Tribes of Africa: The Himba Tribe, Namibia & Angola

The Himba  people (singular: Omuhimba, plura: Ovahimba) are a pastoral nomadic people and they totally depend on their herds of cattle and goats. Their population is estimated to be about 50,000 people living in northern Namibia in the Kunene Region  (formerly Kaokoland) and on the other side of the Kunene River in Angola. They speak  Otjihimba language.

Image credit: Alamy stock

Himba Women do more labor-intensive work than men do, such as carrying water to the village, building homes and milking cows. Just like a female lion, the lioness does hunting for her pride. Men handle the political tasks and legal trials.

Image Credit: FLickr

The women are famous for rubbing their bodies with otjize. Otjize is a mixture of butter fat and ochre which has a reddish colour. They rub it on their body because they believe it will protect their skins against the harsh climate. The aromatic resin of the Omuzumba bush is added as well.  The red mixture  symbolize earth’s rich red color and the blood that symbolizes life. The cream lends the body an intense reddish shine, which corresponds to the Himba idea of beauty.

Religious Belief

One of most interesting rituals of these people, is that of the ritual fire, the ‘Okoruwo’. The fire provides contact between the living and the dead, which is necessary for harmonious living and keeping the ancestors happy. It is kept alive until the death of the headman. When this happens, his hut is destroyed and his “holy fire” is left to slowly burn down to only embers. His family will dance all night in mourning. Before his burial everyone says to him: “Karepo nawa” (keep well). Later a fresh “holy fire” is lit from the embers of the old fire.

The Himba people worship their ancestors and the god Mukuru. Often, because Mukuru is busy in a distant realm, the ancestors act as Mukuru’s representatives.

Their homes surround an okuruwo (ancestral fire) and their livestock, both closely tied to their belief in ancestor worship. The fire represents ancestral protection and the livestock allows for proper relations between human and ancestor.

Each family has its own ancestral fire, which is kept by the fire-keeper, who attends to the ancestral fire every seven to eight days in order to communicate with Mukuru and the ancestors on behalf of the family.


Both Himba men and women are known for the care they take in wearing their traditional attire. Clothes, hairstyle and jewellery are all of particular significance to the Himba, and are part of their tradition and culture. Even newborn babies are adorned with bead necklaces. When the children are a little older, bangles made of beaten copper and shells are added.

Image credit: gnn ministry

For every kind of hairstyles you see on an Omuhimba, it tells you the age and social status of the Omuhimba.

A young girl typically has two plaits (ozondato) of braided hair, the form being determined by the oruzo membership (patrilineal descent group).

Just before puberty, the girls wear long plaitlets worn loose around the head. When the girls have completed their puberty ceremony, the so-called ekori festival takes place and she receives the ekori headdress made from tanned sheep’s or goatskin with three leaf-shaped points, often decorated with iron beads.

Girls belonging to some groups have their hair shaved off except for a small bush on top of the head. The shaved-off hair is then used to make plaits, which are woven into the remaining hair and hang down over the face.

When she has been married for about a year or has had a child, the ekori head-dress is replaced by the erembe headdress made from the skin of a goat’s head and fastened under the hair at the back of the head by two thongs. From then on the ekori is worn only during ceremonial occasions.

Himba males  wear different hairstyles, such as the single plait, the ondato, worn by young boys down the back of the head, two plaits, ozondato, worn by Himba men of marriageable age and the ombwiya headdress, a scarf made from fabric covering the hair and decorated with an ornamental band.

The Himba still adorn themselves with traditional jewelry according to ancient customs. Both men and women wear large numbers of necklaces, arm bracelets, sometimes almost like sleeves, made from ostrich eggshell beads, grass, cloth and copper and weighing as much as 40 kg, as well as bracelets around the legs. Iron oxide powder with its shiny effect is worn as a cosmetic like western glitter.

Image credit: Alamy stock

Adult women wear beaded anklets, believed  to protect their legs from venomous animal bites. The large white shell worn on the breast by Himba is called the ohumba.

I think we should organise a tour to Kaokoland to visit the Himba people. It would be amazing. What do you think?

Source: Gateway Africa, Namibia Tourism, WIkipedia, Audley travel group



Leave a Reply