While researching facts about Namibia, we came across pictures of the Himba people that are often used to advertise the country and immediately felt that we had to visit this unique and almost ancient tribe before they completely disappear. The Himba people are probably the most easily recognised of Namibia’s ethnic groups but their numbers make up just one or two per cent of the population. The Himbas are a nomadic people from the northern Namibia region in Africa, in the arid Kunene area (previously called Kaokoland). As are many African tribes, the Himba people are pastoralists, breeding cattle and goats.
There are still several tribes living in Namibia, but we chose to travel to the small settlement near Opuwo at the northern region, close to the border with Angola. On the way there we were stopped a couple of times at the Animal Disease Control Checkpoint, where you have to show the officers all the meat you are carrying with you. We only had sausages bought back in Windhoek, so they let us go.
Only a few kilometres before Opuwo we were stopped again, this time by police who asked for a drivers license and our passports. At that point we though that we went too far and are already on the border with Angola. Officers were amused by our driver's license which had an electronic chip in it as they had never seen anything like that before. They also loved going through our passports looking through stamps where we have travelled before. They were bored so this was an exciting bit of entertainment for them.
After about 15 minutes they let us go and we finally arrived to Opuwo. Our jaws dropped when we saw Himbas for the first time. The city was full of them and the mixture of half naked women wearing only pieces of leather around their waists with other namibians wearing western style clothes was quite striking. We checked into our hotel and waited for our guide who took us to the Himba Tribe village about 20km north of Opuwo.
It is necessary to have a guide who speaks their language and can easily translate what's been said by both parties. We noticed that he stopped now and then and talked to the young boys in their language. Only towards the end of the tour we understood what was that about (will explain later).
Normally Himbas ask 10 namibian dollars per picture but in the village you can take as many photos as you want. it is customary to bring them big bag of maze flour, water and bread in return.
There was one older lady in particular who loved to pose for pictures. She didn't even mind moving out of the pleasant shadow to the harsh sun so that we can get a better shot.
During our visit she was drifting in and out of her afternoon nap. Perhaps she was aware of it and it was her way of getting our attention.
Our guide then told us more about their customs. You probably noticed the beautiful red-brown color of her skin. This color is not natural, but due to the women applying a red-colored cream to their skin which is a mixture of butter, red ochre, ash, and various native herbs. This cream protects them from the sun, giving their skin a reddish-brown color. To the Himba women, the brown color symbolizes the earth and the red color represents blood and life.
This same mixture is applied to the hair which is also braided. Intricate hair styles represent what stage in life a woman is (child, fertile, married, children…) . It can be integrated with animal hair or hair from other family members.
As soon as you enter their village, you notice that there is no water. Because it is so scarce, African tribe women have developed innovated hygienic practices. For example, Himba women prepare a special deodorant by creating an “incense” from various herbs and aromatic resins. The incense is used to cleanse and perfume their body in the absence of bathing water.
Himba females are particularly exotic African tribal woman as they dress with a short skirt of goatskin and wear ornaments made from shells, iron and rawhide. As is the case with many African tribes, the Himba are polygamous with one man often having multiple wives. We were told that if a woman has another man in her hut while her husband is away herding goats, she puts a branch above the entry door. If the husband comes home and sees the branch, he can't enter the hut until the wife's lover leaves.
You can't help but notice plenty of kids running around. One in particular caught our eye as he was getting more attention than other kids and even presents that we brought them went mostly to him. We found out that it was the chief's son. Regardless, all kids were playing nicely with each other and constantly had smiles on their faces. Older brothers looked after younger ones and made sure they were OK after they fell or injured themselves while playing.
As we were taking pictures of these unique people, we noticed that more and more women were coming to the chief's house. Only then we realised why our guide stopped and talked to kids on the way here, he was telling them which house we will be attending. He asked them to tell their mums to come over with their merchandise which they laid on small mats in the sand.
Suddenly we realised that there were about 50 women each trying to sell us something. Although we understand that they are trying to make income however they can, we felt quite overwhelmed by everyone begging us to buy something from them. It would be probably easier if there were more tourists with us, but this time it was just the two of us and we felt quite uneasy about it. All women claimed that if we buy something, it's for their kids. We have to say that their bracelets and other trinkets were very expensive (or the price they asked was way too steep) even for Australians. There was no way we could buy something from all of them so at the end we settled on couple of presents from two different ladies.
Once we bought our presents, we took a few more pictures of their huts and said our good byes. We then gave the chief's wife food supplies that we brought for them. We left with lasting impressions. At that moment we felt very humble and priviledged that we don't have to worry about basic things like water or electricity in our lives.