The Himba people are an ancient tribe, living in the north-west region of Namibia. The north-west is a remote corner of the country that few tourists visit, leaving it relatively unexplored and perfect for the adventurous traveller. However, this remoteness and the large distances involved make it quite tricky to get to.
The Himba are a semi-nomadic, pastoralist people and speak OtjiHimba, a variety of Herero, which belongs to the Bantu family within Niger–Congo. The OvaHimba are predominantly livestock farmers who breed fat-tailed sheep and goats, but count their wealth in the number of their cattle. They also grow and farm rain-fed crops such as maize and millet.
Daily Life of the Himba People
Women and girls tend to perform more labor-intensive work than men and boys do, such as carrying water to the village, earthen plastering the mopane wood homes with a traditional mixture of red clay soil and cow manure binding agent, collecting firewood, attending to the calabash vines used for producing and ensuring a secure supply of soured milk, cooking and serving meals, as well as artisans making handicrafts, clothing and jewelry.
The responsibility for milking the cows and goats also lies with the women and girls. Women and girls take care of the children, and one woman or girl will take care of another woman’s children. The men’s main tasks are tending to the livestock farming, herding where the men will often be away from the family home for extended periods, animal slaughtering, construction, and holding council with village tribal chiefs.
Customary Practices of the Himba People
The Himba are polygamous, with the average Himba man being husband to two wives at the same time. They also practice early arranged marriages. Young Himba girls are married to male partners chosen by their fathers. This happens from the onset of puberty, which may mean that girls aged 10 or below are married off.
This practice is illegal in Namibia, and even some OvaHimba contest it, but it is nevertheless widespread. Among the Himba people, it is customary as a rite of passage to circumcise boys before puberty. Upon marriage, a Himba boy is considered a man, unlike a Himba girl who is not considered a fully-fledged woman until she bears a child.
Marriage among the Himba involves transactions of cattle, which are the source of their economy. Bridewealth is involved in these transactions; this can be negotiable between the groom’s family and the bride’s father, depending on the relative poverty of the families involved. In order for the bride’s family to accept the bridewealth, the cattle must appear of high quality. It is standard practice to offer an ox, but more cattle will be offered if the groom’s father is wealthy and is capable of offering more.
The OvaHimba are a monotheistic people who worship the god Mukuru, as well as their clan’s ancestors (ancestor reverence). Mukuru only blesses, while the ancestors can bless and curse. Each family has its own sacred ancestral fire, which is kept by the fire-keeper. The fire-keeper approaches the sacred ancestral fire every seven to eight days in order to communicate with Mukuru and the ancestors on behalf of his family. Often, because Mukuru is busy in a distant realm, the ancestors act as Mukuru’s representatives.
The Himba traditionally believe in omiti, which some translate to mean witchcraft but which others call “black magic” or “bad medicine”. Some OvaHimba believe that death is caused by omiti, or rather, by someone using omiti for malicious purposes. Additionally, some believe that evil people who use omiti have the power to place bad thoughts into another’s mind or cause extraordinary events to happen (such as when a common illness becomes life-threatening). But users of omiti do not always attack their victim directly; sometimes they target a relative or loved one. Some OvaHimba will consult a traditional African diviner-healer to reveal the reason behind an extraordinary event, or the source of the omiti.
Where To find The Himba People
The Himba inhabit the Kunene Region (also known as Kaokoland) in the north-west of Namibia – a region that has a population density of only one person to every two square kilometers!
Namibia’s northwestern region extends from the Kunene River on the Angola border down to the Ugab River, the southern border of the Skeleton Coast Park. The park is a massive wilderness reserve known for its untouched and diverse landscape, much of which is inaccessible, saved for fly-in safaris. Damaraland and Kaokoveld demand a certain level of respect. Occupying a huge, harsh stretch of landscape to the northwest of the country, even the people and wildlife have adapted accordingly.
Other attractions in this region include the desert-adapted elephants of Kaokoland, Epupa Falls, the rock engravings of Twyfelfontein, the Petrified Forest, Brandberg (Burnt Mountain) and much more.
The entire region is vastly scenic, a huge, untamed, ruggedly beautiful country that offers a more adventurous challenge.
How to get there
The most cost-effective way to visit the Himba is to do a self-drive trip to Kaokoland – you could include the Epupa and Ruacana Falls on the Kunene River, and stay well clear of the main tourist routes. Although, you will need to be prepared to do a lot of driving!
The other option is to take a chartered flight up north from Swakopmund – a scenic and very beautiful flight. These fly-In safaris are an option for travellers with a flexible budget and limited time in Namibia. Small private charter flights can be arranged to all points within the country, including many of the smaller lodges and guest farms.
The companies below offer personalised fly-in safaris. Click on the links to visit their website and find out more about their trips to the Himba:
- Skeleton Coast Fly-In Safaris
- Wings Over Africa
- Desert Air
- Wilderness Air
- African Profile Safaris
- Scenic Air
For more information on getting to and around Namibia, read here
Source Credit: Wikipedia