The Himbas of Namibia Sep 2017

From Swakopmund, we were transferred by light aircraft up Skeleton Coast to Serra Cafema Camp.  Serra Cafema is located on the Kunene River across from Angola in the far northern corner of Namibia and is one of the most remote camps in Africa.  It is made up of 8 canvas and thatched chalets.  Most people come here to unplug from the world, disconnect in order to reconnect.  There is no wifi let alone mobile signal here.

DSCF8657Scenery of the Namib Desert on our flight up to Serra Cafema

DSCF8658The changing desert landscape

DSCF8663Light aircraft flight up to Serra Cafema

DSCF8678Harsh and beautiful landscape in the Kunene Region.

DSCF9112Deck at Serra Cafema with views of Kunene River and of Angola across the river.



DSCF8728Boat ride along the Kunene River passing by some Angolan villages, maize and corn fields, and numerous birds and crocodiles.


There is not much in terms of wildlife here.  Like in Sossusvlei, you will find some oryxes, ostriches, as well as Hartmann’s mountain zebras.  The main difference between mountain zebras and plain zebras is that the stripes of the mountain zebras do not go all the way around the body.  Instead the stripes stop before reaching the stomach leaving that area white.

The highlight of coming to this remote land is no doubt visiting the Himba tribes who live nearby.  The colorful Himba people are some of the true nomadic people of Africa.  They mainly live along the Kunene River which is the only permanent water source in the area.  There are altogether about 50,000 Himba, most of them are livestock farmers who are especially skilled at rearing cattle in this arid environment.  The livestock provide them with eggs, milk, and sometimes meat.  They are constantly on the move with their cattle and goats in search of water and grass.  They never over-graze the land and they know how to search for water by digging and building watering holes.  There are some Himba settlements near larger towns but to truly see their traditional way of life, one should come here to this area where visitors can only be flown in and there are no major roads leading to the rest of the country.

IMG_20171001_021421_834Sun struggling to come out

DSCF0313Driving up to one of the Himba settlements near our lodge.

DSCF0300Himba settlements are all set up with huts surrounding a central enclosure where some of the cattle, particularly the calves, are kept.

DSCF8849Traditional hut made of branches covered with dried cow dung and mud.


Version 2Her name is Ndjarindjo, which means “Grace”.  All the Himba women we met are very tall and very lean.

DSCF8983One of the many cattle outposts with an enclosure made of branches with thorns and one or two temporary huts for the cattle herders.


Version 2It is amazing to me how they determined that there is water here and decided to dig and construct this watering hole for their herds.  Watering holes are surrounded by sharp branches and thorns so that animals will not fall in, drown, and pollute their water source.

Version 2Himba boy bringing up water for the calves.

DSCF8977Himba girl minding the baby goats

DSCF8981You can tell this girl has not yet reached puberty by the two braids in front of her head.

The Himba villages we visited were predominantly female with several nuclear families living together.  All the men are usually away tending to the cattle at outposts or working in towns.  The women remained in the villages and raised the children with very little involvement from their fathers.  The Himba still grasp onto their traditional ways of life even though they are now exposed to tourism and other developments.  There is something to be said about communal living where everyone looks out and cares for each other and where everything is shared.  In contrast, I barely know anyone living in my building let alone my neighbour across the hall.

Version 2Here the women are watching the children while chatting and churning the fresh milk from their cattle.

Version 2


DSCF8777Little kids pretending to ride a donkey.  The little sticks they are holding are used to “beat the donkey”.


DSCF8832The standard Himba meal is porridge made of maize or millet with some milk added.  At meal times, kids gather around the pot excitedly and dig their hands into the pot for handfuls of creamy porridge.

DSCF8807“Hey! You had a lot already! It’s my turn….”


Himba women cover themselves with the orange-reddish otjize paste made of butterfat and ochre pigment which protects them from the hot and dry climate.  Otjize has come to be viewed as a beauty product and the orange-reddish color is the Himba ideal of beauty.  They never remove this paste from their skin because they never bathe with water.  Instead they smoke bathe themselves with commiphora branches and herbs to maintain personal hygiene.  Himba women spend a lot of time braiding their hair into these otjize-covered plaits using goat hair and hair extensions they purchase in town.


DSCF8799Her name is Uahurasono which means “Love” and the head piece she is wearing shows that she is unmarried.   The Himbas are polygamous with a man generally having two or more wives.

DSCF8793Himba women all wear these metal anklets which protect them from snake bites.  Also, the 2 leather stripes show that this woman has had 2 or more children.

