During our 2-month road trip through Namibia, we were lucky enough to visit the Himba tribe, an indigenous tribe living in North-Western Namibia and Southern Angola. The Himba Village was one of the best places in Namibia we visited during our road trip. Getting to know indigenous people who have been living in the region for thousands of years is an enriching experience that every traveler will benefit from. We found an authentic Himba Village in the Kunene River region.
Driving from Namibia to Victoria Falls we started seeing small villages consisting of circular shape huts and people with red ochre-colored skin and intricate hairstyles. We were in the Kunene region and my dream of meeting the Himba people of Namibia was about to become true. We didn’t do any research on where to find this pastoral tribe of Northern Namibia we just decided to follow the road and see where it leads us. Driving without any particular plan we saw a sign next to the road saying Ovahimba Living Museum and without thinking twice we followed it.
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Where to find the Himba tribe?
You can find Himba people in the North of Namibia, in the Kunene region. In the 16th century, some groups of the Herero tribe in search of better pasture lands in Southern Africa crossed to Namibia. The first people of the semi-nomadic tribe came here from Angola and spread around Kaokoland (the old name of the Kunene region). As often happens after some time due to new environments and influences from different cultures the tribe’s customs and way of living changed a lot and lead to the formation of a new tribe.
Himba tribe location map
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What is the origin of the tribe?
The name “Ovahimba” in the language of the Ngambwe (another indigenous group) means “beggar” and refers to the difficult times the members of the Himba tribe went through, including severe drought followed by the massive loss of livestock.
Nowadays there are about 50 000 members of the Himba tribe living in Namibia. Though there are many small Himba villages in the Kunene region only a few of them still preserve their traditional ways of living. In recent years many of the tribes are under the strong influence of the modern world mainly in terms of changing their diet and consuming junk food.
Himba Tribe interesting facts
All members of the tribe paint their entire body with the ochre pigment to keep it moist, and soft and to protect it from the sun radiation. The pigment serves as a natural body lotion/sunscreen as well as an insect repellent. It’s believed to prevent hair growth. The mixture, a combination of butterfat and ochre, is called otjize paste.
Himba people use only four names to describe different colors and shades. They use zuzu for dark shades of green, blue, purple, and red; vapa for white and yellow; buru for some shades of green and blue; and dambu for some shades of green, red, and brown.
Himbas’ diet mainly consists of cornmeal porridge, milk, eggs, seasonal fruit/herbs, and occasional meat.
The traditional Himba society has a polygamy system. A Himba man can have up to 3 wives.
The average life expectancy in the Himba community is 80-85 years, and some members of the tribe up to 100 years.
The Himba language is a spoken language only.
Tribe’s women don’t wash with soap and water. For personal hygiene, they take a daily smoke bath in smoke with many different herbs.
Most Himba women still wear traditional attire made of animal skins.
The elaborate hairstyles and handmade jewelry play a significant role in the tribal structure. They indicate a person’s age and social status.
Himba religion and believes
Himbas are animists they practice ancestor worship. The supreme god is Makuru. Tribe members communicate with their spirits using ancestral fire and Makuru who in his turn connects them with the ancestors of the villagers. Makuru doesn’t have any power to influence one’s life it’s the ancestral spirits that members of the Himba family ask for help or advice.
Himba tribe structure
The Himba is semi-nomadic people they live in big homesteads with their extended family. The Himba tribe is a patriarchal clan based on a bilateral descent which means that each member of the tribe belongs to two clans; one on his/her mother’s side and one on her/his father’s side. The clan is usually led by the eldest male. Himba practice polygamy. Himba men have an average of two wives. A Himba woman has her own hut where she lives with her children. Keeping close family ties helps Himba tribes to preserve their traditional way of life.
The peculiar hairstyle of the Himba
Distinctive hairstyles have more than a decorative purpose in Himba culture. Based on a hairstyle of a person they can say how old he/she is, what is her/his social status, if he/she is married, has children, etc. It’s almost like an ID document in Western society. For Himba, their hair is an extension of their body. All Himba tribe members start their lives with bold heads.
Young girls and boys have two thick braids on the rear of the head. Twin boys and girls have only a single braid each. As a girl reaches puberty her hairstyle starts changing first her hair is arranged into a headdress to partially cover her face. A young woman who has been married for over a year or has children wears the Erembe hairstyle which consists of many braids often decorated with an ornate headpiece made o goat hair, jewelry, etc.
