The Himba Experience

A tribe native to Angola and Namibia, the Himba people are a tribe of about 50,000 who respect and live according to the traditions of their ancestors.  The Himba are one of the most photographed tribes in the world, with people flocking to Himba regions in order to catch a glimpse of the beautiful people of this tribe.  The tourist interest has, however, changed the way in which the Himba trade and earn.  Taking advantage of the opportunity tourism presents, the Himba will often charge for a photo these days, however, thanks to my local tour guide I was treated to this quick photo with a kind-hearted woman who was happy to face the camera.


We pulled up, seemingly, in the middle of nowhere.  There were about twenty red-skinned people in the shade of a rickety wooden structure, proudly showing off their creations.  There were braided bracelets, beadwork, woodwork and metalwork sprawled over four tables.
We all jumped from the truck, most of the group making a bee-line for the stalls.  I, however, noticed a little boy running and rolling in the sand, with the biggest grin on his face.  I held back and watched the little boy play.  He eventually spotted me, skipped over and took my hand, leading me to his family behind the stalls.  I was watching the smile linger on his face, and suddenly there were hands all over me, tugging me this way and that, showing me their jewels.  I had a woman holding one hand, a man holding another, and both were pushing bracelets over my wrists.  In a language I could not understand they tried to sell me their beautiful handmade goods, and in a language they could not understand I tried to reason that I did not want all twelve bracelets I was now carrying.

I was passed down the line of enthusiastic sales-consultants who continued to tie beadwork around my wrists, and I felt apprehensive, maybe even a little uneasy.  Their creations were magnificent, but the high-pressure situation overwhelmed me.  I removed all but one bracelet from my wrist, and then tried to figure out how much the handcrafted green, black and white creation cost.  I cannot recall how much I paid, but I can say with certainty, I regret not purchasing more from this beautiful, eager, friendly family.

Taking a step back I watched as the remainder of the group negotiated, using an array of hilarious hand gestures and facial expressions.  I observed fondly as the Himba passionately sold their items with a pride in their eyes I had never seen in a collective group before.

With a whistle, we all piled back in the overland truck and drove down the endless dusty road.  I glanced back out the window as the Himba tidied their stalls and I wondered just how many people drive up this barren stretch of road with the sole intention of meeting them.  And although the drive seemed to stretch on, I was humbled and happy to have met them, to have watched their youngest boy play carelessly in the sand, to have seen the look of delight in their eyes as we rolled up, the way they waved and smiled so tenderly.

The fifteen minutes I spent with the Himba people were powerful, upbeat and unforgettable!

Facts About the Himba Tribe

Living a Traditional Lifestyle
The Himba people are semi-nomadic pastoralists who breed goats and cattle.  The women often perform the more labour-intensive jobs such as milking of the animals, building the houses and seeking out water to carry back to the village.  Men handle the political tasks as well as herding and handling of animals. 

Red Ocre
The Himba are known for their red-skinned women.  The red tint, known as otjize is made from pounding ochre stone (hematite) into small pieces, which are then mixed with butter over heat.  They apply the red cream all over their bodies, including their hair, twice a day.  The ochre application protects the skin from the scorching African sun and insects, whilst helping to keep the skin clean and moisturised.

Smoke Baths
From the time a Himba girl has her first menstration, she is forbidden to use water to bathe again.  So how do they clean themselves for the rest of their lives?  Daily, the women of the tribe place smoldering charchol into a bowl of herbs and leaves, and bow over the smoke bowl.  Due to the heat, they will start to perspire, cleaning their skin.  For a full body clean, they will sit under a blanket, letting the heat of the smoke get trapped beneath the fabric.

Top Tips

Top tip #1:  Go with a local speaking tour guide who can translate, otherwise you’ll be stuck in a battle of wits and language barriers.

Top tip #2: The Himba are constantly being photographed, so ask permission before you take a photo, and be aware that you may need to pay for the privilege.

Top tip #3:  Don’t be overwhelmed with all the touching and talking, just enjoy the experience and choose some beautiful pieces to take home with you!


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