If you visit a Himba village in Namibia, your visit will likely begin with your guide introducing you to the Chief, or if the Chief isn’t available, to the Chief’s wife. The guide explains that we have brought gifts, and asks permission of the Powers-That-Be for us to enter the village. “Gifts” include staples like corn or maize flour, and relative luxuries like tobacco.
While I personally am not a fan of the killer weed, it’s evidently a good door-opener in this part of the world.
The Chief or his wife–I should really say “head wife” since polygamy is practiced by most of the men who can afford it–will then ask you some questions. We were asked questions ranging from “Where we you from?” to “How many children do you have?”
People like me, child-free by choice, were met with a mixture of confusion and pity. In the Namibian culture, it’s very important for the married women to bear children, and for the men to sire a number of offspring with their wife (or wives). When those of us who didn’t have children admitted it, it was assumed that we couldn’t have children, for health reasons, poverty, bad luck or the anger of the gods or ancestors.
All of this was translated via our guide, as the Himba we visited spoke no English, and we didn’t speak their language either.
Despite our infertility, we were with met with good cheer, and perhaps more compassion than we deserved.
Our small group was granted permission to roam the village and photograph the residents.