Meeting the Himba people of Namibia
Inviting myself into people's homes to photograph them is not something I usually ever do. Spending time with the Himba people in the North of Namibia proved to be very challenging.
A part of an organized trip to Namibia about which I definitely had mixed feelings was meeting and photographing the Himba people in the north of the country. Not only because I don't usually photograph people, but interacting with a culture that is so foreign and with people with whom I share no common words was a completely new experience.
The Himba inhabit Namibia and Angola and lead a very traditional way of life. With a population around 50,000 (Namibia and Angola) in a country of 2.5 million, the Himba lead a life that is extremely foreign even to most Namibians.
In the first village of two that we visited that day, the local chief explained that more and more Himba youth choose to leave their villages and move to the towns and cities, ultimately making the switch to a less traditional lifestyle, while the elderly Himba still desire to hang on to their way of life. In a way, the Himba remind me of the Amish people living in the Northeastern United States.
The comparatively modern Namibian town of Opuwo is merely a few dozen kilometres away, and is surrounded by many Himba villages; a shocking contrast. It's still not uncommon to come across people from the tribes in town, out and about, running errands.
Tours to Himba villages are led by Himba people (who speak the language) that have moved to towns and cities and that have studied foreign languages. Tourism is a way for the Himba to sustain an increasingly difficult way of life, where more and more goods may only be obtained for cash.
Interestingly, despite the apparent poverty, the Himba have surprising sources of wealth. The elders of many tribes often own herds of thousands of heads of cattle that can be worth millions of US dollars. Agriculture provides a way for the Himba to not only feed themselves but to do business.
The tour to the second of two villages that day was led by a woman who had moved to the town of Opuwo but had family in the tribe. The familiarity made for a very different vibe. The women were very eager to meet us and were definitely excited to show us around the village.
One thing I noticed is that several women in that village had opted to cover their breasts more than the usual. And when darkness set in, many even pulled out their cell phones!
During our time in this village, we observed the sun set and the changing light. The dry air of the area, hardly able to hold in much residual heat, quickly chilled, and soon the fires went up.
The day was definitely a great learning opportunity. Seeing a truly different culture living with very few of the comforts of modern life can definitely remind us how adaptable humans can be.
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