The Himba are an ancient #tribe of tall, slender and statuesque herders. Since the 16th century they have lived in scattered settlements, leading a life that has remained unchanged, surviving war and droughts. The tribal structure helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth.
MYSTERIOUS HARTMANN VALLEY
In rainy years, the Hartmann’s valleys become grassy expanses, but generally their flat topographies are covered by sand broken only by a few tough grasses, shrubs and the mysterious ‘fairy circles’.
HER NAME IS PERAA MUHENJE
Though scarcely clad, looks are vital to the Himba. It tells everything about one’s place within the group and phase of life. The characteristic ‘look’ of the Himba comes from intricate hairstyles, traditional clothing, personal adornments in the form of jewellery and the use of a mixture of goat fat, herbs and red ochre. This paste, known as otjize, is not only rubbed on the skin, but also into hair and on traditional clothing.
There has been much speculation about the origins of this practice, with some claiming it is to protect their skin from the sun or repel insects. But the Himba say it is an aesthetic consideration, a sort of traditional make-up that women apply every morning when they wake. Men do not use otjize.
DAY TO DAY IN HARTMANN VALLEY
The Himba day starts early. Women arise before or at dawn and apply Otjize. They milk the cattle, which are then herded to the grazing areas by the men. If the grazing pasture is poor, the entire village will move to a place with lusher grazing land. Young men often set up separate, temporary villages and move around with the cattle, leaving the women, children and older men at the main homestead.
Women take care of cooking, gardening, milking cattle, looking after children, caring for livestock in the kraal and making clothes, jewellery and otjize. Flour is made from maize and butter is churned. Wood has to be collected, and water has to be carried from wells. The children help with the tasks.
The Himba have lived in scattered settlements throughout the region of the Kunene River in north-west Namibia and south-west Angola. The homes of the Himba are simple cone-shaped structures of saplings bound together with palm leaves and plastered with mud and dung. A family may move from one home to another several times a year to seek grazing pastures for their goats and cattle.
Although constantly jeopardised by development, including proposed hydroelectric projects, many Himba lead a traditional lifestyle that has remained unchanged for generations, surviving war and droughts.
BEAUTY IN OMBIVANGO VILLAGE NEAR EPUPA FALLS
For centuries, necklaces and bracelets have been made of shells, leather and copper. Married women wear a small crown made of goat skin on
their heads. Girls wear their hair in two braids over their brow.
When reaching puberty, they adopt a hairstyle with a multitude of tiny braids that have been ‘waxed’ with Otjize. Himba boys can be recognised by a small plaited pony tail that runs from crown to forehead. Boys that wish to marry sport the same tail, but wear it tied in a bow. A married man wears his hair in a ‘Turban’.
UATERERETA FROM OMBIVANGO VILLAGE NEAR EPUPA FALLS
Marriages are arranged with a view to spreading wealth. Once married, the women move to the villages of their husbands where they adopt the rules of the new clan. Himba men are not monogamous and may have a number of wives and children in different homesteads. Women are not monogamous either and may have a number of partners. However, courtship and relationships are bound by strict rules and modes of behaviour.
The best time to visit Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset; the colours are amazing.
DEAD VLEI, SOSSUSVLEI
The sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert are often referred to as the highest dunes in the world. Various arguments are laid out to support this claim, but all miss the point, which is that Sossusvlei is surely one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia.
DEAD VLEI, SOSSUSVLEI
‘Vlei’ is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water. During exceptional rainy seasons, Sossusvlei may fill with water, causing Namibians to flock there to witness the grand sight, but normally it is bone dry.
HIMBA FAMILY LIFE
The Himba live under a indigenous structure based on bilateral descent that helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth. Every indigenous member belongs to two clans: one through the father (Patriclan or Oruzo), another through the mother (Matriclan or Eanda). The eldest male leads the clan. Sons live in their father’s clan. A son doesn’t inherit his father’s cattle, but that of his mother’s brother instead.
Himba children are cared for by all the members of the family in the homestead. Between the ages of 10 and 12, the bottom four incisor teeth of the child are knocked out in a ceremony that is believed to protect the child from dangerous influences and ensure the protection of the ancestors.
Women take care of cooking, gardening, milking cattle, looking after children, caring for livestock in the kraal and making clothes, jewellery and Otjize. Flour is made from maize and butter is churned. Wood has to be collected, and water has to be carried from wells. The children help with the tasks.
Himba believe in omiti, meaning ‘bad medicine’ or ‘witchcraft’
MATUTJAVI TJAVARA IN EPUPA FALLS
The Himba practice monotheism and ancestor worship. Their god is Mukuru, creator of everything, but a remote god.
Communication with Mukuru only takes place through the spirits of the male ancestors. For this reason the ancestral fire, or Okuruwo, is kept burning 24 hours a day. Mukuru created man, woman and cattle from the same tree, although he does not have unlimited power and ancestors can also greatly influence worldly events.
One of the duties of the male leader of the family is to maintain the ancestral fire, where he prays to departed progenitors and asks for their blessings for his family. Whereas Mukuru has power over most physical elements of the earth, such as the land, water and weather, ancestors control more immediate concerns, such as the health of kin or cattle.