“Ask her what her favorite thing to do is,” I said. Jaco asked, and
the little fifteen year-old Himba replied that it was cooking. She
looked so precious, healthy, happy, but then also so alien to me. She
was naked from the waist up, except for a few strings of beads and a
thick collar on her neck indicating she was still unwed. At 16 she
would already be too old for marriage, so her betrothed was already
chosen for her. This arranged marriage would in no way conflict with
the relationship she already has with another man. He is her partner
and the one who assists her in her three-hour morning ritual, during
which she bathes in smoke and exchanges full body massage while
applying the red paint Himbas are so famous for.

I fought the urge to touch her. She was like an intricate red clay
doll with soft curves that were as if molded to perfection. Smeared
head to toe with gee mixed with ochre-based paint, harvested by
post-menopausal tribal women on a long pilgrimage to Angola. Her long
dreadlocks were each tightly bound with the same substance, and
included hair from other women of the tribe, as well as animal hair. I
didn’t notice at first, but her bottom front teeth had been knocked
out for “beauty, fashion, tradition, and better pronunciation of the
language”. Above her bare feet her ankles were enclosed in thick bands
made of strung beads – the ankles in the Himba culture are believed to
be the most private and intimate part of the body, and are not to be
seen by anyone, not even a sexual or spiritual partner.

Location: North-West Namibia