In the remote landscapes of Namibia’s north-western Kunene Region, a unique culture thrives amidst the stark desert beauty. The Himba people, often referred to as the Kaokovelders alongside the Tjimba and other Herero inhabitants, captivate the world with their semi-nomadic lifestyle and rich cultural heritage. The Himba are not only known for their distinct way of life but are also celebrated for their photogenic beauty and enduring traditions.
1. Distinct Dwellings and Way of Life
Himba settlements dot the landscape, a testament to their resilient existence in harmony with nature. Their homes, simple cone-shaped structures crafted from saplings bound with palm leaves and covered in a mixture of mud and dung, reflect both functionality and tradition. These huts are built by the men while the women contribute by mixing clay and preparing the plaster. At the center of the headman’s hut, a fire burns continually, providing both warmth and light while deterring insects. The Himba families often move several times a year in search of grazing lands for their cherished cattle and goats.
2. Beauty and Adornment
The Himba people are renowned for their exceptional height, slender figures, and graceful demeanor. With a mixture of red ochre, animal fat, and herbs, they rub their skin to create a protective layer against the harsh desert elements and repel insects. Their distinctive beauty is further accentuated by intricate hairstyles and traditional adornments. Himba women devote up to three hours daily to grooming and dressing, using a unique mixture of butterfat, herbs, and black coals for their hair. Their clothes are ‘steamed’ over the perpetual fire, a ritual of both practicality and significance.
3. Expressions of Identity
Hairstyles and headpieces are essential components of the Himba identity. Men and women sport different styles, each with its cultural significance. Young boys wear a single plait called ondato, while ozondato, two plaits, is reserved for Himba men of marriageable age. Married men adorn the ombwiya headdress, a fabric scarf adorned with an ornamental band. Young girls favor ozondato until they undergo a puberty ceremony, after which they wear the ekori headdress, crafted from tanned animal skin.
4. Craftsmanship and Artistry
The Himba people’s artistic talents are evident in their exquisite crafts. The ekipa, an ornamental button crafted from ivory or bone, is a striking example of their creative expression. These buttons, intricately engraved with geometric patterns, hold historical significance and offer insights into the wealth and status of a family. Himba women also weave finely crafted baskets, often adorned with leather handles and iron beads. The art of jewelry-making thrives among them, with leather, iron, ostrich eggshell beads, shells, and carved makalani nuts forming their unique pieces. Among their remarkable crafts are dolls, fashioned from fabric and coated with the signature red ochre mixture.
5. Preservation of Heritage
The Himba people’s enduring traditions and unwavering pride in their culture continue to captivate the world’s attention. As they balance the demands of modernity with the preservation of their ancient ways, they stand as living testaments to the resilience and beauty of a people who have thrived in Namibia’s breathtaking but challenging landscapes.