Already a bit uncomfortable, I finally resolved to do something when I watched our guide touch the head and hair of a Himba woman without permission. He had Himba ancestry, he spoke the language, and he knew the people in the village. But the interaction had an unappealing power dynamic that was surely as obvious to the Himba woman as it was to me, in spite of our cultural differences.
The Himba of northern Namibia count among the region’s last people to live a traditional lifestyle. They still herd cows on the fringes of the desert, living with apparent contentment in what looks to most people like inhospitable wasteland.
When available, visits to Himba villages are popular excursions, in large part due to how different Himba attire is from Western clothing. People cover their bodies with otjize, a paste of red ocher, butterfat and fragrant omuzumba resin. It acts as a sunscreen and insect repellent, and the women often cover their braids with it, forming dramatic reddish-brown hairstyles.