Anatomy of Himba Tribes

By Bill Kray

These semi-nomadic pastoral Himba (singular: OmuHimba, plural: OvaHimba) are indigenous peoples living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene region and on the other side of the Kunene River in Angola. There are also few groups of hunters and gatherers of the Ovatwa. Since the 16th century they have lived in scattered settlements, leading a life that has remained unchanged, surviving war and droughts, often residing in crude huts. The tribal structure helps them thrive in one of the most extreme environments on earth.

 Map image © 2004  National Geographic Society

Map image © 2004 National Geographic Society

The Himba wear little clothing — basically a loin cloth (rarely sandals), and jewelry. Some anklets may be worn as protection against animal bites. The women are famous for covering themselves with otjize, a mixture of butter fat and ochre. It makes their skin ruddy and evens out blemishes while providing a measure of sun protection in the arid desserts.

Most photos of OvaHimba depict uninhibited bear-chested women. Culturally, their prominent tuberous breasts are functional nonsexual parts of female anatomy, but the buttocks are always carefully covered. So if you happen visit, you might be tempted to fit in by going topless. But wearing a bikini thong can get you reported to the tribal leader. In order to be eligible for marriage, both boys and girls are circumcised before puberty even though female circumcision (mutilation) is not condoned by the global civilized society.

Raised around sheep and cattle, OvaHimba become accustomed to the smell of dung. Their hairstyles indicate age and social status. Children have two plaits of braided hair pointing towards the nape of their neck. When girls reach puberty their plaits are arranged in the opposite direction, over their eyes, and they can have more than two. Married women wear headdresses with many streams of braided hair, colored and put in shape with otjize. Single men wear one plait backwards to their necks, while married men wear a turban of many otjize-soaked plaits.

Forty-eight percent of the 2-million inhabitants of Namibia speak the Oshiwambo language but English is the official language. Namibia was recently opened to tourists, giving rise to a proliferation of Himba photographs. So now you don't need to be a National Geographic journalist to bring home photos of African tribes. Their willingness to be photographed can open them up to Internet exploitation. With an appreciation for ethnic diversity and this geographical background, you may treasure the Himba Tribe Anatomy Pinterest board. Hopefully, you'll agree that the images provide a tasteful look at this interesting culture.

Look beyond the obfuscated breasts to marvel at their natural beauty. It's like traveling back in time. Imagine a life that lacks dependency electronic gadgets, expensive beauty regimens, grocery shopping, or gym memberships. It seems like it would be boring but photographers capture moments of dance and joy among their daily life of herding animals and raising families.

Bill Kray

Los Angeles, United States

Vegetarian health advocate, graphic designer, illustrator, programmer and prolific blog writer.

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