The Himba, Etiquette & Taking Pics

In the past, rural Himba people were willing models for photography. These days, however, you are likely to encounter traditionally dressed Himba people who will wave you down and ask for tips in exchange for having their photograph taken. Naturally, whether you accept is up to you, but bear in mind that encouraging this trade works to draw people away from their traditional lifestyle, and propels them towards a cash economy that undermines long-standing values and community cooperation.

It’s recommended that instead you trade basic commodities for photographs. In times of plenty, Himba grow maize to supplement their largely meat- and milk-based diet, though rain is highly unpredictable in Namibia. Pap (corn meal) is a very desirable gift for the Himba, as is rice, bread, potatoes and other starches. Try to resist giving sugar, soft drinks and other sweets, as the majority of Himba may never meet a dentist in their lifetime.

If you would like to have free rein with the camera, visiting a traditional village – if done in the proper fashion – can yield some truly amazing shots. Needless to say, a guide who speaks both English and the Himba language is essential to the experience. You can either join an organised tour through your accommodation, or stop by the Kaoko Information Centre in Opuwo.

Before arriving in the village, please do spend some time shopping for gifts – entering a village with food items will garner a warm welcome from the villagers, who will subsequently be more willing to tolerate photography. At the end of your time in the village, buying small bracelets and trinkets directly from the artisan is also a greatly appreciated gesture.