Introduction

The Himba live as semi-nomads in the Northwest of Namibia, in the rugged region called Kaokoland or Kaokoveld (and in SW Angola).

It has become very popular to visit them, probably hastening their demise. Many safari operators take tourists there. Tourists with rented 4X4s go there.

A friend and me went to visit the Himbas in 1991, one year after Namibia became independent. This was not long after military action had ceased in the region and we had a warm welcome. We stayed a few days at the village of a Himba hitchhiker we had encountered not far from Opuwo. Those were very impressive days. We joked around a lot and I once asked a girl why the Himba women were running around half naked. "Because we are beautiful" she laughed.

I guess what impresses people about the Himbas is their genuine culture and their apparent contentedness, things we both lack in the "civilised" world. For a casual visitor, Himbaland is the ideal world. An aerial view [ KB] of a typical Himba village (requires Google Earth).

If you ask a Himba's age, he or she will usually laugh and tell you that they don't know. This is true because their concept of time is based on irregular events, not the regular ticking of an artificial oscillator: For example, a man might be born in the year when the village burned down. This information makes sense to other Himbas but not to strangers (e.g., here). As a consequence, time itself is discontinuous. If nothing happens time stands still. Thus "I don't have time" doesn't make any sense to a Himba. The Himbas can completely describe a cow with very few words and they started teaching me the names of stars and constellations at the bonfire. Of course I forgot. Btw., "kiss of light" is "omutenya wa pahuka" (in Herero).

I didn't have good photographic equipment and didn't know what I was doing but here are some images from that trip.

I have no advice for travelers wanting to visit the Himbas. This is a very difficult subject. OK, maybe just this: Don't rush it. This is a truly extraordinary experience and you are visiting friendly and welcoming people, entering their lives. Stay a few days, not hours. Ask for permission and advice on where to put your tent. Wake up in the morning and share your breakfast with those already patiently waiting. Go from there.



Himba Popularity

Not long after the end of isolation of Kaokoland, images and stories of Himbas kept coming up in all kind of publications, from magazines to TV, in documentaries, movies and ads, you name it.

And of course in people's photographs.

As of February 28, 2008:
(click the respective links to see how many there are right now!)

A google image search "Himba" yields 24.900 pictures (in Namibia, there are an estimated 7.000 Himbas... )

photo sharing sites:

flickr has 3.308 pictures ("Namibia" yields 90.056)
webshots has 1.705
picasa has 1.286
smugmug has 368 (including mine)
pbase has 259
fotki has 160

video:

youtube has 59 movies, including this ad by Samsonite and this ad for photo workshops. Judge for yourself.
This one is great fun, especially the Metallica part (Taron Hall on an "extreme" trip to Kaoko).

Just a small sampling, not checking "Ovahimba" etc. and keeping in mind that many images are not tagged.

stock agencies:

alamy has 1.090
gettyimages comes up with 134 results
corbis with 102
photoshot has 45


People Seriously Involved



Kaoko Hunters
Made by C. H. L. Hahn, 1930s. Natl. Archives of Namibia, A450 Hahn Collection. Reproduced here from a bad print in New Notes on Kaoko, Basler Afrika Bibl., Basel, 2000.

C. H. L. Hahn

C. H. L. 'Cocky' Hahn made panoramic images in Kaoko in Namibia in the 1930s/40s. He was then (1921 - 1946) the Native Commissioner of the Owambo and Kaoko regions of South West Africa.

Hahn used a Kodak panorama camera with a revolving lens which encompassed a view of 180 degrees. He had modified the equipment himself for more effective use [Hayes, Patricia, 2000: Camera Africa: Indirect Rule and Landscape Photographs of Kaoko, 1943. In: New Notes on Kaoko, Basler Afrika Bibliographien].

Hahn's photographic work was supposed to document important ethnographic and administrative occasions. When looking at some of his photographs, however, it becomes clear that, beyond a certain "colonial aestheticism", there are strong personal artistic statements. The photograph on the left is a good example. The composition is remarkable, Hahn's shadow is included, a photographer "on the edge"? I hope to obtain better copies of his photographs soon...

Photograph by Dori Caspi

Dori Caspi

Dori Caspi first encountered the Himba in 1998 and has been returning regularly, becoming a family member. He beautifully expresses his admiration and love for them here.

