Ohorongo Safaris’ lodge and tented camp are located in Namibia’s Kunene Region, previously known as Kaokoland. Kunene is also the home of one of Namibia’s indigenous peoples, the Himba. The only significant populations of the Himba people are in Namibia’s Kunene Region and just across the Kunene River (and Namibian border) in southern Angola; there are only about 50 000 of them in total. Through much hardship, including suffering through the Angolan civil war and the guerrilla warfare during Namibia’s independence struggle, they have endured and remain a proud and friendly tribe – and the last semi-nomadic people left in Namibia.
Despite all the wars, genocides, kidnappings, and other wartime crimes inflicted on the Himba during their past, the tribe almost came to an end during the 1980s drought, when they lost 90% of their livestock. Many gave up, became refugees, and went to live in slums, but some persisted and they again recovered and continue their traditional way of life in Kunene. They are a virtually unknown tribe too, due to their isolated and traditionally conservative lifestyle. They are ethnically related to the Herero people, but culturally distinguished and their language, OtjiHimba, is a variety of Herero, but different.
Their semi-nomadic existence owes to the fact that, although they keep base homesteads where they grow their crops, such as millet and corn, they do move when necessary to where they can best and most easily access a good supply of water, depending on where the region’s most bountiful rains fall in any given season. They breed goats and fat-tailed sheep, but cattle ownership is the most important measure of an Omuhimba’s wealth, and they will only rarely sell them. Besides the milk and meat from their livestock, they also eat herbs, chickens’ eggs, and honey.
The Himba are characteristically slender and tall and they rub their skins with a mixture of fat, butter, and red ochre, resulting in their captivating red glow. This is said to cleanse the skin when water is scarce, as well as protect the skin from the harsh Namibian climate. They take much pride in their appearance, seen in their remarkable decorations and intricate hairstyles. In fact, hairstyles are a strong cultural element and serve to distinguish between Ovahimba of different social statuses. The style of a young girl’s hair plaits is determined according to which patrilineal descent group she comes from and there are usually two plaits. This changes to long plaitlets worn loosely with or without a wig over them just before puberty. Her puberty ritual is an important coming-of-age ceremony and festival, where she receives an ekori – a headdress made from tanned goat- or sheepskin with three points.
Again, depending on the group to which she belongs, her head might be shaven instead during this festival, leaving only a little hair at the top. The shaven hair is not disposed of but used to create plaits that are woven back into the remaining hair and hang in front of the face. The last phase starts when she has either been married for a year or has had her first child. Then, the headdress changes again and is now an erembe, made of a goat’s head’s skin and fastened at the back of the head under the hair. Boys and men usually have only one braided plait until they get married, when they usually wear a head-wrap with their unbraided hair underneath. Widowed men go without this head-wrap.
But perhaps nowhere is their style and flamboyant flair as obvious as in their elaborate jewellery, which both men and women wear in large quantities, sometimes weighing up to 40 kg for just one person’s! These take the form of multiple necklaces and bracelets, the latter in such large numbers that they resemble sleeves. These items are made of various materials, including cloth, copper, grass, and beads that are fashioned from ostriches’ eggshells.
A Himba funeral is eventful and starts with the men proclaiming their territory by chanting, and in song and dance. The women wear their finest jewellery and wail and moan in sorrow for the passing of the deceased. The funeral is followed by the slaughter of several animals and a feast that lasts three days. It is an experience seldom afforded a Westerner, as the Himba are a private and reserved people, keeping to themselves.
Therefore, the clicking cameras of foreign visitors are a harsh intrusion into the Himba’s way of life and it often misrepresents them. In reaction to this, the Himba people have actually moved behind the lens and made their own movie to set the record straight. The result was the movie The Himbas are Shooting!, a movie that premiered in Windhoek in August 2015. The movie is a day in the life of the Ovahimba, living in their village and going about their daily routines. A wedding and funeral form part of the movie and gives a rare and remarkable insight into the lives of these indigenous Namibians.
It put paid to all those misleading documentaries that have been made about them and shows the true Himba culture in all its glory and with the people themselves making sure that it is a true representation of one of the most isolated cultures on earth. Headman Mutjindwika Mutambo is immensely proud of this work and he says that the film reminds the world that the Himba exists and that they are here to “spread the story of the Himba”. It is contrary to Himba culture to neglect or abandon anyone and with this film, they are putting a stop to being neglected and abandoned as a people and culture. Headman Mutambo hopes that people will realise that “maybe the way we perceived the Himba in the past was wrong”.
Visit Ohorongo Safaris in Kunene, the home of the Himba, and stay in our lodge or tented camp for a true taste of Africa and an authentic Namibian experience. We cannot wait to host you and show us the wonders of our country.