Brief History Of The Himba People – The Tribe Famous With Their Red Ochre And Smoke Bathing

The Himba people are the ethnic group of people settling in Kunene Region (Kaokoland) Northern Namibia, which was said to have migrated from Angola in the 16th century.

Originally, they were still part of the Herero people till after the disaster that blew up in the 19th century – the ‘Bovine Pandemic‘ that killed almost all the cattle belonging to the Herero. It made them move around looking for a means of survival while others stayed back in the Kaokoland begging for crops and cattle – that was the origin of the name Himba which means Begger.

The Himba people are believed to be semi-nomadic, hunters, and farmers who breed cattle such as sheep, goats, and cows and they plant crops like maize, rice, millet, and beans. Their major meals are corn porridge and sour milk.

The Himba people are said to be polygamous in nature which means a Himba man is expected to marry two or more wives to himself.

They believe also in early marriage, although this tradition is illegal in Namibia; young Himba girls are being married off early by their father once they’re approaching puberty. A Himba man is considered to be a man upon marriage while their woman is till childbirth.

The Himba people believe that the groom pays the bride price with a certain number of cattle and the brides-wealth are said to be paid according to the financial status of the groom’s family.

The Himba people have Mukuru as their god and still worship their ancestors. Each family has its sacred ancestral fire kept by the fire-keeper that is being changed every 7 days to enable them to communicate with their ancestors.

They wear mostly clothes made of calfskin while they make their footwear from animal skin.

Any widower from Himba is expected to expose his unbraided hair by untying the headwrap covering their hair.

It is believed that women have to do odd jobs instead of men, like making clothes and jewelry, milking the animal, earth plastering. It is their duty to so fetch the firewood, feed, and take care of the children while the men focus mainly on livestock farming and animal-grazing, attending meetings with the clan chiefs, butchering and making constructions.

Brief History Of The Himba People - The Tribe Famous With Their Red Ochre And Smoke Bathing
Himba Woman With Her Child (image credit:

Himba women are believed not to use water. It was believed that during the time of drought, women were denied the access to make use of water instead they apply red ochre on their body or take a smoke bath daily by burning charcoal and herbs on a bowl which they cover themselves with a blanket and let the smoke fill them.

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