An indigenous people in Northern Namibia, the Himba have kept their ancestral roots and culture. Just like the Maasai [Kenya], Pygmies (Congo), they proudly keep to their traditional ways in lifestyle and behavior, proud of their heritage. The Himba are Bantus, speak OtjiHimba and are partial nomads and pastoralists. The government of Namibia has taken the initiative to preserve the culture of the Himba and survival of their culture, as a national heritage to Namibia.
The Himba are pastrolists with the men mostly per-occupied with herding the cattle and livestock (mostly goats and sheep). Livestock is considered as source of wealth, hence a lot of input is used to ensure growth of one’s herd. Men are per-occupied with seeking pasture for their herd, and may be away from home for days or even weeks. Other than cattle herding, men busy themselves with masculine tasks such as building houses, slaughtering animals during festivals and holding meetings with the tribe heads. The women busy themselves with domestic chores, from fetching water, cooking , beautifying the homes, milking and taking care of the children.
The OvaHimba grow millet and maize during the rainy season, being partial farmers and pastoralists. They mostly take flour porridge or from mahangu flour (from the millet) as a daily mail in the morning and evening, and meat once in a while during special occasions. Milk and eggs supplement their core daily meals.
Culture and traditions
The OvaHimba live in seclusion and have managed to preserve their culture from foreign influence. Their homesteads are in rural, remote village setting. The tribes that make the OvaHimba are made up of clans which are bilateral. The eldest take up the role of heads of the clans, and represent the clans during crucial tribe meetings. The families are polygamous, with men allowed to marry more than one wife, depending on their ability to provide for them and dowry to pay for their dowry. According to custom, arranged marriages are done on women when they reach of age, and a suitable suitor is identified. Boys become men upon circumcision, which is considered a rite of passage.
They are the main reason we all noticed the Himba tribe at first. They are so beautiful and stand out in the distinctive braids and reddish skin. They use otjize (a paste made from butter and red ochre) which they apply all over their bodies and hair. The red paste, at time scented with aromatic resin is preferred to bathing by the women. A tradition passed down, the women usually apply the otjize on their skins every morning. Rather than bathe with water (which is scarce), the Himba women take smoke baths daily. Using a small bowl that has burning charcoal with smoking herbs, they bow near the smouldering charocoal and rising smoke or even cover themselves wholly in a blanket. The heat and the smoke cause their skins to perspire and hence cleanse themselves. Tedious but with practice…
The paste cleanse their skins over long periods of time, considering they live in areas prone to long droughts. It also protects the skin from the harsh sun and bites by mosquitoes. A highly desirable beauty product, the otjize, when mixed with aromatic resin and the omuzumba shrub gives the women’s skin and hair a distinctive soft, reddish-orange colour, hence ideal among the OvaHimba. Beauty is important to them, and women particularly do their best to look good. They put on jewelley and usually adorn long, beautifully weaved and shaped hairstyles that enhances their beauty. Married women put on the Erembe, a stylish head dress made from sheep skin.
The ever lit holy fire
The OvaHimba believe in one god, called Mukuru. The ‘Okuruwo’ is a sacred fire that is kept alight everyday, a symbol of connection with the OvaHimba’s ancestors. The Himba believe that the fire represents their ancestors who are connection with Mukuru, their god. The chief, whose house entrance face the fire (the other face away) is considered as the representative of the people to the spirits. As such, the ground between his house and the ever lit fire is considered sacred. All the houses have their own sacred fire, for prayers to Mukuru and the ancestors by the family fire-keeper. Interestingly, they believe in witchcraft (omiti), and blame it for death, wicked thoughts and unfortunate things in someone’s life. As such, they consult traditional diviners for healing or intervention.