DSCF8873Himba women spend several hours grooming their otjize-covered plaits.


DSCF8905Here I am shown how ground ochre is mixed with butterfat to create the otjize paste.

DSCF8906When the women takes their smoke bath, they keep the burning commiphora branches and herbs inside this cage-like contraptions and then they sit on top of it while the smoke completely engulfs their bodies.

DSCF8867Himba women are topless and only wear a loin cloth made of leather hides.

DSCF8796Kaputi (which means Petite), on the left, is practicing how to grind using some sand and charcoal.  When she is older, she will grind her own ochre to make the reddish-orange otjize paste.

DSCF8904Kaputi is only about 4 years old.  I actually thought she was around 7 or 8.

DSCF8898The women spend their free time making handicrafts which they then sell to us tourists.

DSCF8908Trinkets we bought from the Himba ladies.

For the Himbas, one’s hairstyle, especially for females, identifies her status and phase of life in society.  A young HImba girl will have two braids at the front of her head until she reaches puberty.  Once a girl reaches puberty, she will wear multiple braids that cover her face like a veil.  When a young woman is ready to marry, these braids will be braided towards the back of her head so that her face can be seen.  Women begin to wear an erembe headdress after being married or has had their first child.


Version 2Two little braids


Version 4

The Himbas are polygamous with a man generally having two or more wives.  The number of cattle a man owns is the symbol of his wealth.  In order to marry a wife, the man must have at least 5 cows and 10 goats.  Owners of cattle may give out livestock on a loan basis to the younger males of the family.  They follow a matrilineal form of inheritance where all the wealth and cattle go first from the deceased to a brother of one mother and then to a sister’s son, or any equivalent in the matriline like a sister’s daughter’s son.  This kind of inheritance rules create a system where everybody contributes in rearing the cattle with the hope of being the sole owner of the herd someday.


DSCF9008The Himbas are nomads and are used to walking long distances barefoot.  We were driving around looking for the cattle outposts when we came across a small settlement.  A woman asked us where we were headed and if she could get a ride.  In the end, she decided we may not be going directly to her destination so she said she will go on her own.  We couldn’t find the cattle outpost (they move all the time) so we just drove to the settlement about an hour or so away.  About 15-20 minutes upon our arrival, this woman arrived with her baby on her back and a big bag of grain.  I was shocked and amazed at how fast they can walk!





DSCF9096 (1)Her name is Kasondoroo which means “Wanderer”.  Here she is making sure the cattle with calves are the first to drink from the watering hole.

There is something to be learned here for us city dwellers.  We are constantly rushing around and meeting deadlines.  It is interesting how the Himbas do not have the same concept of time as us. “Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or a blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year.  Even when a new century begins, it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” – Thomas Mann.   The Himbas do not celebrate birthdays nor do they keep count of their own age.  They do not believe in aging and natural death, if someone dies, he or she must have been cursed.  For them, each day just rolls into the next.  Time is not fleeting, time is the present and time stretches into eternity.  What a luxury it is to just daydream and watch time go by….  It is a lesson for all of us to slow down and smell the roses.

DSCF9005Baby Penauandu just awake from a nap on his mother’s back.  I wonder what the future holds for this little one.  I was told that with development and tourism, some Himba men have begun to work in the lodges and towns.  The Himbas are quite dependent on their children to help herd the cattle and goats and to help take care of the younger siblings.  As a result, many parents are reluctant to send their children to schools afraid they will refuse to continue with their traditional way of life.

DSCF8994Since they don’t officially have ages, the guide estimated the matriarch of this Himba settlement to be between 80 and 90 years old based on how many generations there are in her family.

DSCF9060Carefree Himba children singing and playing as they helped drive the herd down to the watering hole.

DSCF9055Almost meal time! Himba children happily bringing a pot of uncooked porridge down to the watering hole where they will have a little picnic


It was truly a privilege to set foot in such a remote and seldom visited place.  It is any photographer’s dream.  I came to appreciate the harsh beauty of the vast landscapes and endless horizons and the beautiful Himba people.  They reminded me of how simple life really ought to be and how dependent we have grown to these unnecessary but now essential modern conveniences.  We often forget to slow down and appreciate what life has to offer.  Being completely unplugged (no internet or phones here) from the rest of the world was daunting at first but after a couple of days I stopped checking my phone, and how liberating that was!

That’s a wrap, until the next time Africa!  Next post will be on Doha where we made a pit stop.  Stayed tuned!


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