On route back from an early morning mission to catch the first light on the falls, I was confronted by a number of local ladies setting up their beautifully hand made carvings. While chatting to Margaret (Aka the self proclaimed washing machine) I met Owen, a young Himba gentleman. He asked if I would like to head out on a birding walk later in the day as he could see I was keen birder with the bino’s around my neck. Very excited about potentially seeing his favourite bird: the Rosy-faced Lovebird, I agreed to meet him back at the camp when it was a little cooler.
On thing lead to another and we started chatting at the local restaurant, Owen suggested that we should head off to the local store and buy some supplies for a local Himba Village in return for time in their company. Having been guiding in the area Owen was very familiar with this request, however I was firm in my intentions that I didn’t want to be another tourist but rather wanted to get to know a little more about the culture and spend plenty of time with them in order to capture the realness of their culture and lifestyle.
Meeting just after five, we headed off to the local supermarket called Arsenal Mini Mart, to buy 20kg of maize, a packet of salt, a box of soup and a carton of matches (all the essential ingredients for a village.) The uniquely named supermarket saw the boys wanting to snap a picture; the shot however triggered some tension as it captured a local police officer having a sneaky quart out the front of the mart. Whipping out his police card in an aggressive manner he demanded me not to start the car, eventually we managed to calm everyone down to a panic by simply deleting the image.
Slightly shook up we continued along the corrugated roads for about 20km to where we found two young Himba ladies sitting on the side of the road. Owen jumped out to greet them and asked if our presence would be welcomed at the village, very eagerly they said yes and mentioned that everyone was energised about an upcoming wedding within the village and that we might be so lucky to witness it. The Himban women on the other hand sadly had a sick child and were on the way towards Epupa Town to see a doctor, so wouldn’t be able to join in the evenings celebrations. Using Owen as a translator the young ladies asked if we wouldn’t mind taking their belongings back to the clinic in Epupa after our visit, to the village while they hoofed it with two children and some water we gave them along the hot 20km dirt road.
Arriving at the village Owen went ahead to seek permission from the chief and returned bearing the good news that we were very welcome to join in the evening’s antics. A team of children ran out to welcome us and led us to the main structure where we met the chief and his first wife and some other women who were preparing the bride for her big day. The women stood out with their unusual sculptured beauty, enhanced by intricate hairstyles and traditional adornments. They were busy rubbing their bodies with a cream made from rancid butterfat and ochre to which they add the aromatic resin of a shrub called Omuzumba. The cream gives the body an intensely red shine to achieve the Himba ideal of beauty.
After a formal greeting and talk of the wedding I was asked if would like to be the chiefs fourth wife, after some thought of the harshness of the lifestyle and never being able to wash again I turned down the offer with a smile.
We were shown around their homes, which are simple cone shaped structures made of saplings bound together with palm leaves and plastered with mud and dung. The construction makes for a surprisingly cool interior; this combined with the animal skin decor and ointments created a very homely feel.
As the sun began to set, we played soccer with the children against a backdrop of beautifully lit landscapes, which transformed in front of us into soft glowing pastel shades. The children sported intricate hairstyles, which represent their gender and age as well as wearing bracelets made from copper and shells.
With the evening approaching the bride invited us into her home and talked us through some of her preparations for the wedding. Infused with the Omuzumba scent we left her in peace as the celebrations had been delayed until the following evening in hope that the other ladies would have returned with the sickly child. Wishing her the best of luck we said farewell and continued back to the clinic where we met up with the two ladies and returned their ochre covered belongings.The Himba people who inhabit Kaokoland are the descendants of the earliest Herero’s who migrated into the area during the 16th century. They are an ancient tribe of semi nomadic pastoralists.
It was a privilege to be so welcomed into a culture so far from my own and I truly hope to return in the not too distant future to visit old friends and to give them some printed images of our evening together.