With a population of just 2.5 million, Namibia is one of the least populated countries in all Africa, but it homes some of the most colourful and fascinating people in the world, namely the Himba Tribe of Kaokoland in the Kunene Region.
An indigenous group of around 50,000 people, the Himba Tribe migrated to Namibia in the 16th century as part of the larger Herero Tribe. Today, these semi-nomadic cattle herders prefer to go about their daily lives in isolation and away from the westernised world, where they practice ancient traditions taught by their ancestors, live simply, and work together for the greater benefit of the group.
While you cannot simply stroll into a Himba Village during your trip to Namibia, it is possible to arrange a visit to the Himba Village of Ohunguomure and the Otjikandero Himba Village, where you can take a peek into the daily lives of these warm and friendly people, and learn about their history, culture, and rituals that make them one of the most interesting and highly decorated tribes in Africa.
Himba Beauty Rituals
One of the first things you notice about Himba women is their silky smooth red skin and ornate braided hairstyles enriched with red ochre cream. Made from a blend of butter fat, fragrant herbs, and ground ochre stone to give it its intense red colour, this unique cream not only protects against sunburn and insect bites, but it is also believed by the Himba’s to symbolise life, and so it is an integral part of their daily beauty routine.
Himba women do not use water to wash – ever. Only Himba men are allowed to wash in water, women instead take a daily smoke bath to cleanse their skin and banish any unpleasant odours. They do this by using a unique blend of smouldering charcoal, resins and aromatic plants such as the Commiphora wildii, commonly referred to as Himba Perfume.
Traditionally, both Himba men and women do not wear anything on their upper body and cover their modesty with loincloths that they have made from animal skins. Jewellery is important to Himba women, and so they make it from whatever resources they can find such as pieces of shell, dried seeds, horns, leather, and metal. Adult women wear beaded anklets to protect against snake bites and will often decorate these anklets with a stripe for every child born. Jewellery is a status symbol too. Women wearing lots of jewellery are from wealthy families – although wealth is counted by the number of cattle someone has, there is no monetary value here.
Himba people live in very simple round huts made from earth, cattle dung and branches from the mopane tree. The huts are positioned around the central cattle kraal, where cattle are housed overnight to protect against predator attacks. A sacred fire in front of the kraal leads directly to the home of the chief, creating a holy line that only members of the tribe may cross.
Porridge, porridge and more porridge. Like everything else in life, the Himba people like to keep it simple when it comes to nutrition, and so they combine porridge with oil, milk, eggs, and very occasionally meat – but that is usually reserved for special occasions.