Sunday, October 18, 2009


The Himba are a nomadic tribe who live in the north of Namibia. There aren't many of them left - less than 50,000 - so they're outnumbered by the inhabitants of little Walvis Bay - and their traditional lifestyle is apparently under threat, partly because their already fragile economy was disrupted by the war with Angola, and partly because their traditions don't really fit in the modern world - the Namibian government, for example, would like Himba children to go to school, which is a laudable aim but doesn't really combine well with the parents needing to constantly move their small herds of cows and goats from water hole to water hole in inaccessible rural areas.

Another problem is that the Himba have realised that tourists will give them lots of money for animal hair bracelets and other crafts, and will even pay just to take their photographs (ten Namibian dollars per person - about a euro) - and this is presumably a much better return on time and effort than pastoralism in an arid country. The Himba women I saw in Walvis Bay and Windhoek were in fact selling souvenirs and had presumably travelled there specifically to do so. Himba women cover themselves with butterfat mixed with ochre - their plaits are almost rigid with fat as well. Their hairstyles are magnificent.

There's probably a whole dissertation to write here about the ethics of tourism, and about the preservation of traditions vs access to the benefits of the modern world (medicine! irrigation!) - but I suppose this isn't the place, and I'm not the one to do it. I'm just one of the tourists with a camera.

No comments: