spending the day
with the himba women of namibia

11|24|2019

Author &
Photographer

Tiffanie A

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As a student of the world, I learned that if you want to look to the strength of a household or even a community, you must first look at the women of the community. Click To Tweet 

Meeting The Wise Himba Women of Namibia

When traveling throughout Africa and exploring a new country, city or community I often wonder will the women of the community accept me. This may sound a bit strange to some but in a quest to grow closer to my original lineage, I appreciate acceptance within African communities. Also, as a student of the world, I learned that if you want to look to the strength of a household or even a community, you must first look at the women of the community. With one gaze, a woman can either welcome you into her home or deny your entry. So as my tour guide and I drove hours from Windhoek to Brandberg in order to visit the Himba tribe, I stared out the window with the anticipation and anxiety of a kid visiting school or summer camp for the first day.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a local guide, Vinice, who welcomed us for beverages. Vinice and worked as a translator for myself and the Himbas who spoke Otjihimba. We met under a tree where she pulled a small leaf from the limb of the tree, cracked it open and instructed me to smell the leaf’s sap. The small leaf from the tree was a myrrh resin from the commiphora plant, which they call ‘Omumbiri.’ The smell was that of an amazing perfume scent a little reminiscent to Chanel.

Cooking with the Himba

As we began walking into the compound, I was greeted by a Sistren who greeted me saying ‘Moro’ which translates to ‘Good Morning’. I quickly replied with my response I practiced numerous times in my head on our long drive over. I smiled and replied ‘Nawa’ without any hesitation. I closely watched as the Sistren prepared ‘Oruhere‘, which is a porridge consisting of maize (corn) and milk.

Community games amonst the Himba Tribe

I was led to meet the other women of the compound who were engaged in a game of Onyune and in Oshiwambo it is called Owela. In the Caribbean and other countries they call this game Mancala. Originally, this game was played by Kings in order to sort out differences and disputes. If a King lost in this game, he faced the possibility of losing all of his belongings.

My guide asked me if I wanted to take any pictures and I asked him to please confirm with the women if it was okay for me to take pictures. It feels a bit weird and forward to walk into someone’s home and begin taking pictures and this is something I consider wherever I travel. In fact, if I weren’t documenting for future Away to Africa tours, I am not sure if I would take any pictures as I prefer to live in the moment… as the guide and a couple of the Himba women communicated, I grabbed a seat on the ground next to the other Himba women and asked if I could join in the game of Onyune, grabbed a seat on the ground in between the Sistrens and tried to translate their words through their actions.

After spending some time on the compound one thing I noticed was that there was not any presence of men on the compound. I was informed that because the Himbas are a nomadic tribe men travel the land most of the day searching for food.

The Himba woman’s beauty practices

I was invited inside the homes of the Himba women who provided a detailed explanation of the secret ingredient used to protect their skin and hair. As the guide translated, one of the Himba women begin rubbing the red clay powder mixed with animal fat on her skin and informed me that when the clay is placed on the skin, it protects one from malaria and bites as well as sunburn on any given hot day. The red clay/powder originates from a stone called ‘Okra’ but in Oshihimba it is called Otjize.

They also use this clay on their hair.

Dancing with the Himba Tribe

Following my time spent in the homes of the Himba women, I was invited outside to meet all the women of the compound and to watch them dance. As I admired the beauty of the Himba women, I noticed the ankle bracelets on most of the women. I quickly learned that one can communicate through the jewelry on the women’s ankles. The number of vertical lines on the ankle bracelet represented the amount of children of each woman. As I stared in awe, one of the Himba Sistrens touched my breast and asked how many children I have. I answered confidently, ‘Not yet, soon come’.

After watching the Himba women dance I was gifted with black bracelets (which I still wear until this day) and made me promise that when I returned I would greet them with a quick flash of my wrist displaying my bracelets.

When it was time to depart, I I felt as if I was leaving a sister’s house.

Back on the dusty, dry road to travel to next stop…

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