The Himba Tribe - Namibia

Visiting the Himba was one of the highlights of our travels, probably as was everyone's who have had a chance to visit them. They are well known for their friendliness, but also the reluctance to get modernised.

Himba girls

The Himba is the famous tribe of ’red people’ in northern Namibia. Women paint themselves twice a day with red clay mixed with butter. They wear short skirts made of goat skins and long red clay covered plaits of hair ending with tassells.

At first it can seem that there are only women in the Himba tribe. Almost all of them are traditionally dressed, proud and beautiful. In contrast, the men usually have adopted western clothes and you don't get to see them much in the villages anyway, because they are often far away with their herds, or (unfortunately) in the pub. They are getting fond of alcohol (just as, for example, the Surma in the Omo Valley) which is now getting in by the newly repaired road. The Himba women are not very happy about such a ’progress’ ...

The villages close to the road from Opuvo to the Epupa Falls receive tourists quite often. But we walked far off the main road to find out what are the Himba really like. We found an excellent guide, a young Himba, who had been sent to school, where he also learned English. He suggested us that it's better to bring some food as a gift when visiting the village rather than giving the Himba money (which the men would drink up anyway).

Women grinding maize

We walked to the village about 10 km away. The people there were really surprised but very pleased when we arrived. When we asked for a permission to spend a night they were completely amazed that Europeans want to stay with them and they immediately began to look for the best possible place for out tent.

Then we sat down with a group of women resting in the afternoon heat. The chief's wife easily included us into their chat (of course, with the help of our interpreter) which eventually developed into one of the most interesting conversations with indigenous people we have ever experienced.

The conversation went something like this:

  she: ”We are very happy that you came to visit us.”
   we: ”So are we. Have you ever had any tourists here?”
  she: ”Never, you are the first. They only go where they can get by car. 
           And to get here it's about 10 kilometres on foot, so they never come.”      
   we: ”And would you like, if more tourists came?”
  she: ”Of course, we are also curious about them. But on the other hand
           we also like our peace.”

  A moment of silence ...

  she: ”Do you also have cows and goats where you come from?”
   we: ”Yes, We do.”
  she: ”And could I be there dressed like this?”

   we: (a moment of hard thinking, what to say .....) 
         ”No, you probably couldn't, it's too cold there.”

  she: ”Hmm, it's a pity. So I won't go there. 
          But do you think that it's a good idea to send our kids to school, 
          so when the drought comes and food is scarce they could support us? 
          You know, have a job like your guide here ...”
   we:  (We are not sure it's a good idea, but that's not important. Her thinking 
          is correct and makes a perfect sense. But how should we answer that?) 
         ”It's an interesting idea, these days it might be the best and only way. 
          But your culture is also very important ...”
  she: ”I know, that's not what I meant, we don't want to change and we won't. 
          What I meant was only one child from a village.”
   we:  (Now she got me, I am almost speechless): ”Most definitely, because than 
          you would be better prepared when the inevitable changes come .....”

   we: ”How do you perceive the changes that are already happening, 
          such as a new road, tourists and the campsites for them, new pubs 
          and your men in them, drinking .....?”
  she: ”We don't like that at all, it's a big problem. 
          But what can we do? We'll deal with it.”

Himba girls dancing in the evening

This was followed with a moments of silence, we all had something to think about. Then she apologised that she had to tend the cows and that it's the time to start getting ready for the night. After dinner the young girls offered to dance for us. It was very beautiful.

For the whole time spent with the Himba, nobody asked us to pay anything, not even for photographing them. They were all really pleased that we came to see them and that we were genuinely interested in them. But we've brought them about 15kg of food, as our guide suggested. This surprised them, they didn't expect anything from us; but they couldn't ask us to carry it those 10 kilometres back ...!

If only all the people in the world were like the Himba .....

Photogallery Himba


From my archives


Strange but true


Thanks to

We would like to thank our Himba guide Tom from Epupa Falls for interpreting and mediating the unique experience for us.