FROM THE | THE HIMBA |
This story contains nudity. The images in this story are of traditionally dressed Himba. Do not proceed if you will be offended.
They say a picture says a thousand words. These images can talk. The eyes, hair, wrinkles and bodies tell of a harsh life lived off the land. These women, children and men live in a constant drought, the daily temperatures are extreme yet they find the time to beautify themselves. They are the Himba and they are in my opinion the most beautiful tribe in Africa.
FROM THE DARKNESS
8 years ago I ventured into Epupa, Namibia, in hope of spending some time with the beautiful Himba. I never knew I would uncover some new friends. I never knew I would develop a relationship like I have now. I never knew I would get to know these people better than I know my own extended family. These are the people who make up my Himba family.
Was Tjanongombe's wife. It was neither their first marriage but they were in love. They both decided they would set up a new village and soon the village grew. It was her that first greeted my partner and I into their village. She had heard of our poor experiences elsewhere and decided she would change my view on the Himba. I had visited a separate village and found it to touristy. It was a show and not what I wanted. Due to some strange and unbelievable circumstances that are too twisted to divulge here, I was welcomed into the village. My partner and I were invited to stay the night and from here lets just say the rest is history. Each year my partner and I return to Otjimazeva where Hykondombu is always the first to greet us with a warm smile. She immediately takes control and insists my partner must sleep in her hut and have pride of place on the hide right next to her. Hykondombu never had children with Tjanongombe, she already had 6 of her own and did not want any more. She loved her children but found it was better to nurture Tjanongombes other children, at leat she can return to her hut when it all becomes too much. She is now the wise old grandmother. Her days are spent looking after the many village children. When she has had enough she stumbles to her feet and retreats to her hut.
Is the woman I spend most of my time with. She is open and caring. She was also one of the first Himba to open up to my partner and I. Her name means heavy child and her stare feels just as heavy. After spending years around her fire I have found she has a heart of gold and acts as a guardian of the family. She is always at the front of all of the villages discussions and is usually the one who looks out for the other villagers when they are absent or away. The Himba travel a lot so it is only a respected and trustworthy person who can take charge and have the respect of the village as a whole Her husband left her for another woman but she doesn't let that bother her, she didn't like him anyway. She has the support of her 6 children and the village around her. There was no use for him anyway as she jokes. 6 children was surely enough!
If there was a joker in the lot it would be Twakara. Her broad white smile lights up in the darkest of nights and is always accompanied by her laughter. Twakara is Umuna's first wife and he is hugely possessive of her. Umuna being Tjanongombes first son from his third marriage now runs the village. Being the boss means it is good Himba etiquette to offer passing travellers the comforts of his wife for the night. This is tradition of course but Umuna loves Twakara too much for that. Their marriage was not arranged as most first marriages are. Umuna had met her when he was traveling in Angola. He knew the family well and liked what he saw, so it was not long until Twakara followed him over the border. Her name means nobody gives you anything and you remain the same. She came happily from Angola and she now lives happily in Namibia. She came with nothing apart from love and still that remains the same. It's now a few years on and 5 children later and she is still the outgoing girl that Umuna met all those years before. Anytime she can she will run off to her hut to grab her traditional wedding veil, throw it on her head and insist a picture must be taken. She loves a dress up and to show that she is still happily married to Umuna.
Scared me. She has a presence about herself. The way she moves, the way she talks and the way she orders the other villagers about. After scraping back the layers she means no harm, it is just her way. Initially I steered clear of her, like I said, she scared me but there was no way of ever missing her. The boys raised bed is right outside her hut and that is where I slept. One morning I awoke to her calling me. She was warm around her fire inside her hut and wanted me to join her. As I ducked down through the door she started her interrogations as to why I never spent time with her. I felt like I was back in school getting in trouble once more. As she spoke I realised a sleeping form by her side. As she carried on he woke and up popped Tjanongombe. He welcomed me and laughed as he saw I was looking worried. He interjected and said Tjivio was now his favourite wife. She was bossy but caring and always looked after his needs when his other wives were too worried with the villagers children. This broke the ice and from then on I have had a lot of time for Tjivio. She is abrupt and demanding but for all the right reasons. Sometimes she maybe blasting someone in the village about something that clears the village of residents but then she will turn to me, put her finger between her teeth and laugh. Tjivio means teeth and it's our little joke that tells me everything is all right.
Likes to keep to herself. Her hut is up the back of the village next to Tjimewemo's hut. These two women spend a lot of time together but unlike Tjimewemo Siopi prefers not to socialise as much as the others. Her name means little one and she is very small in stature but her heart is far from that. Each morning Siopi is the first one to have her cooking fire started. A kettle is boiling away and the morning tea is being shared around the village. Her fire is also the first started in the evenings too. Her children are all grown up and going to school now. Her husband chooses not to spend any time with her so she is usually alone of an evening. This suits her fine though as she always has a pot boiling away. She cooks the nights Maize meal and always ensures she has more than enough left over. With this excess food she makes her way around the village to share this with the wives that have been too busy with their children's needs rather than their own. The wives are always happy with the effort and spend the rest of the night with Siopi at their fire.