Dori decided to produce a documentary film about his Himba family, realising that the Himba might not exist 15 - 20 years from now. The film, "Cry of the Owl", is neither an anthropological nor an educational film. It doesn’t show "Himba way of life" and has no narration. The film follows the life events of few of his closest Himba friends during some seasons, and lets you share with them their thoughts and dreams, wishes and desires. The film won the Special Juries' Award at Jules Verne Film festival in Paris in 2006.



Solenn Bardet

The writer Solenn Bardet had always wanted to go to Africa. When she turned 18 her parents couldn't stop her anymore and she traveled to South Africa from her native France. There she saw a photograph of a laughing Himba woman and decided that she wanted to meet these people.

She went and stayed for more than two years, getting adopted by Katjambia Tjambiru and Omuniangue Tjuhano. Katjambia happens to be one of the most important spokespersons for the Himba nowadays but she is not officially recognised by anybody. To make Katjambia's voice heard, Solenn has founded the Kovahimba Association in 2005, the French counterpart to the Namibian organisation Kaoko-Epupa Development Foundation. After not having seen her Himba family for 10 years, Solenn returned to Kaokoland to make the documentary "Terra Incognita, let`s meet the Himba culture". The movie was a great success in France and in Kaokoland.

Solenn also helped National Geographic photographer and film director Eric Valli make the movie "The Trail". This is a drama in which a 14-year old girl looks for her geologist father with the help of Kadjiro, a Himba.


The White Himba

The White Himba, Jaco Burger married into a Himba family and established a village for Himba children who had either lost their parents, or who came from families that simply could not afford to bring up their children. He acts as a tour guide and is one of the foremost experts on Himba culture. He's not active on the Web since he helps raising about 20 children but here is an article on him. Some more including an image. You can visit him.


Famous Photographers

The Himbas have also attracted several world-class professional photographers:

Sebastiao Salgado

Sebastiao Salgado is one the most respected photojournalists working today, with a focus on Africa, where he has worked for more than 30 years. His new book "Africa" (Taschen, 2007) is an homage to Africa's people and wildlife. Subjects range from triumphant African generals in the 70s to subsequent flight, violence und starvation. Included, however, is old Africa, exemplified by the beauty of the Himba nomads, for example. These are strict formal compositions for which Salgado is famous. See some images here

Harry de Zitter

I ran into some prints by Harry de Zitter exhibited at the National Library in Windhoek in March 2007. Later I found out that they were the result of "Namibiana - a personal assignment". De Zitter, a native Belgian educated in South Africa, has had a long fascination with Namibia. Namibiana became a major body of work which was presented to the then president of Namibia, Sam Nujoma, in September 1997.

Winfried Wisniewski

Winfried Wisniewski is a well-known German nature photographer who has photographed wildlife around the world for almost 40 years. In his vita he says: "... During one of my trips to Namibia I spent a few days with the Himba nomads and photographed them. They very much impressed me. Until recently they lived a very simple life in harmony with nature. Today not only their way of life is threatened but their very existence is. ... " [translated from German by me] Here are some of his Himba images.


Other

Some more links to Himba photography. I add stuff here whenever I run into something I like.

Thomas Smallwood: Namibia travel report and Himba photo gallery.

I like this one very much (Where Fire Speaks: A Visit With the Himba, 2003, by David Campion (Photographer) and Sandra Shields (Author))

Of course there is a feature on the Himbas by National Geographic Magazine.

medicine woman - Woman of Red Ochre: "Michelle White, a vivacious and talented young doctor travels the world in pursuit of healing plants that are currently unknown to western medicine" In this harmless and mostly pointless film a woman now called Daniele briefly travels to Kaoko and tries to learn about medicinal plants from the Himbas. She also runs into Ovahakaona, fugitives from Angola. I found the interaction between Ovahakaona and Ovahimba the most interesting part of this movie.

Rina Sherman has very interesting material on the Himba at her website! She lived with a Himba family from 1997 to 2004.

Himba tourist guide (in German-language Namibian newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung, interesting (but bad) photo)

And of course several books on the Himba are available... I have a few and will list them as I find time. Also check out amazon (see bottom) - if you buy anything through these links you help kiss-of-light while still getting the best price!


Olaf Deharde's view in Kaoko
See www.olafdeharde.com


About this page (Photographing Himbas)

This is not a scientific paper and it is incomplete, possibly incorrect. It is a place where I collect things about Himbas, especially with respect to photography.

Tell me if you know of something that should be here but isn't. If you are here but don't want to be get in touch as well. Message

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