Young boys continue to wear a braided hair plait till they get married. A married young man wears a head wrap with unbraided hair.
Himba boys become young men when they get married while girls are considered young women only after having a child.
A traditional Himba Village
A traditional Himba hut is quite basic. It has a fireplace in the middle. Dried cow dung is often used for making a fire. Around the fire on the ground, there are many cow skins that are used for sitting and sleeping on. No beds or mattresses everybody including children sleeps on these thing cow skins. Men use a wooden holder as a pillow. Several pots and baskets are used for cooking and collecting plants. All their pots, jags, and cups they make themselves from clay or carve out of wood. Their clothing is self-made as well. They primarily use cow and goat skin.
The Sacred Fire (Okuruwo) in the centre of the village has particular significance and is a symbol of the Himba way of life. The fire keeper (usually the oldest and the most respected man of the tribe) takes care of the holy fire and makes sure it always smolders. It’s the place where all religious rituals take place. The straight line from the chief’s hut past the sacred fire to the cattle enclosure within the village borders is called a holy line. It can’t be crossed by a stranger who hasn’t received an invitation to visit the village.
Visiting the Himba tribe in Opuwo
The Ovahimba Living Village Museum is located 40km north of Opuwo, the nearest town, on the way to Epupa Falls. It’s a perfect camping spot and a great opportunity to meet Himba people and learn about their traditional customs and lifestyle. Even if are not planning to camp there it’s definitely worth making a stop just for the museum itself. The museum is open for visitors daily from 8am to 6pm.
What makes the Ovahimba Living Museum special?
- First of all, there are very few conservation or cultural projects in Africa that are run by local people. This is one of them. Rimunikavi Tjipurua is a young local guy from Mamachanja village who started this project a couple of years ago on his uncle’s land.
- Second, a very personal approach. It’s not a place where big tour buses come and stop for photos. You get a real chance to learn about the Himba traditional lifestyle with a local guide who belongs to the Himba culture.
- Third, the location of the campsite is beautiful; greenish hills, massive baobab trees, lookout points, rock paintings, etc. All these in a very calm peaceful place.
What can you do and see at the Himba Village?
- Visit the village, see traditional Himba dancing, get some knowledge on medicine plants, buy hand-made souvenirs, and do a guided walk.
- Do a short hike to the top of the hill and see bushmen rock paintings and a giant baobab.
- Watch the stars, the night sky here is fantastic.
- Bird watching, many different birds (hornbills, eagles, etc.) flying around.
Ovahimba Living Museum
There are plenty of Experience Himba life activities you can do here, I’ll mention some of them; the traditional life of a Himba village, bushwalk, body painting, singing, dancing, etc. For more information on different Himba tours and prices go HERE.
The campsite is located right next to the village so you see Ovahimba walking around even without doing a tour. For now, the campsite has only basic facilities but Rimunikavi is planning to upgrade it soon; install solar panels for electricity and hot water. We absolutely liked the place, here you get a real experience with Himba people.
- Hot water shower – No
- Flushing toilets – Yes
- Electricity – No
- Power outlets – No
- Running water – Yes
- Wi-Fi – No
- BBQ facilities – Yes
Other Native tribes of Namibia
There are several other native tribes in Namibia. If you have time you can visit some of them to learn more about the tribal and language diversity of the country.
- the Owambo, occupy the Northern regions between the Kunene and Okavango rivers, 700 000 people, the largest group in Namibia, about 45% of the total population.
- the Herero, live in the North of Namibia; Kunene region, with a current population of 250 000.
- the Damara, mainly live in Damaraland, current population 90 000.
- the Kavango, live in Caprivi (Kavango region) between the Chobe and Zambezi rivers, current population 140 000, close relatives to Ovahimba.
- the Nama, live mostly in the South of Namibia, near Keetmanshoop, current population 90 000.
- the Bushmen (San), occupy the remote East part of Namibia, 27 000.
The pretty half of Stingy Nomads, responsible for all our land adventures (hiking, climbing, walking the Camino) and following them write-ups. Alya loves walking since she was a child, she prefers to walk 1000 km with a backpack rather than to do a 10 000 km road trip (actually any road trip). Alya is a big fan of Latin America, the Spanish language, and dancing. Every time we go away she desperately misses our dog Chile.