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Introducing the Himba Tribe
The Himba are a tribe of nomadic pastoralists who inhabit the Kunene region of Namibia. There are approximately 10,000 Himba people living in the northern part of Namibia and despite their turbulent history, they have managed to retain most of their ethnic individuality and culture. The tribe are cattle and goat farmers, and families live together in a circular homestead surrounding their livestock enclosure and okoruwo (ancestral fire), the two most important parts of their ancestor worship.
The Himba are descendants of Herero herders who were impoverished by Nama cattle raiders in the mid-1800s and forced into hunter-gathering. At this time, many Himba fled to Angola where around 3,000 still reside today. Post World War I, their leader Vita led them to Kaokoland (now Kunene) to resettle as semi-nomadic pastoralists, and by the 1970s they were the richest pastoralists in Africa. This fortune didn’t last long as drought and war in the 1980s decimated their herds once more. The Himba’s resilience, however, led them to triumph again in the 1990s when they regained control of the land and experienced resurgence. Nowadays, many Himba live on nature conservancies that give them control of wildlife and tourism on their lands. There are many tours available, where you can meet the Himba people and see how they live.
One of the most interesting rituals of the Himba tribe is that of the ancestral fire, the ‘okoruwo’. It is believed to provide contact between the living and the dead, which is necessary for harmonious living and keeping the ancestors happy. The fire is kept alive until the death of the headman, at which point his hut and the fire are destroyed. The headman’s family then dance in mourning throughout the night, and after his burial, a fresh mopane tree is lit from the embers of the old fire.
Clothing, hairstyles and jewellery
Traditionally, Himba men and women wear very little clothing. However they take great pride in their appearance and are renowned for their beauty. Himba women cover their bodies twice daily in ‘otjize’, a mixture of butterfat and ochre, which is thought to act as a protectant from the sun as well as giving them the rich red glow they are famous for. The tribe is also recognised for their ornate jewellery made of copper, shells and pearls, as well as intricate hairstyles. Different hairstyles amongst men and women symbolise different stages in their life; for example single men wear one plait down their back, whilst married men wear a turban of multiple otjize-soaked plaits.
One of the best properties for experiencing the unique Himba culture is at Serra Cafema Camp in the far north of Namibia.
Call one of our Namibia specialists now on 020 3141 2810 to include this in your trip to Namibia.