The Himba tribe of Namibia is one of the iconic tribes in Africa. In the North-West of Namibia are the indigeneous Himba People – singular OmuHumba, plural OvaHimba – with an estimated population of about 50,000 living in the Kunene Region formerly known as Kaoland.
The OvaHimba are semi-nomadic, pastoralist people who speak OtjiHimba. Women and girls of OvaHimba engage in daily activities of milking cows and goats, cooking and serving meals, while the men’s main tasks are tending to the livestock farming, sometimes leaving the family home for a long period of time.
Members of a single extended family live in a homestead called Onganda, a small-family village that surrounds an Okuruwo – a sacred ancestral fire. The Holy fire symbolizes their connection to their ancestors who are in direct communication with Mukuru, their god. The permanent fire is at the center of each village which signifies the connection and is tended to by a fire-keeper from each family.
OvaHimba wear traditional clothing that befits their living environment, most times simply consisting of skirt-like clothing made from calf skins and sheep skin. Himba women are known for covering themselves with Otize paste, a cosmetic mixture of butter fat and Ochre pigment. Due to water scarcity, they use the Otize to their skin over long periods and it also protects their skin from the hot and dry climate of the environment, as well as from insect bites.
One cannot ignore the red skin of the Himba people, Otize gives their skin and hair plaits a distinctive texture, style and orange or red tinge, and is often perfumed with the aromatic resin of the Omuzumba Shrub. Himba people are guided by the belief that the Otize symbolizes earth’s rich red colour and blood which is consistent with the OvaHimba idea of beauty.
The hair of Himba women signifies age and marital status, starting with shaved heads for young children, then braids and plaits and then graduates to a leather ornate headpiece called an Erembe made sheepskin for women who have children.
OvaHimba are polygamous people and also practice early arranged marriages. Young Himba girls are married off to male suitors selected by their father once they reach puberty, they are not considered as full-fledged women until they bear a child. The wealth of an OmuHimba is measured by the amount of cattles they have.
In Himba culture, a man shows his approval and pleasure of seeing his guest by giving his wife to the guest which is called the Okujepisa Omukazendu treatment. The man gives his wife to his guest to spend the night while he sleeps in another room, in a case where there is no available room he sleeps outside.
They have the belief that this tradition has its benefits in the community, as it reduces jealousy and fosters relationships. The woman has little or no say in the decision making, she is forced to submit to her husband’s demands. The woman, however, has an option of refusing to sleep with the guest but has to sleep in the same room as him.
She also has the right to give her friends to her husband when they visit although this is a rare occurrence.