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Africa » Namibia » Ruacana
April 9th 2012
Published: April 8th 2012
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At times you just get plain lucky when hitchhiking throughout Africa and this story (and how we came about to getting these photos) to date may top it all. As we have been in northern Namibia we have heard about the Himba people (an ethnic group numbering not more than 50,000 people) from this region and southern Angola and we thought we must try and meet these colorful people. The only problem was that we were in Ruacana which is very difficult to go from plus the ‘tourist Himba’ whom we thought we could only visit is in a town called Opuwo, 150 km south.

Standing for around an hour on one of Ruacana’s gravel roads the first car that rolls past pulls over and asks where we were going.

‘South, trying to see some Himba’ we say..

‘OK hop in the back, I know some 200 km down the road’

‘Is that the tourist town, close to Opuwo?’

‘No, in the bush’

Well that was about the extent of our conversation until we reach the Himba tribe and then he says to us..

‘OK I will back in three days to pick you up’ and he drives of leaving only a pile of dust and some confused looking Himba people staring at us… and we starred at them in the same way.

Well this was the last thing we were expecting. The usual way to see the Himba is in a tourist group for only a couple of hours and with a translator. Oh yes, they didn’t speak a word of English so it made for a very interesting three days.

As we walk into the village we notice the chief sitting on a stone with the crackling of the holy fire burning beside him which is really important for Himba culture. The chief is sitting by the holy fire and talks to the ancestors through the flame. They are praying to it when someone is really sick to get well soon, when someone get married, they pray for good life… when a baby is born, you ask the holy fire to give a child a good name etc. Luckily for us we also has a 10kg bag of maize which is the main ingredient for the local food so we plunked this in front of the chief and we noticed a large smile appear on his face. Soon his 90 year old arm was creeping towards us and we shook hands just about the same time we were praying to the holy fire that we knew some local language.

After awhile we were settled in, tent set up which was for the Himba seemed to be a once in a life time experience to watch. The eyes became just bigger when the tent became bigger and bigger. Our small home which we are carrying around Africa, maybe they wished that they could carry their muddy huts around. Well for the next couple of days nothing much really happened and as we found out not a great goes on the village. One reason this is that it is unbearably hot and by hot we mean that by 10.00 and you look in the distance all you see is those squiggly lines of haze blurring the view. By 14.00 you wish you were in a fridge hugging some ice cubes.

As you will notice from the pictures the Himba walk around wearing pretty much nothing and in the strong sun I know if we were wearing the same we would be red raw. But the orange/red color powdered ochre of the Himba (and everything else they can get hold of) is the sunscreen which they are applying every day. They are mixing the powder with cow butter and special perfume which is made of herbs. It is also acts as a perfume with herbs mixed into the ocher when they are turning it into a paste to cover themselves. The herbs are vital as they never ever shower and without this a trip to the village would be rather smelly. The colors have a meaning as well – the bodies turn the same color as the red earth, which is where all life comes from. Himba tribe has a big hair which is red/orange as well. they style their hair with oil and ochre, but it´s not always big enough and they buy some extensions in the market place and weaving this into the hair.

The jewellery is made from beads and wires and cowrie shells. On the ankles Himba tribe is carrying one or few stripes which has own meaning as well. One stripe means that the person has non or one baby, two stripes or more mean that they have two or few babies. The anklets protect their legs from snakebites when they are in the bush. Also after a woman’s first menstruation, they have a big party, and the woman goes to the special menstruation hut where other ladies make her a special head-dress and sometimes a skirt out of lambskin. This young lady also starts wearing metal belts instead of plastic one. It is easy to observe a woman just by looking at her dress.

Himba seem have an open-minded and easy going traditions and culture. The ladies are getting pregnant and babies without a commitment or a marriage. They are having different boyfriends and babies from them. Same rules for the gentlemen as well. In general they allowed to behavior like they want until the chief is happy. The marriage doesn’t occur often in their culture but if you are really in love and satisfied with your partner so they are getting married.

These people keep all sorts of animals and they don’t go with an empty belly as there is always milk and meat in the villages. The water is coming from the rain and they are lucky if it is a lot rain the year as they have enough of water and the crops (for example maize) could grow a little bit as well. Often they are eating maize as they cannot afford to eat meat every day. As well they are drinking the blood of animal mixed with milk which is a traditional drink.

It is hard don’t notice that the Himba people don’t have four front bottom teeth and this is a belief as they love their cows and these animals don’t have the bottom teeth. So Himba people when they turn eleven years old, they take out the bottom four teeth as well. It is a painful procedure but this is a tradition of Himba.

This is an interesting and different tribe, and we have so much to say about them but this is a little taste from Himba village. It does make for a rather interesting place and it is nice to see that they are keeping much of their traditions intact and they continue to live much as they have for generations on end.

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