Himba and Herero Tribes of Namibia

Namibia's Himba people live in the northern Kaokoveld region and the Herero in the central Okahandja area; the women are much admired and photographed for their beauty and style. Unique and quite different from each other, they share a language and the holy fire custom.

The Himba and the Herero migrated into what is now known as Namibia and Botswana as part of a larger movement of people. These Bantu-speaking people hailed from east Africa centuries ago. In the 1800's, the group started to separate, with a large portion moving further south and becoming known as the Herero. The ones who remained became the ancestors of the Himba people we know today.

Adorned with hand made jewellery, the beautiful Himba women and children are instantly recognisable due to their intense red ochre coloured skin and intricate hair styles. Himba women spend many hours attending to their beauty care and grooming. The women and children, clad only in loincloths and goat skin mini skirts, protect themselves from the weather, moisturise and beautify with 'otjize'.

They use 'otjize' to cream their entire bodies with butterfat and red ochre mixed with an aromatic resin from the Omazumba shrub. The lotion gives their skin a reddish glow - ideal beauty for the Himba people of the Kaokoveld. Their dreadlocked and braided hair is intricately styled and they wear jewellery made from materials such as shells, copper and woven reeds. The women wear heavy metal rings around their ankles and those that are married wear a small headpiece made of soft skin on their heads.

The friendly Himba people have managed to survive and maintain their traditional ways of life through near genocide and adversity. This may be due to the fact that the area they now live in is remote and harsh. They are herdsmen of mainly cattle and goats, leading a semi nomadic life moving between waterholes from one season to the next.

The Himba worship their God called Mukuru and their ancestors. Every family has an ancestral fire maintained by the fire-keeper. The fire-keeper communicates through the fire with Mukuru and the ancestors.

The dress of the married women is called 'oborokweya'. It is worn over a number of undergarments, which makes the skirt fan out to enhance their graceful walking style. The outfit is not complete without the 'otjikaeva' headdress.

A shawl is worn over the shoulders and sometimes an apron. This style of dress was influenced by early German missionary wives. It is amazing that the Herero women manage to stay cool in the often oppressive heat!

The Herero's most special day of celebration is Maherero Day on the last weekend of August in Okahandja, Namibia. This festival is a brightly coloured and richly dressed display of Herero people honouring their ancestors.

The ancestral cult is still an important part of life for many families here. They gather round the 'okuruo' or holy fire in the evenings, this fire must never be allowed to burn out. The chief establishes contact with the ancestors through the fire.

While the Himba continue to live a nomadic life as they have for centuries, the Herero people of Namibia settled and became prosperous through cattle ranching. Unfortunately, this brought conflicts with the Nama people and then later German Colonial rule fractured and decimated many communities.

The Herero people have persevered and cattle still form the centre of their lives, through which wealth is measured.

At the heart of each settlement in Hereroland is the cattle kraal - an enclosure which is fenced off with wooden stakes to keep night-time predators out. Their home building style has also been influenced by the missionaries and now features a peak roof and rectangular door, whereas the Himba have retained their rounded or cone shaped style.

'Omaere' forms the basis of the Herero daily diet. This sour milk is stored in large calabashes (hollow gourds) which are topped up with fresh milk in the evening.

For a chance to see the colourful Maherero Day Festival and meet these proud people, contact a Siyabona Africa Consultant for Namibia accommodation, Hereroland tours or a Tribal Safari.

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