Northern Namibia, Kunene, and Omusati region live the semi-nomadic people of Ovahimba and Ovazimba tribes.
According to their culture, women engage in daily activities of herding, milking cows, caring for the children while men go hunting, sometimes staying in the forest for a longer period of time.
Himba are polygamous. Girls are not allowed to choose their suitors instead they are married off to male partners selected by their fathers once they attain puberty. According to Namibia census data 2019, the tribe’s population is over 50,000.
Most of their cultures are strongly practiced despite western influence. For instance, “Man above all” tradition. Women have no say or influence in decision making. They still believe that their place is in the kitchen. A husband’s demands come first.
But what makes them different?
Their distinctive culture. According to their tradition, “When a male visitor visits, a man(the husband) shows his approval by giving him the Okujepisa Omukazendu treatment. This is where the wife is given to his guest to spend the night while the husband sleeps in another room. In a case there is no available room, her husband sleeps outside.”
Himba people do not shower. Yes…you read well. They believe in “bathing is forbidden” rule. Instead of taking a shower, women take a smoke bath and apply aromatic resins on their skin. They hold on to the belief that the color red signifies “Earth and blood” which, according to them, is the essence of life, and is the Himba ideal of beauty.
Due to that, their skin remains red hence making them extremely unique and ‘beautiful’ in their own way. They obtain the red color from the otjize paste (a combination of butterfat, omuzumba scrub, and ochre) and its function is to protect their skin from the harsh desert climate and insect bites.
Tradition is an important help to history, but its statements should be carefully scrutinized before we rely on them
Himba and Literature
As rich as Himba culture is, it has not been represented much in literature. However, in Nnedi Okorafor (Nigerian-American writer of fantasy and science fiction for both children and adults) ‘s popular ‘’Binti’’ novella that was published in 2015, Binti who is the lead character in the book comes from the Himba community.
Okorafor describes the tribe as a “tribe in Namibia who uses ‘sweet-smelling otjize’, a mixture of ochre and butterfat over their skin, rolling it into their hair as protection against harsh climate”.
Every culture has something to be ashamed of, but every culture also has the right to change, to challenge negative traditions, and create new ones