Visiting some of the native tribes was a must for us. It felt important to understand the cultural roots of Namibia and the primitive peoples. The history and way of life of the Himba was fascinating. They live a life without cell phones, cars, or even electricity. Everything in the village was made by hand. Sure, they are still plenty touched by modern life, but they try to stick to their roots and culture as much as possible. This is how to visit the Himba and what you can expect.
How to find the Himba Tribe
If you find yourself in the town of Opuwo, look all around you. Most of the people there are Himba but have adapted to modern life. You will even see some traditional tribe people shopping in the grocery stores. Most lodging accommodations in the town will offer tours to go see the tribe or at least point you in the right direction. We booked one from the Opuwo Country Lodge and Resort which partners with several guided tours.
Things to Bring with you
The price of the tour included the cost of gifts for the tribe members. Most of which are needed food and supplies. Before we went on our guided tour, we took a trip to a grocery store with the tour guide and pick up these items. Bring your camera as many tribes expect and permit photographs.
What not to bring with you
The children will especially be very curious about you and the items you bring. We suggest not having too many loose items as they might want to investigate them. None of our stuff was lost, but they did pull off a carabiner from Brianna’s bag as I watched. It was mostly innocent, and nothing to really worry about.
The tour cost $710 Namibian dollars per person for a 2-3 hour tour ($53 USD). This seemed reasonable for the experience of getting to see a tribe with a knowledgeable expert who could speak their language. We weren’t expecting to pay $139 NAD ($10) for groceries as we believed it was part of the tour fee. This wasn’t a big deal as we are happy to support the tribe.
What to expect when you arrive
When you arrive, the guide will first go talk to the tribe and then invite you in. He helped translate for us even though some of the members knew limited English. Our first moments were spent primarily with the children while we took pictures with them. They were interested in our cameras and used sticks to spell “Canon” and “Sony” in the dirt. It was quite entertaining. One kid ended up wearing Brianna’s sunglasses for a little bit, while others were amused by her letting them view through the camera viewfinder and see the photos.
The adults rescued us from the kids and the tour guide explained the way of life of the tribe. Our guide took us around to each hut and talked a lot about the purpose of each room and the sacred traditions. We were able to ask questions of the tribe members and he translated for us.
At the end of our tour, the tribe members set up a make-shift market to sell us their wares. We were completely surrounded by them. They each raised their hands with their special necklaces, bracelets and beads with each glance. I decided to raise my hands in a similar manner and do a little dance. They all laughed and tried to mimic me. We didn’t end up buying anything, but we did give them smiles. Be careful not to take anything they hand you because then they expect you to buy it. I had to hand one back after looking at it and it was awkward.
Himba villages are generally just one large family, and they are semi-nomadic. The women tend to do some of the most labor intensive work. This can be carrying water and creating the plaster to cover the mopane wood homes. The plaster is made by mixing clay soil and cow manure.
Women cover themselves in a deep orange substance made from butterfat and clay. This is used to protect them from insect bites and the intense sun. It also keeps them clean as water is scarce and bathing isn’t part of their culture. Some areas of Namibia haven’t seen rain in 5 years. All water is brought in.
Hairstyle and jewelry play a strong role in the Himba culture. These indicate the age and social status of each member. Upon marriage, a boy is considered a man. This is unlike a girl as she isn’t considered a woman until bearing a child. Some girls are married off before the age of 10, and the men usually have more than one wife.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Opuwo Country Lodge Resort. For camping, the price was reasonable at $350 NAD ($26 USD) per night. It was nestled on top of a hill and it is hard to believe there is a resort as you’re driving through the streets below. It included access to a bar and restaurant and an infinity pool with incredible views below. The campsites were great for our 4X4 tent camping and weren’t very busy when we were there, so it was quiet. There are several other lodges in town, but we would recommend Opuwo if you are camping. We chose Opuwo as it was close enough to the tribes which were about 18km away, and it was a secure location.
Seeing people living in these conditions, on so little, really made us think about how fortunate we are for what we have. It also showed us how little we really need for survival, and it put our own lives in perspective. These people overcome some of the harshest conditions on Earth without all of our modern conveniences. However, times are changing. Many of the children are going to school and transitioning to modern life which will eventually wipe out the traditional culture. We are grateful to see them while they still hold their values, customs, and culture.
Tell us about a uniquely African experience you have had? How did it impact you?
If you like this post, please help us grow by liking it and sharing it on social media. We also welcome your comments below – we would love to hear from you!
Don’t miss out on new posts! Follow our blog for new posts every week.