Today visit the Himba people who inhabit Namibia’s remote north western Kunene Region. The Himba are Semi-nomadic pastoralists and trek from one watering area to another. They speak OtjiHimba (a Herero language dialect), which belongs to the language family of the Bantu. The women are known for their beauty and the dramatic colour of their skin which is created by rubbing their bodies with red ochre and fat to protect them from the harsh desert climate. The red ochre cream is made by pounding the ochre stone (Hematite) into small pieces. Thereafter the fragments are mixed with butter, slightly heated by means of smoke and applied on the skin.

Photo: Flickr/ jan_eye

The OvaHimba (plural) have an estimated population of about 50,000 people. .Believed to be part of the OvaHimba are the Ovatwa, who are are hunters and gatherers. Translated from the Otjiherero language, the word Himba means beggar.  At the end of the 19th century Namibia was plagued by bovine epidemic, the tribe moved south and began to explore regions in in which they could survive in. Still, some members decided to stay and rather struggle for survival in familiar territories.

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The split between the two tribes became a reality and the Himba identity came into being. After the division, many of those that remained roamed the vast Kaokoland in search of cattle and crops asking fellow or other tribe members for help, hence the meaning beggar.

Three women from the Himba tribe, Photo Flickr/ Mike Seamons

The women place a Himba crown: the Erembe at the top of their heads. It can be made from cow or goat leather and is placed on the head when a girl reaches puberty. The red ochre, however, is applied when the girls are old enough to look after themselves hygienically. Only women apply the red ochre. One of the most remarkable Himba traits is that the women are not allowed to use water for washing. They take a daily smoke bath in to maintain personal hygiene by putting some smouldering charcoal into a little bowl of herbs (mostly leaves and little branches of Commiphora trees) and wait for the smoke to ascend. After this they bow over the smoking bowl and due to the heat they will start perspiring.

Himba crown, Photo: Flickr/ paolafrog

Hairstyle and jewelry play a major role among the OvaHimba, it indicates age and social status within their community.An infant or child will generally have their head kept shaved of hair or a small crop of hair on their head crown. Later this this is sculptured to one braided hair plait extended to the rear of the head for boys while young girls have two braided hair plaits extended forward towards the face, parallel to their eyes.

The OvaHimba eat porridge. At sunrise and sunset they heat water, wait until it boils, and put some flour in it. Sometimes they add some oil and food is served. The flour is mostly from maize can be substituted with mahangu (pearl millet) which is a very popular crop in. On occasions, such as weddings, the Himba eat meat. The people are polygamous, with the average Himba man being husband to two wives at the same time. They practice early arranged marriages which are illegal in Namibia, the partners are chosen by the girls’ fathers.

The OvaHimba are a monotheistic people who worship the God, Mukuru, and their clan’s ancestors). Mukuru 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.