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A Visit to the Himba Tribe – What I Wish I’d Known

A Visit to the Himba Tribe - What I Wish I'd Known

I visited the Himba tribe for the first time on my first trip to Namibia in 2009.

The Himba are 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, which is what gives their skin and hair its orange/red tint.

Himba Tribe - Namibia

The Himbas ideal of beauty is inspired by the orange/red glow of the earth, something synonymous with the African continent. The lifeblood of all.

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

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A Visit to the Himba Tribe – What I Wish I’d Known


Our guide said it was fine to take all of the pictures we wanted, but I feel that it’s always important to ask. The women were very happy to be photographed and posed proudly for the camera.

We were told that the Himba women never wash in their lives. Rather, they ‘smoke’ themselves clean using herbs that 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. It’s a good job I am not a Himba woman, I would not have the patience for that!

We sat and talked with the Himba women for some time through our translator. 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??? Himba women traditional lymarry very young, often in their early teens.

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

This caused the women to howl with laughter, although I’m sure they must have had that conversation with other tourists before. It was a funny exchange of cultures, but it also reminded me of the freedoms I take for granted.

There were very few men around on the day we visited as most were out tending to the livestock. What I did find strange, was that the men that were there were not in traditional dress, preferring to wear more western attire such as shorts and football shirts.

I found this slightly strange and I wondered if the women dressed this way by choice, or whether they were made to dress this way for tourists. I wish I’d asked, but I didn’t feel that it was my place to do so.

Some years later, I found out that this wasn’t a ‘real’ village. Well, it was, but not in the traditional sense. The village was on the land of a large hotel and the Himba were allowed to live there for free in exchange for allowing tourists to visit.

This village was near Swakopmund and Himba aren’t from this part of Namibia either, the Himba traditionally live in the far north of Nambia in Kaokoland, also known as the Kunene Region and in Southern Angola..

Some of the money will have been given to the Himba but the majority won’t. That doesn’t seem right to me. At the time I had no idea, but after spending a lot of time in Africa and a lot of time with tribal people, I know to do a little bit more research before I visit a tribe.

Over the years, I’ve visited tribes all over Africa and I now have many friends from tribal communities.

Himba Tribe - Namibia

But some of the tribal visits I did in my early travel days, weren’t that great. Some were good, don’t get me wrong, but others felt contrived or exploitative and there often seemed to be a bit of a conflict between the guides who took us there and the tribes themselves – no doubt these arguments were over money.

These days, I’m much more conscious of the way I visit tribes and do my research before I visit. I know some people don’t agree with tribal visits, I do, as I think they play an important role in preserving heritages as tribal lands make way (or are forced out) for modern development.

The Himba, like many tribal peoples, are caught between their traditional culture and the modern world.

I also think cultural exchange is one of the most beautiful things in the world. But I now visit villages that are run completely by the tribes themselves, on their own terms.

READ MORE: The Ethics of Visiting an African Tribe: What You Need To Know

I hope you have an AMAZING trip to Namibia. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I will happily answer!


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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. 

    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!

    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!!

    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!

    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!

    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

    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! 

    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. 😉

    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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