The iconic imagery of the Himba people has become a staple in African identity. Historically documented and photographed for there stunning beauty and unique red skin. A result of the ‘otijize’, a blended paste of butter, fat and red ochre, that they rub on their skin daily. There are many misconceptions and unknowns regarding the Himba people, their history and the current state of their culture. One thing that is for certain, similar to the Maasai, they are a threatened society struggling to maintain their customs and heritage. Overcoming many horrendous obstacles in history, including drought, war and genocide, it appears holding onto their tradition is the biggest battle they face today.
There is an estimated population of 30,000-50,000 Himba inhabiting the unforgiving terrain of northwest Namibia, and across the border into Angola. While many tribes remain semi-nomadic, few villages welcome visitors, who wish to further understand their culture, in exchange for food, toiletries and money. While the aid is much appreciated and supportive, the continued western influence threatens the very culture the donations aim to maintain. Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon to witness Himba women walking the aisles of a local grocery store or a child in the village wearing a popular soccer jersey. It is a complicated balance between traditional customs and the impact instilled by modern society. It is a fight they are slowly losing.
There is much debate and discussion about the origins of their red skin, some claiming it acts as a natural sun screen or bug repellent which protects them from the harsh conditions surrounding them. The Himba hold true to the fact ii is strictly for cosmetic purposes. Complimenting their hair which they spend hours every day maintaining There is also conflicting information on Himba bathing rituals and their approach to personal hygiene. While it is believed they will bathe if a water source presents itself, the Himba stand firm that they depend on wood ash and local shrubs for cleaning, laundry and perfume respectively.
The children are beautiful, and a shining representation of youth in a rural community. Eager to interact with foreign visitors and take them by hand for a tour of their playground. Smiling from ear to ear when you show them a picture of themselves and eyes so big and pearly white you can see your reflection in them. Teenagers are also eager to greet you and will mostly communicate through the universal language of laughter. They also sell hand made bracelets, necklaces and an array of souvenirs you can purchase to support the community directly.
There is a lot to learn about the indigenous peoples who inhabit the Kunene region, and a wealth of information that rests within their teachings. If you wish to discover more about one of Africas last true distinguishable communities then you must visit. Immerse yourself in their society, daily lives and learn about their economy, religious practices and social dynamics. Discover customary tribal structures, the significance of hair styles, the importance of cattle and indulge in information about the sacred ancestral fire known as ‘okuruwo’.
A HIMBA VILLAGE IS A PLACE TO LEARN, TO DISCOVER AND TO SHOW RESPECT. TO STARE HISTORY IN THE EYES AND INTERACT WITH AN ANCIENT TRIBE, WHOSE VALUES AND TRADITIONS ARE VANISHING RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES.