On a holiday to Namibia you’ll see a variety of exotic people that add to the character of the country. Namibian tourism is as much about its people as the landscapes and wildlife, and the Himba people are a fascinating tribe to get to know better.
You’ll find the OmuHimba in the northern regions when you’re travelling in Namibia. Both the men and women are famous for covering their faces and plaited hair with otjize paste which is a mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment.
They use the paste to protect themselves from the extremely hot and dry climate of the Kaokoland and it helps stop mosquitoes from biting them. Water is very scarce so the distinctive orange/blood red paste stays on for a long time. They also use wood ash to clean and shape their hair. Otjize is a status symbol of sorts and symbolises the earth’s rich tones and the blood of life.
The Himba are also known for their elaborate hairstyles and jewelry. This custom tells others of their age and social status. For example, a woman in her first year of marriage wears an ornate headpiece called the Erembe which is sculptured from sheepskin; with streams of braided hair, and coloured and shaped with otjize paste.
Single men wear one braided hair plait which sticks out from the back of their head. Married men wear a head-wrap with un-braided hair underneath. Widowed men remove their head-wrap and expose their un-braided hair.
Infants and young children have shaved heads or a single plait at the rear of their head. They only grow out their hair when they reach puberty. The Himba are a source of delight for Namibian tourists and make great photo opportunities, particularly the cute youngsters.
Himba men and women wear traditional clothing that suits the extremely hot temperatures of the region which is usually a simple wrap made of calfskins. The tradition is still strong today but you’ll see the younger lot wearing sandals or t-shirts as modern clothing creeps in.
This tribe are few in numbers (about 50 000 people) and are found predominantly in northern Namibia, close to the Angola border. They are semi-nomadic; surviving on grain crops and livestock farming. Sheep and goats are a food source and they gauge their wealth by the number of cattle they own. They are really the last “nomadic” people of Namibia, although their lifestyle of hunting and gathering has been seriously hindered by the modernisation of the country.
The Himba are polygamous and arranged marriages are still common practice. A young Himba girl could be married off to a man chosen by her father from as young as 13 years old. A Himba boy is considered a man as soon as he marries while Himba girls are only considered to be a woman when they’ve had their first child.
Read more: People of Namibia – the Owambo
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