A Portrait of the Himba People: The past and present live together in Africa.

 There is no more visible example than the Himba people in Namibia on the southwest coast of Africa. They have preserved their ancient lifestyle, appearance and traditions, even though the world has changed dramatically. 

Several thousand Himbas live in small settlements hidden in the Kaokoland region of northern Namibia, an arid wilderness known for its rugged mountains, desert elephants, giraffes, zebras and black rhinos. They are a pastoral people who live like their ancestors hundreds of years ago.

Most Himba men wear Western-style shorts and T-shirts and tend herds of goats or travel to find work to support their families. Goats are valued highly not only for their milk, meat and hides but also as a form of currency used to buy other items.

The round huts in Himba villages have cone-shaped thatched roofs and are constructed of sticks covered with a mixture of mud and dung. They have dirt floors and open windows and doors. All cooking is done outside, and trees, strung with cooking utensils, serve as kitchens. Goats’ milk is kept in large gourd containers with corn-cob plugs. The gourds are hung from low tree limbs with strips of leather and swung rhythmi- cally to make yogurt.

Himba women cook, clean, sew, look after the children and spend a considerable amount of time each day caring for their appearance. Most wear only loincloths and short goatskin skirts, but they color their upper bodies red, showcase ornate hair- styles and adorn themselves with large pieces of traditional jewelry.

Each morning, the women rub their skin with a mixture of ochre, animal fat, herbs and the fragrant resin of the Omuzumba shrub. Ochre is a pigment obtained by washing red clay to separate the sand and then evaporating the water in the sun. The mixture gives their skin a rich reddish glow and is considered beautiful. It also keeps the skin clean and provides protection from the sun and mosquitoes.