africa and in the world. We visited an Himba tribe in Namibia and we loved this visit. We learned a lot with them and we were able to witness their daily life.
Himba women spend their time selling local handicrafts and trying to keep alive their traditions. They are responsible for collecting daily water and firewood and clean the houses of the village. Himba men continue to be responsible for hunting and grazing. Children play in the red earth, as their ancestors did. Goats and sheep are the most precious asset of the village. Water is also a key feature in this area of the planet. It is so scarce that it is not used for daily hygiene, it’s replaced by ashes. But the Himba who now inhabit the northern Namibia are fewer than ever. They are the last survivors of the Herero nomads who came from Angola fleeing from war and genocide.
Women, holders of a natural beauty and a generous smile, exhibit their body smeared with mud and butter fat, which can hurt the most sensitive senses. Although women do not bath, its intense smell does not bother us. It’s the smell of the earth, the smell of communion with nature. The girls, still young and energetic, display a colourful wooden necklace, representing their purity. All use the fire and smoke for their intimate hygiene and also as insect repellent.
With just over 50 thousand individuals scattered throughout Namibia and Angola, the Himba see their future threatened. Accessible land is less and less, nomadism was outlawed and they are now forced to settle in villages and go to school. Traditions that were perpetuated for centuries may be now threatened. Women continue to dress in short sheepskin skirts, covering their hair with extensions smeared with butter fat and ochre (otjize) and wearing leather sandals with tire soles. The otjize is scented with local plant resins and is considered by many to be the first cosmetic in the world. It is highly valued in the Himba community and it’s the symbol of beauty.
Children hairstyles are a portrait of the cultural wealth of this people. Usually children and infants use their heads shaved but as the years go by, at the top, they will let a tuft of hair grow. In boys this tuft is woven into a braid that extends to the back of the head. Girls make two braids intertwined in the direction of face, most of the time parallel to the alignment of your eyes. But a girl can also have only a lock, which means that they have a brother or a twin sister. These hairstyles remain until puberty. Boys keep the braid even into adulthood as they are unmarried. When they marry, they leave the braid and start using shaved hair under a hat. When widowed, they leave the hat, displaying the hair without braids. Girls replace braids by hair braided covered with otjize. When married, on top of the hair they put a crown made of sheepskin called Erembe.
Rituals such as male circumcision, arranged marriages or polygamy continue to be part of the Himba culture.
Probably one of the first of genocide victims during the German occupation in the early twentieth century, the Himba have survived human greed, predators, settlers, the aridity of the desert and climate change. With or without the protection of Mukuru (god revered by the Himba), their ancestors, or witchcraft and black magic, the Himba have resisted the increasing globalization, remaining isolated in villages and gated communities. There are few communities who accept tourists, and most of the time, those who receive them are created to perpetuate the traditions. Visiting this Himba community in Namibia was a privilege.