The Himba Tribe of Namibia

The Himba Tribe of Namibia

Himba pastoralists live in the Kaokoland, an extensive territory in northwest Namibia bordering Angola in the north along Cunene river. The Atlantic Ocean and the Skeleton coast form its Western boundary. The Himba are related to the Herero people. Approximately 10,000 Himba live in Kaokoland and 3,000 others live in Angola.

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Some Himba, locally referred to as “Hererotracht”, were evangelized by German missionaries in the 18th century and began to wear Victorian-style clothes. The rest live the traditional tribal way of life.

The Himba live in small villages that usually accommodate one large family. Enclosures for the cattle (“krall”) are situated in the center of camp, encircled by huts. A fence made of Mopane wood, a strong and very durable material, surrounds the village.

Each Himba village has a “Okoruwo”, a holy fire kept constantly burning that represents the ancestors.  It is located between the entrance of the krall and the west-facing door to the chief’s home (the “Ondjuwo Onene”). It’s taboo to cross this invisible line between the two. If someone does cross and a sudden death occurs, the Himba will believe that the ancestors are angry.

The houses are made of mud and cow dung. These materials stay cool during the hot days and maintain their heat during the cold nights. The weather is extreme in northern Namibia. In summer, temperatures reach 45 degrees, while in winter, they drop to what feels like freezing point! Inside the houses, cowhides serve as beds. Various goat and cow hides, used both as clothing and for special celebrations, cover the walls. The Himba sleep on wooden pillows to ensure that they don’t mess up their intricate hairdos.

The Himba are nomadic, moving place to place in search of better grazing lands for their goats. They usually return to the same villages every year. When they move as a group, the Himba walk in single-file line in order to avoid snakes bites.

According to a local proverb, “A Himba is nothing without his cattle.” The Himba almost exclusively derive their sustenance from cows and goats, which provide meat and milk.

In Himba society, women tend to have the most difficult daily tasks such as gardening, milking the livestock, caring for the cattle, constructing houses, and carrying water and wood. The men on the other hand handle political administration and legal trials. They also take long rests!

Despite the fact that they are living in small villages, the Himba are relatively wealthy, with hers that can reach up to 200 cows. They will never disclose how many cows they have since they keep it secret to avoid attracting thieves.

The size of a Himba man’s herd reflects his social status. A man without cattle, or that owns just a few, is unworthy of respect. The word “Tijmba”, which means “Himba without cattle”, is used as an insult…..

Photos and words  Eric lafforgue & Stéphanie Ledoux

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