Himba

A basic overview of Himba tribes.

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Epupa Falls located in the Kunene Region is home to the native tribe, Himba. The first settlements of Himbas have been traced back to the 16th century when they first crossed over the Angolan border and separated from the Herero Tribe. A severe drought threatened their livestock, so a large group decided to start fresh in the Kunene Region of Namibia. In the language Otjiherero, the word “Himba” means beggar. When the tribe separated from the other, they were cattle-less and had to beg for livestock for their mere existence.  The Himbas have stayed true to their beliefs, and this is was amazed me when I had the opportunity to visit a village.

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Epupa Falls, a five-minute walk from our lodge.

Arrival 

It was January 17th/2017 when I visited the Himba Village. It was 10km from the lodge where we stayed. Before entering the village, we had to go to a local “store” to buy 300ZAR worth of groceries. This is to give to the Chief to allow us to enter His village and take pictures. Most Himba’s do not speak English but speak their native language Otjihimba; a variety of Herero. Because of the language barrier, we had to bring a guide from our lodge which is of the Herero descent, so his mother tongue is similar to the tongue of the Himba’s.

Upon arrival at the village, our guide informed us of a couple of words to remember when greeting the tribe. Moro”- Hello and “Oweba”- Thank you.  We parked 100m from the entrance of the small village and carried our bags to the Chief. We greeted the Chief, and our guide asked the Chief if we could enter the village and take photographs of his people. He looked at us then pointed to our bags. We graciously passed the bags to him with a smile while he looked through making sure we got their everyday essentials. The Chief approved everything and granted our entry.

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The Chief (left) sharpening a blade and his wife (right) sitting with a child.

 

Village Layout

The layout of the village is fundamental. All the buildings are an equal distance from the middle. Each village has an “Okoruwo.” This is a holy fire that is always burning. The burning fire represents ancestors, it is situated between the entrance of the kraal (home for livestock) and the west-facing door to the chief’s house.  In the middle is where they perform their religious sacrifices and/or ceremonies at the ancestral fire. Only people in the village can walk between the Okoruwo and the Chief’s house. Tourists have to either walk behind the Chief’s home or around the holy fire. Directly south of the Chief’s house on the other side of the sacred area is the Chiefs second wife’s house. The first wife stays with the Chief. The surrounding buildings are home to other members of the tribes and the children of the Chief. This particular village had 15-20 people.

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The religious area where sacrifices and ceremonies are performed.

 

Beliefs

I briefly mentioned in the intro that the Himbas have stayed true to their beliefs. This is what I found very interesting and entirely out of the westernized world.

  • Married women are not allowed to use a pillow. I must add that their definition of a pillow is a flat rock with thin padding over the top.
  • Once a girl is born the next man in line for marriage can choose her to be his wife. When the girl reaches women-hood and gets her first period, a marriage ceremony is held.
  • When a woman is on her period, she is not allowed to sleep in her “house.”
  • Himba women are always topless.
  • Both boys and girls are circumcised before reaching puberty. Boys need to stay silent, and girls are encouraged to scream.
  • Women are not allowed to bathe with water.
  • Children are generally in charge of livestock.
  • When married women leave their home village and join the village of their husband
  • Men are polygamous.
  • Himbas worship their God, Mukuru.
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Himba women posing for a picture. She asked to see it and gave me a huge smile and nodded her head. I think she loved it! She also appears to be married because of her head-piece.

Appearance

Himba women have minimal clothing. The hot desert sun is a threat to their skin. For them to protect themselves, they make a paste out of animal fat and ground red ochre, scented with dried plants. This paste is used to cover their hair, skin and jewellery. The colour of this paste is believed to be beautiful. It has a symbolic meaning as it represents the red colour of the earth and blood.

Hair also plays an essential part in the appearance of Himba people. As toddlers Himbas have shaved heads. Before reaching puberty Himba girls have only two hair braids, and the boys have one braid backwards from the crown. Once puberty has been reached women can add more braids to their hair and men will then have two braids backwards from the crown of the head. Once married the women add a sheep or goat skin headpiece. This headpiece changes after they have been married for over a year or have given birth to a child. Once married men bundle their hair into a head wrap that is only removed for funerals.

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Female (left) appears to not have reached puberty yet. Female (right) seems to have reached puberty and is married.
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In the centre is a young female who has reached puberty. The other four children are boys.

Hygiene is much different from what westernized countries are used to. Women are not allowed to bathe with water so to replace that they burn aromatic herbs and resins to create a perfume to clean themselves.

Clothing and jewellery are made out of the skin of animals, usually goats or sheep, metals and shells. The soles of footwear are made out of old car tires. Jewellery on the ankles can represent how many children a woman has. It is also there to protect them from snake bites while walking barefoot in the barren land.

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A Mother making a traditional necklace for her son.
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Inside the Chief’s house. Traditional wedding attire (right). The smoking tool used for bathing (left).
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Village kitchen
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Westernized clothing used in place of animals hides.

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Houses are typically made out of mud and cow dung. The homes maintain a cold environment during the day and sustain heat throughout the night.

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