A young Himba mother and her infant share a quiet moment in the shade of a hut. I love the serene expression on the mother’s face, and the sweet gesture of the baby’s hands and arms. It reminds me of the classic “Madonna and child” paintings.
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.
These are some examples of the different styles of huts found in a Himba village in Namibia. Wood is scarce in this region, so many of the huts have walls made of a clay and manure mixture, and thatched roofs.
All of the huts I entered had dirt floors. The villagers I met both sat and slept on the floors of their huts.
The nice thing about the small huts–for me–was that I could be close to my subjects.
Many Himba villages are not permanent: when the distance from the village to their livestock grazing area becomes too great, the entire village gets moved!
This fence marks the perimeter of a Himba village in Namibia. I spotted this young boy quite a ways outside the fence, pushing a wheeled toy which appeared to be a car made out of wire.
The Himba men take their cattle and goats miles away from the village to graze them, leaving the women and young children in the village.
As you can see from the image above, there is no grazing nearby, at least when I was there towards the end of the dry season.
But the hard-packed sand and clay makes a great surface on which to push a wheeled toy!
This is one of the elder Himba women I had the honor to meet and photograph last summer in Namibia. It was really a privilege to be allowed to wander around the village for several hours, camera in hand, and document an ancient way of life.
Most of the shots I took were not posed, and all were taken with available light. I don’t even carry a reflector, let alone flash. This image was taken inside a hut. Many of the huts had stick walls, like the one in yesterday’s post, which made for some challenging exposures. In those huts I underexposed (usually 2/3rds of a stop) to prevent hot spots. Some of the huts had solid walls, where the only source of light was sunlight streaming through an open doorway. Some of my favorite images of the day were made with that dramatic sidelight.
I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know the Himba people through my eyes over the next few days…
This image of a Himba woman grinding corn in her hut symbolizes the work women around the world do to feed and care for their families.