Striking & unique…Meeting Namibia's Himba tribe

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Africa » Namibia » Kunene (region) » Opuwo
April 2nd 2013
Published: May 22nd 2013
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"Welcome to our home !""Welcome to our home !""Welcome to our home !"

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
A « small » detour of 400 km north of Etosha Reserve and we reached the town of Opuwo, in the far North West part of Namibia.

Why Opuwo? Well, outside of the fact that it brought us next to Angola (which is getting higher by the minute on my wish list), the area is known as the home of the Himba Tribe, a fascinating semi nomadic pastoral tribe that somehow seems to move through time unaffected by the modern world, with women still moving around bare breasted wearing a animal skin skirt.

So how to get up close with the Himba tribe…

We made our mind about Opuwo very last minute (basically the day before between two game drives) as we were initially hoping to cross the path of the Himba tribe in Outjo or at worst in Kamanjab.

From what we were told, most of them had moved back up north in and around Opuwo so Opuwo it would be!

Now, we were quite short in time and did not have the luxury to wander around in a look out for a guide or an invitation to visit one of the village

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
but then Namibia got to be one of the easiest country in this part of the world to get the unplanned arranged…

The day before, we opted to call one of the few hotel in Opuwo to see whether there was any chance they could arrange for a last minute visit the next day and despite the fact that we would not stay in their hotel…and unbelievable but true, not only the manager was extremely helpful & friendly on the phone, but the next day when we arrived there, he promptly gave one of his staff the afternoon off so that he could take us to one of the village as the hotel wasn’t busy, leaving us to set an agreement directly with our new guide.

Shopping time!

A visit to one of the Himba village implies to have a guide but as well some shopping. A quite interesting approach whereas instead of having tourists paying a fee or being approached to pay some money once you are on site, the local travel industry actors encourage tourists to purchase useful basic commodities (maize, rice, potatoes, gasoil) & hand these over to the village at the
lady gatheringlady gatheringlady gathering

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
end of the visit. This small gesture is very much welcome by the tribe whose existence in this harsh environment is closely linked to the rain & has the advantage to remove the money aspect from the equation.

Shortly after having agreed on the amount we were ready to spend on shopping for the village we would visit and the guide fee, we were at the local supermarket. Asmy partner and the guidewere carrying out with the shopping, I opted for a wait and watch approach. Seated inside the car, windows opened, I could not help but notice how eclectic the crowd was. Walking in and out of the supermarket, bare breasted Himba carrying out young kids on their back, Herero tribe woman wearing ample & colorful outfit with a very distinctive hornet like hat (picture a hammerhead shark), groups of young man some in western clothes others still in their traditional outfits. Already like it!

20 km on a dust road and a short lecture about the medicinal virtues of some local tree later, we reached one of the Himba settlements, a tiny village of wood and mud huts hosting around 50+ people. After the guide had
Himba WomanHimba WomanHimba Woman

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area\Pic by KY.
secured the approval of the wife of the chief to bring in visitors, we were invited into their world, discovering an absolutely fascinating tribe through laugh, talks, questions from both sides and an unusual opportunity to discover a tribe in its own element.

Bare breasted they might be, but a closer look shows you that a look is much more than a piece of clothe!

I could write pretty much endlessly about the Himba’s outfits, hairstyle and jewelry and how fashionable and stylish these women are… They might be bare breast and wear what might appear at first as very little (clothe wise they would only wear a simple pleated animal skin skirt) but their outfit is actually so elaborated that it took us quite some time to understand the symbolism behind each tiny detail.

Absolutely nothing in their outfit is left to chance, here are a few examples:

Skin – the reddish terra cota appearance comes from a mixture of red ochre, butter & traditional herbs that the women apply twice a day, in the morning and then just before their husband come home. One of the many thing that strike us was the
Perfume timePerfume timePerfume time

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
absolute lack of showering throughout their life…and still, goat smell put aside, the hygiene is fine. The secret of these women? A mixture of herbs and spices that are burned and used as perfume incense style…

The hair style would evolve depending of the status of the women : young one would only have two hair braids worn frontward, once they become women they would have more and then once married their hairstyle would become an extremely elaborated one : hair ochered and braided with a central head piece made of goat skin. Young boys on the contrary only wear one hair braid worn backward.

Jewellery is another element that is extremely elaborated and would say a lot about the women wearing it: might it be the leather made necklace, the shells hanging in between their breast, various bangles made of coppers hanging around their wrist and wider bracelet made of small metal pieces on each of their ankles, each item has a signification.

The one they wear around their ankles for instance would tell you whether the woman has one or more children (one vertical line for one children and two when she has two or
and who is doing the funny face !and who is doing the funny face !and who is doing the funny face !

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
more), how old she has been married for (one line per year of marriage) and whether she is mourning (they would then take out three horizontal rows of metal beads).

The Himba are polygamous and marriage takes place when the girls are around 14 or 15. The wife of the Chief we met was actually quite proud of her stature of « second wife » as this is the one that the husband gets to choose, the first one is chosen by his father.

Gender balance… one of these moments

As we visit the village we could not help but notice that only women and young kids could be seen, there was simply no men around.

Our hosts were quite talkative so when we asked about the reason, the women explained us that men were taking care of the cattle and normally only came back in the evening. Fair enough, despite of the fact that the only person we had seen on our way looking after the cattle was a young woman.

