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Photographer's Note

Himba children, Opuwo (Namibia).
Picture was taken during a visit to a village, close to Opuwo (North Namibia).

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Himba are an ethnic group of about 20,000 to 50,000 people living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene region (formerly Kaokoland). They are a nomadic, pastoral people, closely related to the Herero, and speak the same language.

The Himba breed cattle and goats. The responsibility of milking the cows lies with the women. Women take care of the children, and one woman will take care of another woman's children. Women tend to perform more labor-intensive work than men do, such as carrying water to the village and building homes. Men handle the political tasks and legal trials.

The Himba wear little clothing, but the women are famous for covering themselves with a mixture of butter fat, ochre, and herbs to protect themselves from the sun. The mixture gives their skins a reddish tinge. The mixture symbolizes earth's rich red color and the blood that symbolizes life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty. Women braid each other's hair and cover it in their ochre mixture (called otjize in their language).

Modern clothes are scarce, but generally go to the men when available. Traditionally both men and women go topless and wear skirts or loincloths made of animals skins in various colors. Adult women wear beaded anklets to protect their legs from poisonous animal bites.

Boys are generally circumcised before puberty, as are girls, to make them eligible for marriage. Marriages are arranged at a daughter's birth and usually take place when the girl is between about 14 and 17.

Tribal structure

Because of the harsh desert climate in the region where they live and their seclusion from outside influences, the Himba have managed to maintain much of their traditional lifestyle. Members live under a tribal structure based on bilateral descent that helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth.

Under bilateral descent, every tribe member belongs to two clans, one through the father (a patriclan) and another through the mother (a matriclan). Himba clans are led by the eldest male in the clan. Sons live with their father's clan and when daughters marry they go to live with the clan of their husband. However, inheritance of wealth does not follow the patriclan but is determined by the matriclan, i.e. a son does not inherit his father's cattle but his maternal uncle's instead.

Bilateral descent is found among only a few groups in West Africa, India, Australia, Melanesia and Polynesia and anthropologists consider the system advantageous for groups that live in extreme environments because it allows individuals to rely on two sets of families dispersed over a wide area.

Disaster and adversity

The Himba's history is wrought with disasters, including severe droughts and guerrilla warfare, especially during Namibia's quest for independence and as a result of the civil war in neighboring Angola. In 1904, they suffered from the same attempt at genocide by the German colonial power under Lothar von Trotha that decimated other groups in Namibia, notably the Herero and the Nama.

In the 1980s it appeared the Himba way of life was coming to a close. A severe drought killed ninety percent of their cattle and many gave up their herds and became refugees in the town of Opuwo living in slums on international relief. Since they live on the Angolan border, many Himba were also kidnapping victims in the Angolan civil war.

Resurgence

Since the 1990s, the Himba have been successful in maintaining control of their lands and have experienced a resurgence. Many Himba now live on nature conservancies that give them control of wildlife and tourism on their lands. They have worked with international activists to block a proposed hydro-electric dam along the Epupa Dam that would have flooded their ancestral lands.

The government of Namibia has provided mobile schools for Himba children. Vengapi Tijvinda, a grandmother in her 50s, says: "Life is still the same, but the children can read and write. I am a member of [a] conservancy, and we have tasted game meat again."[3]

Religion

The Himba are a monotheistic people who worship the god Mukuru, but also practice ancestor worship as well. Each family has its own ancestral fire, which is kept by the fire-keeper. The fire-keeper approaches the ancestral fire every seven to eight days in order to communicate with Mukuru and the ancestors in behalf of his family. Often, because Mukuru is busy in a distant realm, the ancestors act as Mukuru's representatives.

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