Women of the Himba Tribe

The last semi-nomadic people of Namibia

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

Sunrise in Opuwo (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

They survived epidemics. They survived genocides. They are the OvaHimba, a semi-nomadic, pastoral tribe of northern Namibia. Despite their resilience, the “Himba” seem unable to slow their surrender to the modernization of the country. And now come new challenges linked to climate change.

The tribe’s women are the symbol of the Himba way of life. The women cover their bodies with red powder. They adorn themselves with handmade jewelry and use mud to style their hair.

For centuries, the Himba have lived in desert homesteads. Today, many are moving to cities for better job and educational opportunities.

Aerial vuew of Opuwo (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In August 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - on his journey to the world's most fragile cultures - spent a week with the Himba just outside of Opuwo.

Aerial view of Himba homestead (onganda) (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Himba homestead
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Morning reveals the circular shape of an onganda. The homestead consists of a handful of huts surrounding a kraal for keeping livestock.  Goats and cows are viewed as sacred.  

Himba family making breakfast (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

A Himba mother makes breakfast for her children.

Himba women sitting in the shadow (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Sunlight pierces the hut where Mbendura lives with her mother, Himundu.

Himba woman portrait (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Mbendura wears an erembe, a traditional headpiece sculpted from sheepskin. It represents her status as a young wife and mother.

Portrait of old himba woman (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Himundu is one of the oldest women of the homestead. 

The red tone of her skin comes from otzije, an ochre pigment used to cleanse her skin and protect it from the harsh climate. 

Himba woman making otjize paste by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Himba otjize-textured hair plaits (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Adult Himba women also use otzije paste to cover their braided hair.

Himba girls braiding hairs (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary


Learning the traditional way of braiding and texturing their hair is an essential task for all young Himba women.

Himba girl getting water (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Girls play an important role in the family structure as they are called upon to walk to the nearest water source. 

Himba girl with goat (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Himba goats
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Barely teenagers, they are entrusted with taking care of the livestock. 

Portrait of young Himba girl (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This young girl wears her hair forward to signify that she has not yet reached womanhood. 

Young Himba girl with GSM phone (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Despite the Himba tribe being one of the most well-preserved in Africa, their young girls are starting to feel the call of modernity.

Urban Himba girls (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

These two young girls left their homestead and moved to nearby Opuwo to receive a proper education. They struggle with leaving their Himba customs behind and face discrimination from classmates. 

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3D scan of Himba hut (21th Century) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

When a Himba family moves away, their hut remains empty. The traditional Himba hut appears quite simple at first. However, the mixture of wood, grass and mud used to build the huts has provided protection from the severe climate for thousands of years.

Himba family having dinner (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

For those who stay on the homestead, life is still without many of the modern comforts afforded by urban life. 

Night in the Himba homestead (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

As the dinner fire burns out, the day comes to a close. 

Himba woman in town (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Conclusion

Will these Himba women be able to both adapt to the modern world and maintain their distinct culture? Or will they have to surrender much of their traditional lifestyle to ensure a better future for their children? 





Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Accra Kwalela, Ptshimanda Omkuku.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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