If there is chatter, if there is laughter there is Kawepewa. From the moment she was bought to the holy fire as a baby she was known as the happy one. As the villagers sat around and discussed what she should be called there was only one name for her, Kawepewa. The happy one. From the depths of her hut she can be heard talking in the pre dawn light. Her laughter carries on the cool winter air as she greets each villager from her huts confines. As the day warms up she carries on chattering and laughing at anything and everything, she never has a dull moment. For all of her happiness she does have a stern side but this is only shown to her lazy children. Her children are kept on a short string and God forbid they step out of line as her bark does have a bite! Once the child is back on track so is her laughing and carrying on like nothing has been out of place at all.
If you saw A photo of Tjatungwa when I first met her you would not recognise her at all. Over the past 8 years I have seen her grow from a shy young girl into the caring mother she is today. She had always been a caring person, she was never far from Hyakondombu's side and always played the part of a caring nanny with her grandmother. The two were inseparable and still remain that way today. Tjatungwa now has her first baby and he is the splitting image of her, a large round forehead and deep brown eyes. She continues to care for the other village children but that care is no where near as close as the love and affection she has for her own little bub. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for her as she plans to have many more children and I look forward to seeing the next chapter soon.
Is another one I have slowly watched grow. She was a cheeky young girl, one who was always hanging around wanting to be photographed. Her natural smile and curious head tilts never needed any instruction, it was if she was a born model. The only thing more she loved than being in front of the camera was the village goats. It has always been her duty to look after the goats. Each morning before the sun had risen you could find her dressed in a tattered and torn oversized shirt. She would be peering out from behind her single forward facing hair braid and she would be tending to the goats. One by one she would reach into the small pen to retrieve a young kid. Gently she would take it in her arms and share her body warmth with it while she searched for its mother. The mother would answer the kids bleats and the two would be reunited before offering its teat to pass on the morning meal. She would distribute each goat until all were fed and well before once again placing each goat back into the pen. These goats were still too young and fragile to be allowed to roam the countryside for the day with their parents. If a goat still looked cold or sad Kawnedape would wrap the goat in her arms and cherish it like it was her own, needless to say there were always amazing photo opportunities in store. Kawnedape has grown now. She no longer bares the hair of a youngster. She has given away her goat minding duties and is waiting to be married. Times are changing for her and soon she will be classed as a woman. I still see that smile and the cheeky look in her eye as she acknowledges me and I know she will soon make a great mother.
Led me to the village. She was betrothed to my guide and he was proud as punch to show of his future wife. She was two and he was 16. The marriage would not take place until she was 16 but already these two had a bond. The marriage was arranged through their fathers and it seemed that these two would be happy together. Every time we visited the village my guide would take special care to go and see his little bride. For me it was a strange experience but for them this is their culture. My guide would ensure Mukabena did not need a thing and if she or her parents did he would look after her. This is the oldest image in this collection and was taken about two years after I first met her. Mukabena has grown into an inquisitive girl and has taken over Kawnedape's duties. The two although not sisters show the same traits. Unfortunately due to circumstances the wedding is no longer on the cards but each and every time my guide visits the village he will take the time to see if Mukabena is alright and he still ensures she is not needed in a thing.
There is rarely any emotion with Nduku, what you see here is what you get. She is quiet and attentive to her duties and she always ensures she is not far from Hyakondombu's side. Each morning she will unravel herself from the girls bed of blankets and ensure Hyakondombu has enough wood to keep her huts internal fire going. If wood is needed she will trot off and only return when her arms are full. Hyakondombu has spent a lot of time with Nduku and ensures she is always at hand as she acts as the old ladies hands. Her age and body limits her movement so Nduku is always there to help and this never comes across as a chore for the young girl who is always happy to help.
I do not know Mubeki at all. She was visiting the village one day with her mother. Her mother was the first wife of Chief Tjicoco and she herself is a cheeky woman, this trait seems to have rubbed off on Mubeki. Between each shoot Mubeki would run infront of my set up and pose for the camera whilst looking up at the light. How could I not take an image! When I showed her mother this shot she laughed and ran in front of the screen mimicking her daughters antics, it's a pity my camera was outside hanging in a tree.
Tracking down a Himba man for a photo like this is easier said and done. The men all stand around and watch the show unfolding before them but when asked if they want to step forward they all usually disappear. That is what Wakama wanted to do but for him it was a double edged sword. He had been enjoying the show with the other men and had hesitated at the offer to jump in front of the camera. If he had his time again he would have waited a while before asking me for a lift. Everything for the Himba is a give and take scenario and he had approached me about 10 minutes before this shot was taken for a lift back into town. His mother stood by me and as I agreed to give him a ride his mother stepped forward and volunteered him for the shoot. Had he waited a few minutes longer I would have had the screen and lights all packed away and he would have been spared the blushes. After all, as soon as these shots were taken the screen and lights were down and packed in the back of my 4x4. That is along with all of the other Himba men who had the sense to keep their mouths shut until I was done!
Unfortunately time has come and gone and Tjanongombe is no longer with us. To the Himba you do not dig up solitary stories of those who are still not on the earth, as their spirits still live on in the Himbas holy fire. If you want to know about a specific story that was not experienced first hand you will hear it directly from that persons spirit. Images of the passed are not to be shown in the village but these images have been given the endorsement of the family for me to share. I had spent many nights sitting around his fire being treated to feasts of fresh goat and I have shared some great times and a few sad times so I am grateful I can still share these images with you. Each time I enter the village on my yearly return, Umuna approaches the holy fire and let's his father know I have returned. A short conversation takes place before I am welcomed again with open arms. I look forward to my return in 2016.
If you would like to meet and photograph the Himba with me in May 2016 please read on.
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