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A Visit to the Himba Tribe

The Himba are a semi-nomadic people who live in northern Namibia and traditionally depend on cattle and goats for their livelihood. The women are striking in appearance, covering themselves in a mixture of butter and ochre called otjize. It’s the otijize that gives their skin and hair a slight orange/red tint. The Himba ideal of beauty is inspired by the orange/red glow of the earth, something synonymous with the African continent. The lifeblood of all.

Himba Girl

We spent a couple of hours in the village, learning about the Himba culture and as usual, I ended up with a number of children attached to each arm and leg, all wanting to touch my hair!

Himba Tribe, Namibia

Himba Tribe, Namibia

We were told that the Himba women never wash in their lives. Rather, they ‘smoke’ themselves clean using herbs which give their skin an almost musky/woody smell, before reapplying a new layer of otjize. The morning beauty regime can take up to three hours a day – good job I am not a Himba woman, I would not have the patience for that!

Himba Tribe, Namibia

I’m always fascinated by tribal culture, all thanks to my favourite TV documentary show, ‘Tribe’ presented by the amazing Bruce Parry but also a little sceptical when it comes to tribal visits. I worry that either the visits will be contrived, which of course they will be a little bit – but then I don’t know anywhere in the world where when visitors arrive, the hosts just ignore them and don’t put on a bit of ‘entertainment’ – I know I do when I have visitors! But the women just went about their daily business in general, but just showing us their beauty routine.

Himba Tribe, Namibia

But the main worry is that the people are being exploited. However I’ve visited a number of tribes in Africa, the Masaai and Samburu tribes in Kenya and the Mang’ati tribe in Tanzania and it’s never felt that way.

Sometimes tourism is sometimes needed to help tribes uphold their cultural heritage in this ever developing world. Even though our guide said it was fine to take all of the pictures we wanted, I still felt the need to ask the permission of my Himba hosts and the women were very happy to be photographed and posed proudly for the camera.

Himba Tribe, Namibia

We sat and talked with the Himba women for some time. They asked me how old I was and if I had children. They giggled when they found that I was 29 and had no kids.

29 and no children??? How could that be???

We explained that in England and Australia, women often married and had children at all different ages and that some never do at all.

Cue more laughter! It was a strange but nice exchange of cultures, but it reminded me of the freedoms I so often take for granted.

Himba Tribe, Namibia

There were very few men around on the day we visited, most were out tending to the livestock. However the men that were there, wre not in traditional dress, preferring to wear more western attire, whilst the women tend to the daily chores in the village in their traditional dress. I found this slightly strange and I wondered if this was by choice or not. I wish I’d asked, but I didn’t feel that it was my place to do so.

Himba Tribe, Namibia

One of my favourite moments was just standing watching these two little kids, chatting away, so expressive and barely a couple of years old.

Himba Tribe, Namibia

Himba Tribe, Namibia

Himba Tribe, Namibia

Himba Tribe, Namibia

Himba Tribe, Namibia

For now, many of the Himba tribe live quite traditionally, as they have always done. But their culture is threatened by modern development, so how long they will continue to live this way is unknown.

Meeting the Himba people was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget.

Have you ever been to visit a tribe?

 

About Author

I'm a travel blogger and tour operator with a passion for Africa travel. I love the great outdoors, going on epic trips around the world and helping others travel!

37 Comments

  • Brenna
    October 28, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Amazing shots, Helen! What an incredible experience. And yes, I always get the, “29 and no kids AND no husband?!” talk. 
    Brenna recently posted…How To Travel With Your Best FriendMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      October 28, 2013 at 11:20 am

      Thanks Brenna, it was fab! Visiting tribes is one of my favourite things ever. Ha ha, yes they thought I was ‘past it’ for sure! 🙂 But I love the fact that cultures can be so different, and yet we can all sit there giggling together!

      Reply
      • eliane thweatt
        January 27, 2014 at 4:51 am

        I love tribes too and I only photograp them every where,india especially.eliane

        Reply
        • Helen
          January 27, 2014 at 9:45 am

          I’ve never been to India! Do you have any recommendations of places to go there?

          Reply
          • bhavesh
            April 19, 2014 at 7:51 am

            rjesthan / madhya pradesh / gujarat in this state u will get good chance to meet different different tribe and there cultures rituals ..

          • Helen
            April 20, 2014 at 7:39 pm

            Thank you for the tip! I’ve never been to India but hope to visit one day! I love to learn about different cultures!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    October 28, 2013 at 11:12 am

    OMG, I am in love with those babies. They are gorgeous!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted…Climbing Cotopaxi – And why you shouldn’t mess with your wife when she has altitude sicknessMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      October 28, 2013 at 11:18 am

      They were gorgeous! I want to go back and see them! 🙂

      Reply
      • Helen Hielkema
        June 23, 2014 at 9:02 pm

        Going there in September, so curieus …must have been so special!

        Reply
        • Helen
          June 24, 2014 at 11:09 pm

          It was Helen! Hope you have an amazing time in Namibia!

          Reply
  • Zara @ Backpack ME
    October 29, 2013 at 4:41 am

    WOW, stunning photos!!
    Zara @ Backpack ME recently posted…Funny things about IndiaMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      October 29, 2013 at 11:53 am

      Thanks Zara!

