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Home Forums African Culture MEET THE RED PEOPLE OF AFRICA: THE HIMBA PEOPLE OF NAMIBIA.

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    Bella Trevor
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      The Himba people, the plural of which is OvaHimba are indigenous people living in Northern Namibia, in the Kunene Region, and on the other side of the Kunene River in Southern Angola. They have a population of about 50,000.

       

       

       

      They are semi-nomadic, pastoralist people and speak OtjiHimba. They have base homesteads where crops are cultivated but may move within the year depending on rainfall and where there is access to water.

       

       

       

      For the Himba, life revolves around the holy fire called Okuruwo. The smoke symbolizes a connection with their ancestors who are in direct communication with their God Mukuru. This fire burns at the center of the village and is never allowed to go out and each family has a fire-keeper whose responsibility it is to tend the sacred blaze.

       

       

       

      The traditional clan structure of the Himba people is bilateral. This means that every clan member belongs to two clans: the mother and the father. The sons and the wives live with the father’s and husband’s clan, albeit, inheritance passes from the maternal uncle.

       

       

       

      The most unique characteristic apart from the bilateral descent structure is its adornment. The unique red ochre body paint and elaborate hairstyles are synonymous with any safari to the Kunene region of Namibia.

       

       

       

      Their hairstyles are symbolic. Some hairstyles signify status, some others age or social standing. The younger children have clean shaved heads or braids and plaits facing forwards and backward. The Erembe; a sheepskin leather ornament is worn by women who have had children. The red-ochred hairstyles are usually very gorgeous.

       

       

       

      Otjize, the red ochre body paint is made from butter, animal fat, and a naturally occurring earth pigment that contains iron oxide. The women apply this to their skin; it protects them from the harsh sun and insect bites, it locks in moisture and most of all, they use it for beautification purposes. This red paste creates a red tint that makes them known as the “red people of Africa”.

       

       

       

      The daily tasks are split traditionally between the sexes. The women carry water, milk cows, build and raise children and handle politics and tend livestock.

       

       

       

      The men and women wear traditional clothing that befits their living environment. This consists of skirt-like clothing made from calfskin and sheepskin, they occasionally wear sandals for footwear. The women’s sandals are made from cowskins and the male sandals are made from car tires. The women who have given birth wear a small backpack of skin attached to their traditional outfits.

       

       

      They practice polygamy, with one man having at least two wives. The marriage among them involves cattle transactions which is the source of their economy. The transaction is negotiable between the both families depending on the economic status of the families involved. Most times, more cattles are offered if the groom’s family are wealthy and capable of offering more.

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