Life Lessons From the African Tribe Himba

This summer I had the blessing to study abroad in the desert of Namibia. If you have never heard of this place and don't know where it is located, it is in Africa, above and to the left of South Africa.

Where is Namibia?Image from Wikipedia

For six weeks we camped in the wilderness surrounded by animals such as lions, elephants, and hippos while we studied desert ecology and conservation biology.

Needless to say, it was an amazing experience. I can safely say it changed my life in more ways than one. I learned a lot about myself, other people, the world, Africa, Namibian wildlife conservation, animals, camping…

Palm trees of Epupa FallsPhoto from Oren Rahat

But one of my greatest lessons came while sitting down and talking to (through a translator) the local tribe, the Himba of Kaokoland - Northwest Namibia.

The Himba, a tribe of nomadic pastoralists, which means sheep or cattle farmer, are descendants of Herero herders who fled from the north. Their beautiful women are noted for their intricate hairstyles, which is made from cheap plastic, and their traditional homemade jewelry.

Himba Lady making traditional soup from goat or milk fat and fortified corn flourPhoto from Oren Rahat

The women of the Himba never shower (how would they, when they live sometimes several days' walking distance from a river that contains deathly dangerous crocodiles), and in order to mask their body odor, they rub their bodies with red ochre found in the sand and fat from animals. They also take smoke baths in their little village huts, so they always smell like intense incense. I really like their scent.

The red ochre not only masks their body odor but also protects them from the sun and gives them an appearance of an attractive rich red color.

And so, the Himba taught me a very crucial lesson: Life is RIGHT NOW.

Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but RIGHT NOW. My academic project focused on asking the Himba existential questions, such as "What do you believe happens when we die?"

The answers of the Himba surprised me. I was expecting a mystical African spiritual answer. Instead, the Himba were honest, and said that its "game over", or that they either don't know what happens when we die or they don't really care to think about it, because it is "better to be alive than dead".

And it totally makes sense why they would answer this way. These human beings live in the NOW. They don't have technology, cell phones, calendars… We asked them how old they are, and some of them said "1000 years old" in complete sincerity! They truly have no idea. No birth certificates, no idea what "America" means, no understanding why someone wouldn't eat meat…

The Himba taught me that life is lived RIGHT NOW, in the present moment. And for the Himba, it is rather easy to live right now. They have to, they have no choice. They know that in order to live tomorrow, you must eat today. And very often, they don't know what they will eat today.

Its difficult for us Westerners to comprehend the world of a Himba, and I think most of us prefer the world we live in, where food is abundant, a shelter is stable, and opportunities are everywhere.

But in terms of happiness, the Himba seem more content with life. Perhaps it is because their minds have yet to be corrupted by our modern world, perhaps it is because mortality is more salient to them, and perhaps it is because they live a life more real than we do.

After six weeks, the trip ended. I wish it could have gone on for longer. My greatest takeaways from the charming Himba? Life is precious. Life is to be LIVED. And CELEBRATED. And the only thing we have is RIGHT NOW. So go on, stop reading this (as much as I appreciate that you did read this), and LIVE YOUR LIFE!

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