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The Himba

Semi-nomadic herders

Semi-nomadic herders

Disconnect and discover the arid, rocky region of Kaokoland, and embrace the raw culture of a peaceful and pastoralist people.

Remote. Isolated. Meet one of the most courteous tribes in Africa. The Himba stand out for their unusual sculptural beauty, enhanced by intricate hairstyles, decorations, and red ocher-rubbed skin.
Snapshot

Snapshot

  • Region is Southern Africa

  • Climate here is Arid

  • The challenge here is Intense

  • This trip has been rated 4 by other travelers

Life

Life

The Himba people are simple farmers and animal herders. While the women collect firewood and fresh water for the settlement, the men tend the cattle and look for new pastures.
Home

Home

The Himba live in the Kaokoland region which is vast and sparsely populated. Their villages have a circular shape and are enclosed by a fencing made of mopane tree branches, designed to protect and to define village borders.

Culture

Social Structure

These people are characterized by a bilateral lineage where each Himba belongs to two clans at the same time. This way, they can rely on two families if ever in need. Polygamy is permitted and a man can marry more than one woman as long as all the spouses agree.

Religion

The Himba are animists, meaning they believe that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. To them, fire is sacred and must be kept lit at all times to protect the inhabitants from demons. You’ll also find that this remote society believes in witchcraft, omiti and the dark powers of “black magic”.

Traditions

The Himba follow many different traditions. The most noticeable is how the women cover their bodies and hair in a mixture of butter and red soil, and develop intricate hairstyles to indicate their age and social status.

The Himba count their years from the day that the child was a first thought in his mother’s mind.  
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Himba women are not allowed to use water for washing. According to the elderly this dates back to the great droughts where water was scarce. They do take a daily smoke bath in order to maintain personal hygiene. 

Language

As descendants of the Herero, a Bantu group who arrived in Namibia in the middle of the 16th century, the Himba speak a dialect of the Herero language, called Otjihimba.

Art

Jewellery is the most common art form among the Himba. Adorned with traditional jewels, both men and women wear a large number of necklaces, leg bracelets and arm bracelets.

Celebrations

The Himba people commemorate every time a member of the community passes away. After their death, the body is buried in a plain hole in the ground and their funeral is followed by the slaughter of cattle and various celebrations.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

Do not walk between the sacred fire and the chief’s hut and the kraal under any circumstances.

Ask permission before entering the homestead and as well before taking photos.

Do not wash hands or face or even utensils with clean water, as clean water is regarded as a precious resource, best used for cooking, drinking and for animals.


Photos credit / Javier Salinas