Proud Himba Women
Naked breasts, red skin, long Rasta braids with red clay and heavy jewelry made of iron nuts and nails are the most significant sign of Himba woman. She is proud and has a straight back and most often she is carrying a baby on her back.
It is the women that take responsibility to carry on this culture. They cover themselves in otjize, a mixture of milk stirred to cream and ochre, crumbled red stone. This red cream is applied twice a day and a Himba woman never wash in water. Intimate wash consists of a homemade perfume made of herbs and aromatic branches, mashed with embers and then they let the smoke cover all parts of the body. To clean the abdomen they just sit on top of a barrel of burning perfume for a while.
My first meeting with the Himba women was on the street in Swakopmunde in Namibia. They sold homemade jewelry and approached us with an aggressive sales method. I had read so much about this beautiful people and their threatened culture and was looking forward to the possibility of a visit to a Himba village up north in Namibia. But this first meeting did not turn out very pleasant. At the moment I showed some interest in their goods they became intense pushy and I have to admit that they scared me with their red bodies and naked breasts.
They became very demanding, wanting me to take photos of them and the babies for money. So I choose to just walk away with out buying anything. When we later travelled up north to Kaokoland the area where Most Himbas are living, I did not have any expectations about a positive meeting with Himba people in a village. But then who am I? – To judge these women for trying to earn some money for them self and their family.
Himba people are one of many ethnic groups in Namibia that still live a traditional life close to a harsh nature and following old customs. They are related to the Herero people and in the language group of Bantu. It is traditionally a nomadic culture, but today mostly semi-nomadic. The Namibian authorities have drilled for water many places in Kaokaland and made it easier to stay at one place. The result is also that the women stay in the village taking care of children and the elders and taking care of their small gardens. Men can be out living a nomadic life for months looking after the herd of cows and goats.
It is common for men to have from 2 to 8 wives and one of them can be of another tribe like a Herero woman. Men mostly use western clothes and in some periods they may also work far away other places in the country. The culture is under a huge pressure and I doubt that they can continue to live this kind of life for long. So will this culture exist in 10 years time? Because they are semi-nomads the children goes to school. But girls are not allowed to cover themselves in red cream or turn up with naked breasts at school. Even though many girls drop out of school and marry very young, some will get the taste of a different way of life.
We visited a village one hour west of the small city Opuwo, north in Namibia. Our guide from Opuwo Country Lodge was brought up in a similar village. His father was Himba and his mother was Herero. The lodge had an agreement with the Himba chiefs in the area. In exchange for letting tourists visit the village we brought with us a sack of corn and a sack of sugar.
Because of the sad meeting with Himbas in Swakopmunde I was skeptic to the village visit. But we hade a fantastic time and got a great welcome. After 5 minutes of negotiation between the guide and the chief, we were welcome to walk around, take photos as much as we wanted and talking to the village people. We spent many hours there and had a nice, relaxing time. No one was pushy only smiling and laughing, but I did feel a little uncomfortable coming here to “look at them”. Because our guide could interpret we could ask questions and communicate with people and learn more about their way of life.