The Himba People of Namibia

One of our missions at Expedition Subsahara is to learn and teach others about the many vibrant, beautiful people that make up the fabric of the African continent. Today, we travel to southwest Africa to the Kunene region of northern Namibia, where about 50,000 indigenous people make up the Himba (source). 

Considered the last semi-nomadic people of Namibia, the Himba have kept many of their traditional practices while adopting modern influences (source).

Living in small villages, the Himba people are mostly livestock farmers breeding sheep, goats, and cattle, but also farm crops such as millet and maize. For the Himba people, their livestock serves as their main source for meat and milk. Traditionally, women carry water to the village and collect firewood, as well as plaster their homes while men farm, herd and slaughter livestock. Some hold council with the village chiefs and do construction work (source).  

Himba people are animists who believe everything has a spirit or soul. Their supreme being is called Mukuru. The Himba communicate with Mukuru through the holy fire, which smolders in every village. A holy line is drawn from the chief’s hut past the fire and to the entrance of a cattle enclosure (source). 

The Himba are among a few clans in Africa that have a bilateral descent, which helps them survive in a harsh environment. “Under bilateral descent, every tribe member belongs to two clans: one through the father (a patriclan, called oruzo) and another through the mother (a matriclan, called eanda). Himba clans are led by the eldest male in the clan. Sons live with their father's clan, and when daughters marry, they go to live with the clan of their husband. However, inheritance of wealth does not follow the patriclan but is determined by the matriclan, that is, a son does not inherit his father's cattle but his maternal uncle's instead,” the Atlas of Humanity states.

Women take smoke baths for hygiene, which consists of putting smoldering charcoal in a bowl of herbs and hovering over the smoke.

Himba clothing is a traditional, skirt-like attire made from sheep or calfskin. Some wear sandals. Himba women are well-known for covering their skin with otjize paste, a mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment that also cleanses the skin and protects it from the heat and insect bites. The paste, which creates a reddish tint, symbolizes the “Earth's rich red color and blood, the essence of life (source).” 

Like many Africans, the people of Namibia have suffered greatly at the hands of European troops. From 1904-1908, tens of thousands of Africans were killed by German soldiers in what is now Namibia for resisting land grabs (more about the genocide). Today, the Himba have a mix of traditional and modern influences, with many choosing to leave their ancestral homes for a faster pace (source).

May they thrive! 

Photo by Matador Network