Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Himba Nation

One of the things that was important to us during this trip was making sure we connected with the people of each area we visited. To be honest, this ended up being more challenging than we thought it would be as we were often viewed as tourists (which, of course, we were) and as a source of income. That said, we still had plenty of deep and authentic connections with people all through our travels, and one of the most intimate experiences we had was when we visited a Himba village.

The Himba people live in northern Namibia and form a very specific tribal group. The Himba are cattle farmers and the men often take more than one wife. In our case, the family we visited had four wives, one husband, and sixteen children.

Himba husband, two wives, and children around the main fire

Julia with the first wife

Family photo 

The Himba people live in northern Namibia and also in Angola, and set up their villages in the desert. The village we visited was just in the process of moving locations, which basically means re-building the round, earthen huts they live in and moving their few belongings.

Himba playground

Himba toy

The first wife of the village was very interested in teaching us about her culture, and particularly about what women do to be beautiful. In traditional Himba culture, the women wear almost no clothing except for a small piece of cloth over their lower body. The women are not allowed to touch water, and never bathe. Their form of bathing is to build a small fire each night, burn herbs and incense in the fire, then cover themselves in a cloak over the fire to let the smoke penetrate their skin.

Wearing handmade jewelry and rubbing ochre into skin makes this Himba woman beautiful

A large part of Himba beauty involves rubbing ochre into skin. The women from Himba villages will travel for days by foot, or, if they're lucky, in the back of a truck, to collect ochre from the mountains. They then rub the powder into butter and rub it into their skin and hair.

First wife with ochre rubbed on her hair

Hands dyed red from ochre

Julia has been beautified by getting ochre rubbed on her legs and by wearing the traditional Himba wedding cap

Before we left, the first wife of the village wanted to sing a song for us.We were able to catch it on video, and showed it to her after she was finished. The look on her face as she watched herself was priceless.

The first wife asked to walk us to our car as we left, and after many hugs and a few kisses, we climbed into the truck and headed back to our campsite.

Though we were with this family for just a few hours, the memory will stay with us for a lifetime. What a gift to be welcomed so openly into their lives, even if it was just for a brief moment in time.


  1. You are happy to be who you are and they're happy to be who they are -- and you get to share each other. What exuberance on the video!! Thank you so much for this entry.

  2. Glad you liked it! We loved our interactions with the Himba, and found that it was much easier to just 'be ourselves' on this trip than when we are at home. Hoping to continue with that practice at home.

  3. This is fantastic! I've seen these people in books, and to see you two with them, simply remarkable.

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