The Himba – Meet Namibia’s Iconic Red Women Tribe

Nov 3, 2022 | Articles, Culture, People

Many consider the Himba people the most beautiful African tribe. Traditionally, both men and women walk around naked. They do not take bath, but they make aromatic baths with herbs. The indigenous people have a population of 50,000, living in northern Namibia. They are the last semi-nomadic people of Namibia.

And why are they red? Well, the reason is a simple one. It is otjize, a paste of butter, fat, and red ochre. scented with aromatic resin, this is a mixture Himba women apply each morning to their skin and hair. It gives them a distinctive red hue look.

The tribe is a patriarchic one. They believe in just one God, and they are prone to polygamy. The amount of cattle determines the social status. Men that are higher in the social hierarchy have more women.

Himba traditional braids

What separates the Himba people from other tribes is their physical look. They are extremely beautiful, and wear skirt made of leather in different colors. Elder women wear leather socks to protect their feet from dangerous animals.

We said before they braid their hair with otjize, a mixture of oils and herbs. Their braids tell a lot more about the tribe than you might think of. Men with just one braid are single, and they tie their hair when they get married.

Women wear complex braiding combinations depending of their age and marital status. Kids have two braids. When they get into puberty, girls put the braids on front of their face.

Boys continue with one braided plait after puberty, while girls have many textured hair plants. They are arranged so they veil the girl’s face. Women married for more than one year, or having a child, wear an ornate headpiece sculptured from sheepskin. Called Erembe, it contains many streams of braided hair, colored and put in shape with the help of otjize paste.

Unmarried young men continue to wear braided plait extending to the rear of the head. Married men, on the other hand, wear a cap or head-wrap and un-braided hair beneath. Widowed men have to remove their cap or head-wrap and expose the un-braided hair.

The otjize, a mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment has skin beneficial purpose as well. It helps cleanse the skin over long periods due to water scarcity. It also protects the people from the extremely hot and dry climate in their habitat.

Weird customs

One of the weirdest customs in the Himba tribe is going to visits and guests. When a guest knocks on the door, the man of the house has to give his approval.

It is also customary to allow the guest to sleep with your wife. While your guest is sleeping with your wife, you sleep in another room. And if there is no other room in the house, you sleep outside.

Another interesting custom and ritual is childbirth. The belief is that the baby chooses his parents. But he cannot choose when to come to this world. The mother decides when to have a child.

When the woman wants to become a mother, she goes to the wood, mediates, and waits to hear the song of the baby she wants to give birth to. After that, she goes to find a man who will be the father of the child. After finding the father, they learn the song together and call for the baby, before conceiving the baby.

All the other women and the midwife in the village have to learn the song as well and sing it for the baby to be born.

Structure of the Tribe

The tribe lives in a harsh desert climate in a region where there is little water. So, the structure and lifestyle of the tribe aims to maintain and preserve as much of the traditional lifestyle as possible.

Members of the tribe live under a structure based on bilateral descent. It helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth.

Every tribe member belongs to two clans, one through the father, the patriclan called oruzo, and another through the mother. The latter, the matriclan, is called eanda. The eldest male leads the clan, and sons live with their father’s clan. When daughters marry, they go to live with the clan of their husband.

Inheritance of wealth does not follow the patriclan. Instead, the matriclan determines it. The son does not inherit his father’s cattle, but his maternal uncle’s instead. Moral obligations are important and very strict. When a person dies, the tribe evaluates the care of those who are left behind, such as orphans and widows.

The people live in homesteads of cone shaped structures made from mud, trees, and cattle dung. They are polygamous, with the average man having more than 1 wife at the time. The more cattle, the more wives. Because they are semi-nomadic, they move from one homestead to another in search of grazing for the animals.

Daily life

Women and girls perform more labor-intensive work than men. For example, women carry water to the village, they plaster the mopane wood homes, and ensure a secure supply of soured milk. Cooking and serving meals is implied. Women also milk the cows and goats.

Women take care of the children. They also take care of another woman’s children. Men have tasks like livestock farming, herding, animal slaughtering, construction, and holding council.

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Thomas B.