During our road trip through Namibia, we were fortunate to visit an genuine Himba Village located in the Kunene River area. It was truly a rewarding experience to interact with the native inhabitants who have resided in this region for countless centuries. Out of all the remarkable locations we explored in Namibia, the Himba Village stood out as one of the finest. Throughout our two-month journey, we had the privilege of encountering the Himba tribe, an indigenous community residing in the North-Western part of Namibia as well as Southern Angola.
We blindly followed it without hesitation and stumbled upon a sign pointing towards the Museum Living Ovahimba. Without any specific plans, we made the decision to follow the road and see where it leads us, without conducting any prior research on this pastoral tribe. It was my dream to meet the Himba people of Namibia and we found ourselves in the Kunene region. As we drove from Victoria Falls to Namibia, we began to witness the intricate hairstyles and circular-shaped huts of the people with their ochre-red skin color.
You can find the Himba people in the northern region of Namibia in North Namibia.
Map showing the location of the Himba tribe
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What is the ancestry of the tribe?
The tribe Himba, whose members experienced difficult times including a severe drought, refers to themselves as “Ovahimba” in the Ngambwe language, which means “beggar” in another indigenous group.
In the region of Kunene, there are many small villages where only a few members of the Himba tribe, about 50, still preserve their traditional ways of living. In recent years, many tribes have been strongly influenced by the modern world, mainly in terms of changing their diet and consuming junk food.
Fascinating Information About the Himba Tribe
Otjize paste, known as a blend of butterfat and ochre, is thought to inhibit hair growth. The pigment acts as a natural moisturizer/sunblock and also acts as a repellent against insects. Every member of the tribe covers their whole body with the ochre pigment to keep it hydrated, supple, and shielded from the sun’s radiation.
The Himba people use only four names to describe various colors and shades. Zuzu is the term used to describe dark shades of green, blue, purple, and red. Vapa is the term used to describe white and yellow. Buru is used to describe certain shades of green and blue. Dambu is used to describe certain shades of green, red, and brown.
The Himbas primarily consume cornmeal porridge, milk, eggs, seasonal fruits/herbs, and occasional meat as part of their diet.
The conventional Himba community practices a polygamous system. A Himba male can have a maximum of 3 spouses.
The average life expectancy in the Himba community ranges from 80 to 85 years, and some members of the tribe even reach the age of 100.
The Himba language is exclusively spoken.
The tribe’s women maintain personal hygiene by taking a daily smoke bath with a variety of herbs, instead of using soap and water for washing.
The majority of Himba women continue to don traditional clothing crafted from animal hides.
The elaborate hairstyles and handmade jewelry play a significant role in the tribal structure. They indicate a person’s age and social status.
Himba faith and beliefs
The Himbas, who follow animism, engage in the practice of venerating their ancestors. Makuru, the highest deity, holds a significant position. The tribe members employ ancestral fire and Makuru as mediums to establish a connection with their spirits, who then link them with the forebears of the villagers. The Himba family seeks assistance or guidance from the ancestral spirits, rather than relying on Makuru, who lacks the ability to exert any influence over one’s life.
Structure of the Himba Tribe
The Himba tribes strive to preserve their traditional way of life. Maintaining strong family bonds is beneficial. A Himba woman possesses her own hut where she resides with her children. Himba men typically have two wives on average. Polygamy is a common practice among the Himba. The eldest male usually leads the clan. The Himba tribe follows a patriarchal structure and practices bilateral descent, which means that each tribe member belongs to two clans – one from their mother’s side and one from their father’s side. The Himba people are semi-nomadic, residing in large homesteads alongside their extended family.
The unique hairstyle of the Himba
The Himba tribe members start their lives with bold heads. Hair is an extension of their entire body. In Western society, it is documented almost like an ID, etc. They can say what a person’s social status is, how old they are, if they are married, etc., Based on their hairstyle. In Himba culture, hairstyles have a more decorative purpose than just being distinctive.
The hairstyle called Erembe, which is often worn by young women who are either married for over a year or have children, consists of an ornate headpiece made of goat hair and decorated with many braids. When a girl reaches puberty, her hairstyle starts changing as her hair is arranged into a partially covering headdress. Girls and boys only have a single braid each, while young girls and boys have two thick braids at the back of their heads.
Young married men don a head covering while leaving their hair untangled, whereas young boys maintain a plaited hairstyle until they enter matrimony.
Himba boys make the transition into adulthood when they enter into marriage, while girls are considered young women only after they have given birth to a child.
A classic Himba Village
Their clothing is self-made as well. They mainly utilize cow and goat hide. They craft their own pots, jags, and cups either from clay or by carving wood. Numerous pots and baskets are employed for cooking and gathering plants. Men utilize a wooden support as a pillow. Instead of beds or mattresses, everyone, including children, sleeps on these cow skins. Many cow skins are spread around the fire on the ground, serving as seats and sleeping surfaces. Dried cow dung is frequently utilized as fuel for the fire. The hut of a traditional Himba is fairly basic.
The village cannot be crossed by a stranger who hasn’t received an invitation to visit. The enclosure within the village’s borders is called the Holy Line, and it is where all religious rituals take place. The sacred fire, which is taken care of by the most respected and oldest man, always smolders to ensure that the fire is always holy. The Sacred Fire is a symbol of the Himba way of life and holds particular significance in the center of the village, known as the Sacred Fire Center.
Exploring the Himba community in Opuwo
Situated 40km to the north of Opuwo, the closest town, along the route to Epupa Falls, lies the Ovahimba Living Village Museum. At this ideal camping location and exceptional chance, one can encounter and gain knowledge about the Himba people and their customary practices and way of life. Even if there are no intentions of camping, it is certainly worthwhile to pause and visit the museum on its own. The museum is open to visitors every day from 8am to 6pm.
What sets the Ovahimba Living Museum apart?
What activities and sights are available at the Himba Village?
Ovahimba Cultural Exhibition
There are plenty of activities that you can experience in the traditional life of a Himba village, such as dancing, singing, painting, body painting, bushwalks, and more. I will mention some information about different prices and tours for Himba here.
Omungunda camping site
You can experience the real Himba people here, we absolutely love this place. Rimunikavi is planning to upgrade it soon by installing hot water and solar panels for electricity, but for now, the campsite only has basic facilities. So, even without doing a tour, you can just walk around and see the Ovahimba village right next to the campsite.
Additional Indigenous tribes of Namibia
If you have time, you can visit some of the other native tribes in Namibia to learn more about the diversity of language and tribal culture.