      Reply
  • Sally
    October 29, 2013 at 11:07 am

    This was such an interesting piece. It’s hard to write about cultures that are so alien compared to ours and not reduce them to a sensationalist detour on someone’s blog, but I think you did a good job of giving perspective to their situation. Interesting to know that the modern world is essentially impossible to shut out; there you were with your fancy camera and childless life!

    Anyways, before I ramble, I’ll finish up by saying thanks for the photos, it was lovely to see a different way of life!
    Sally recently posted…October Reading RoundupMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      October 29, 2013 at 11:52 am

      Thank you Sally! It was an unusual experience but a wonderful one. I hope to go back soon!

      Reply
  • Rebecca
    November 1, 2013 at 4:29 am

    They are absolutely gorgeous. And the babies are adorable! However, I, too, am glad that I am not a Himba woman. As it is, I only spend about 10 minutes a day getting ready to leave because I can’t be bothered with much more. 

    I agree that it’s kind of weird that the women are in traditional dress and the men aren’t, but I think your decision not to ask was the right one. It’s a sensitive topic and so easy to offend without meaning to.

    Reply
    • Helen
      November 1, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for your comment!

      Yes, if I ever get to know the Himba women better, I may ask, but I agree, it was right not to ask.

      Reply
  • Yana
    November 5, 2013 at 12:02 am

    Hello again! Great pictures! You managed to capture on your camera what i love most about african babies – their eyes! I enjoyed the pictures so much!
    Yana recently posted…Halloween in Equatorial GuineaMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      November 5, 2013 at 12:21 am

      Hey Yana, how are you doing???

      Thanks so much! xx

      Reply
  • Yana
    November 5, 2013 at 12:04 am

    By the way, did you travel alone to Namibia? I’m thinking of going there in January ALONE and i need any advice out there….
    Thanks again.

    Yana
    Yana recently posted…Halloween in Equatorial GuineaMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      November 5, 2013 at 12:22 am

      I went with Absolute Africa, but it would be fine to go alone! I can help with some recommendations of where to go and where to stay! I will email you! x

      Reply
  • Erika
    November 5, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Such an amazing experience! I have been living in Namibia for the past year, and I can definitely say that my visits to the Opuwo area were certainly highlights. The Himba are such a fascinating ethnic group and I felt that the village tour was far less staged than others I have been on. I look forward to seeing your other posts about Namibia and southern Africa! 
    Erika recently posted…Namibia’s Great Sand SeaMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      November 5, 2013 at 10:21 pm

      Thank you Erika!

      Yes, I agree! Fascinating places and people! I just love the whole of Africa! I bet living in Namibia has been a fantastic experience!! 🙂

      Reply
  • Nicole | The Wondernuts
    November 10, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    3 hours a day?! Wow, that’s intense! 

    Reply
    • Helen
      November 10, 2013 at 9:33 pm

      I know! I can’t be bothered blow drying my hair, I would so be a bad Himba lady! 🙂

      Reply
  • Getting Close To
    November 23, 2013 at 4:37 am

    I loved the photos of the babies! They looked like old men conversing because they’re so animated!

    Reply
    • Helen
      November 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      They really do don’t they! They were really chatty, just so cute and lively! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • elaine schoch
    January 15, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Amazing shots and what an experience. I’ve never had the chance to meet a tribe – not yet anyway. I love that you taught them a few things about your culture too. 😉
    elaine schoch recently posted…Things to do in Saigon: Four Must See French Colonial Buildings of SaigonMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      January 15, 2014 at 10:14 am

      I loved meeting the Himba. It was so interesting learning about their culture. So different from my own.

      Reply
  • Gretta Robertson
    January 28, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Am going with a girl friend in February. We will be driving on our own and my having visited several tribes in Ethiopia would love to visit the Himba. Could you tell me where to find them and if there are any other tribes that we might see or visit.

    Loved all your photos and reading about your experience. Have you been to Ethiopia?

    Reply
    • Helen
      January 28, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Hey Gretta, best way to see the Himba independently is to stay in Opuwo. There are plenty of Himba that live near there and they come in to town. From here, you will also be able to arrange a visit to a Himba village nearby. Most gesthouses will be able to do that for you. Make sure you get a guide/translator though so you can learn about the culture! I took my trip as part of an overland trip I was doing with Absolute Africa.

      Reply
  • nitesh
    April 22, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    thanks helen for honour of himba woman and shot pic with coverd body . I thank you r very respected about himba woman

    Reply
    • Helen
      April 22, 2014 at 7:52 pm

      Hi Nitesh, I like to think I am respectful of tribal people and everyone else I hope. 🙂 I make sure that I ask before I take any photographs and they were comfortable with me doing so. Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  • niyomukiza
    April 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    i like this

    Reply
    • Helen
      April 27, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      Thank you!

      Reply
  • Elena
    June 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Amazing photography! Especially kids and women portraits! I haven’t visited any tribes yet and Namibia is just on the top of my bucket list! I hope I could finally make it to the country any time soon!

    Reply
    • Helen
      June 8, 2014 at 8:25 pm

      Thank you! I absolutely love portrait photography but don’t get so much chance to do it! These were just on my really tiny, old Sony back up camera as my better camera broke with all the dust, but they turned out ok! Namibia is a pretty fabulous country to visit. Unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, totally surreal. 🙂

      Reply
  • EDWARD
    May 26, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    NICE PIC HELEN YOUR WELCOME TO TANZANIA EAST AFRICA THERE IS THE SAME TRIBE LIKE HIMBA KNOWN US SANDAWE

    Reply

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