The Himba…the poster children of Namibia, as famous as the rusty red dunes of Sossusvlei. Despite the postcards and posters everywhere, this nomadic tribe isn’t easy to come across on your average trip to Namibia. So when the opportunity arose on my last trip, I was thrilled. The group I met had decided to settle, rather than continue their nomadic lifestyle, having found some land on the corner of a farm in Northern Damaraland. Their arrival wasn’t particarly welcome to begin with, but over the years the farm owners and the Himba have grown into a comfortable co-existence together.
The men still roam and pursue their hunter gatherer traditions, but the women and children stay, growing vegetables, keeping herds of goats to milk and use for meat. My guide introduced me to the mothers and elder sisters of the extended family and immediately I am asked “Where is your husband?”. I replied I did not have one, and they asked my age, astonished that someone as old as 30 could be unmarried and in a different country alone. It’s not the first time I’ve had this kind of reaction in Africa and I laughed it away with a shrug and a smile.
We chatted about our lives, and they were keen to show me their traditions, from braiding their hair and covering it with ochre, to grinding maize into a porridge to eat. I took a number of portraits which they were keen to see on the screen of my SLR, and wanted to have pictures of me taken beside them, too.
Encounters with indigenous people like the Himba can be highly commercialised – I have seen examples of this in the Masai Mara in Kenya. But here it was as close as you get to simply observing and taking part in a few hours of an average afternoon with these women. The daughters returned halfway through my visit with a gaggle of goats, bells jangling and the kid goats running bleating to their mothers in delight. And whilst the location where I met these Himba matriarchs and daughters was the corner of a Damara farm, rather than in the vast, unending wilderness of the Skeleton Coast, it certainly didn’t lessen our interaction with one another.