Further down in the village, another woman was busy fixing the wall of her traditional mud hut with some freshly mixed mud. We
Young Himba boyYoung Himba boyYoung Himba boy

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
stopped by to observe the way she was applying the mud and then asked a similar question. Her reply came with a smile: men build the house (a man work) and then women take care of it. When ask for the specific tasks carried out by the men when it comes to building the house, the explanation given was that the actual structure would be put in place by the man but then prior to that it is the women who carry every single material, and once in place it is again the woman who covers the walls with mud, add the roof and basically pretty much take care of everything… Himba women are definitely strong ones! (as often in Africa..)

And yet another one… children are definitely useful!

Looking at us, one of the Himba lady asked me how many children we have, and when I replied to her that we do not have any yet, she pause and perplex asked:

But then when you need something who brings it to you?

Joke aside (and the above comment did bring a really big smile on our lips), looking around and seeing all these kids growing up in a very traditional environment, you cannot help
Dubious ? but definitely cute!Dubious ? but definitely cute!Dubious ? but definitely cute!

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
but wonder how these children fit in back in the city.

Somehow, from what the people shared with us, the Himba culture is accepted & respected locally but then not within the education system. Some of the young kids had their hair shaved so that they could attend local primary school and “fit in” but as soon as they get older and the uniform is required they would tend to drop from school.

Religion and believes

We only skimmed through this aspect but we could feel that there was so much content in relation to their traditional believes that only so much could be shared during the few hours we spent there… Himba believes in the « four fathers » which are basically the headman four male ancestors (father, grandfather…etc) and called upon to act as an intermediary with god when guidance and advices are needed. In the center of the village, lies the « sacred fire » or « okuwuro » where various ceremonies take place and along which the headman would be communicating with the « four fathers ». The ancestors through the headman thus act as messengers of god.


Posing for the cameraPosing for the cameraPosing for the camera

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
a much less serious note…

In between discussions with women we spent quite a bit of time with kids who were simply mesmerized by Khalid smart phone panoramic picture application. My blond hair and white skin were as well regularly the center of giggling and laughing although when it comes to novelty technology won. Now, I really feel disapointed, young generations even in remote northern part of Namibia are hooked by technology !

After three hours plus spent in the village, we finally decided to go back to Opuro, dropping our guide back to the hotel and then heading back South. What is next ? Stop over night in Kamanjab and then on for a journey across the desert heading to Cape Cross located on the Skeleton Coast...Yet much more adventure coming up, just would need to find the time to write about these !

Additional photos below
Photos: 32, Displayed: 28


"Fridge and water fountain""Fridge and water fountain"
"Fridge and water fountain"

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area\Pic by KY.
The "Himba beauty kit"The "Himba beauty kit"
The "Himba beauty kit"

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area\Pic by KY.
Little warriorLittle warrior
Little warrior

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area\Pic by KY.
The power of a lookThe power of a look
The power of a look

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
Perfume timePerfume time
Perfume time

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
Not sure what is attracting their attention most..the blond hair or my camera...Not sure what is attracting their attention most..the blond hair or my camera...
Not sure what is attracting their attention most..the blond hair or my camera...

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area\Pic by KY.
Himba traditional housesHimba traditional houses
Himba traditional houses

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
Stars in the eyes...literallyStars in the eyes...literally
Stars in the eyes...literally

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
Traditional houseTraditional house
Traditional house

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
Catching the kid attention...arhh technology !Catching the kid attention...arhh technology !
Catching the kid attention...arhh technology !

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
Himba lady and mud houseHimba lady and mud house
Himba lady and mud house

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area
Bringing in our small contributionBringing in our small contribution
Bringing in our small contribution

Himba Tribe, North West Namibia, Opuwo area

23rd May 2013

The Himba Tribe
I've wanted to visit the Himba Tribe for a few years, and reading your blog has only increased that desire further. Very interesting blog on a totally different way of life.
23rd May 2013

Re: The Himba Tribe
Hi Shane, guess it is something to keep on your bucket list :-), and better do it sooner than later (still somehow off the tourist trail, didn't see any other foreigners that day but doubt it is going to stay that way for much longer...)
23rd May 2013
Perfume time

Love your Photos !
Beautiful photos ! They are captivating . They should be put in an Art Gallery or something :)
23rd May 2013
Perfume time

Re: Love your photos
Thanks Johanna for the lovely comment. Himba are so fascinating (and quite photogenic) that it is hard not to get good pictures!
23rd May 2013
sharing laughs and smiles

This just makes me smile ear to ear!!
23rd May 2013
sharing laughs and smiles

Re: Precious !
Thanks Anastasia for giving me a large smile when reading your comment !
23rd May 2013

Very nice
Good to read about a completely different way of life.
24th May 2013

Just saw this blog and then read your profile and flipped back to see some of your blogs from North Korea, South America, Asia and all the places you have traveled. What an adventure - you have the most amazing life!
24th May 2013

I loved your album - very touching x
24th May 2013

surrealistic !
24th May 2013

Another fascinating adventure
The Himba Tribe was not on our list but sounds like it should be. Thank you for sharing your stories and amazing photographs. Can't wait for the next blog.
25th May 2013

Hi Merry & Dave, thanks for the encouragements (next episode is an extreme one!) and yes no doubt you would enjoy very much meeting the Himba/ discovering Namibia !

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