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The Himba

The Himba people of Damaraland are one of several indigenous peoples of Namibia who still live a traditional way of life. They are semi-nomadic. We went to visit a Himba village which I found quite interesting.

The Himba have a very distinct look. First of all, they wear very little clothes. Both men and women are topless and wear a simple cloth around their waist and hips. The babies are essentially naked. The women are adorned with a lot of jewelry. They wear necklaces and bracelets and even ankle bracelets which protect them from snakes while working in the fields. Also on the ankle bracelets, there may be leather stripes that indicate whether they have one or more children. Some of the wives had a head dress made from the hide a baby goat. Another distinguishing feature of the women is that they look orange! This is from a paste made of butter and red earth that they rub all over their bodies. This acts as bug repellent and sunscreen. They also put this paste on their hair which is braided with horse hair on the tips. When a girl becomes a woman, she starts having “smoke baths” instead of water baths. They burn wood with incense and put the steam in different parts of their body making themselves sweat and therefore cleansing their pores. This process takes about 2 hours every day!

This particular village had about 100 people made up of 3 sub villages. It had an animal corral in the middle with the homes built around it. The homes were small and round and made of sticks and mud plaster with thick thatched roofs. There were no windows and the inside was very basic with no furniture. Their blankets were hung up on the wall. Each village has a chief and the doorway of his home is lined up with the entrance of the corral. There is a fire just outside of his house called the “holy fire”. This also lines up with the entrance of the corral.

The Himba practice polygamy allowing men to have more than one wife. Many times the wives are from different villages. They can have arranged marriages or love marriages ,where they are able to choose their own partners. The Himba girls can be married as young as 10 years old! That’s crazy! That’s Nico’s age! Some of the girls have babies when they are quite young. When kids turn 14 they get their teeth knocked out with a stone on a stick. They think this helps them speak better and it is also done for looks. That must hurt!

In this village, we noticed that there was only women and babies. This is because the men were off herding their livestock to graze and to find food. They can travel as far as 100kms and can be gone for 4-6 months at a time. That is a long time away from their families.

Traditionally, Himba children did not go to school. Now the government provides free education for all the children. They have the choice to go to a boarding school or not. We were told that most of the kids went to school.

The diet is mainly porridge made of cornmeal. They eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They eat meat occasionally and on special events such as weddings, ceremonies, and birthdays. They do not eat many vegetables aside from potato and pumpkin. They drink “sour milk” which is fresh milk which they leave overnight. In certain seasons, they eat big fat caterpillars. I would NOT want to eat that! For the cooking fire, the wood they use is Mopane (moh-pan-eeh). It is really hard wood and good for slow cooking. The fire is kept going all the time.

Overall I enjoyed our visit to the Himba village. However, I found it a bit too touristy. I felt a bit uncomfortable invading their space. I liked the way the women and children dressed. It was cool to see how the babies were carried on their mother’s backs or how they were allowed to crawl around on their own. It was funny to watch the chickens roam freely around the village.

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