In Southern Africa, there is a tribe called Himba that is known for its red women. For many years, the Himba tribe has drawn many foreigners, specifically photographers, to Namibia's northwest. With the publication of amazing photographs, the Himba tribe became known around the world for their red skin, dreadlocked hair, and unique lifestyle. In this blog post, we get to know the red women of the Himba tribe.
Who Are The Himba?
The first settlements of the Himba people can be traced back to the early 16th century. This happened when people crossed the Angolan border and chose the Kunene region as their new homeland. Known to live in the remote, barren Kunene region in Namibia, the Himba tribe are the indigenous people of the country. The semi-nomadic tribe has base homesteads where they grow their crops and feed their livestock. But depending on rainfall, the Himba tribe move to wherever they have access to water. Today the tribe has a population of about 50,000 people who live in Namibia and Angola.
The Himba Tribe's Hardships
The Himba tribe's history came with many struggles, including severe droughts, Namibia's war of independence, and a civil war with Angola. Between 1904 and 1908, the German Empire colonist government attempted to kill all Himba people as they did with the Herero people and the Nama people in the Herero and Namaqua Genocide. In the 1980s, the Himba tribe's way of life was put under immense strain. This was because of the weather in the region they lived in, as well as political conflicts. A drought killed 90% of their livestock, forcing many of the members of the tribe to give up their herds. They then became refugees in the town of Opuwo, lived in slums, and depended on international humanitarian aid.
Meet The Red Women
Despite all their hardships, today, the Himba tribe is known for its beautiful red women. But these women aren't born with red skin and hair; instead, they apply a paste to their skin called otjize. Otjize is made of butter, fat and red ochre, and is sometimes scented with aromatic resin. Every morning, the Himba women apply otjize to their skin and hair, which gives them a distinctive red coloring.
There are many theories about why otjize is applied to the skin and hair of the Himba women. Some say it is to protect it from the harsh Namibian sun, used insect repellent, and used for hygienic purposes due to water scarcity in the barren Kunene region. It is also said that it is good for the skin because as otjize starts flaking off, it removes dirt and dead skin. All these theories may be true and could have been the origin of the paste. But according to the Himba people, otjize is nothing more than traditional make-up. Applying otjize is only done by the women in the Himba tribe and is therefore seen as a way to make themselves more beautiful.