Not even one kilometre north off Kamanjab lies the new ‘Omusaona Himba cultural village’. ‘Omusaona’ means ‘thorny acacia tree’ in Himba language, which are plentiful.
‘New’ meaning that a few families relocated from the northern ‘Kaokoveld’ on to a farm’s property. There are no modern houses or cons to be found here, they moved with old Himba traditions only a few months ago.
Huts are built with wooden Acacia tree poles and covered with a paste made out of cow dung and clay paste. This applies to roofs as well. These huts are very well insulated from the scorching sun.
Each Himba village has the same layout. All huts are built in a large circle. The ‘Kraal’ for the holy cattle lies in the centre.
The entry/exit point for the cattle lines up with the entry/exit point off the Chief’s Hut. Halfway in between both entrances is the fireplace for the holy fire, which is lid every night. If someone isn’t invited to join the holy fire ceremony, he can not pass by in between the hut, fire and kraal. He has to pass by behind the hut or kraal.
The tree in the middle of the village is used to dry leather and other goods.
Seems to be a social meeting place as well.
It resembles a miracle that the Himba still believe and live in traditional, ancient and spiritual ways. A devastating drought in the early 1980’s wiped out almost all of their cattle. Cattle is a sign of wealth for these Nomads and have therefore holy status.
Many Himba people died of hunger or thirst. At the same time, the South African Border War raged over Namibia, then South West Africa, Angola and Zambia, which converted the already dire lands to a battlefield. Many Himba fled the scenes in fear of being forced to join either side for yet, another useless war.
Even with nowadays modern society, most of the Himba still live in historical, traditional and ancient believes. An absolutely fascinating and outstanding achievement, like most other native tribes around the world, have surrendered ancient believes to modern technology and alcohol.
From Oppi Koppi, I walked the 600 meters in northern direction and 1000 meters inland from the turn-off and was friendly greeted by tour guide Peineas. After a quick introduction, we walked up to the newly built traditional village.
We were quickly greeted (Moro) by 3 Himba women, wearing similar but very different jewellery. ‘Perivi?’ Means ‘How are you?’ ‘Nauwa, okuhepa’ means ‘I am fine, thank you!’ Like with any woman around the globe, it states the wealth of her family and social status within this community. Most jewellery has been passed on through generations.
The ‘ohumba’, or housing of the ‘Ngoma Snail’, is a popular item in Himba tradition as it resembles fertility of the woman wearing it.
Copper rings and necklaces, as well as beaded necklaces, determine wealth and health.
The thick necklace resembles, that this fertile woman isn’t married, and therefore doesn’t have any children yet.
This goes for males too.
Chief Kasapa, who joined us shortly after seems to be single too.
Even this young boy wears one already. Himba jewellery has been a major trading object for centuries.
These are still very much handmade.
The women’s hair is strained with a paste made out of clay, butter and herbs,
which runs out naturally over their shoulders.
A woman in a different hut was grinding the claystone, with a young woman watching me.
The hat is made out of goatskin. Goats are not killed to use their leather, they must have died of natural cause.
A little goat died the night before and this woman makes a new hat.
Carefully pieced and shaped together, little stones are added to give it the round edge before it dries in the sun.
Quite an effort to produce.
A goatskin skirt is used to cover the waist, while a cattle fur is in braided with more jewellery.
This appears like a metal belt pointing in outwards direction. Starting from the ankles, permanent beaded jewellery is attached to each foot. Not only serves it as protection from snake or scorpion bites but is part of their social status too.
The number of vertical stripes on this foot jewellery, determine how many children this woman has. Just like reading an open book, fellow Himba instantly knows the social position of each member. Himba believe in polygamy, meaning a man can have more than one wife. Only if he has enough cattle to pay the ransom, on average, around 5 cows per wife. The cattle have a holy status in Himba tradition.
The leather ‘hat’ women are wearing resembles cow horns.
Just as much as young teenage girls wear two braided plaits.
These do look like cattle horns. Kids at the age of around 9 years, get their bottom 4 front teeth pulled out by the medicine man. Another symbol of Himba beauty.
It’s all about family within the village community. The older kids look after the younger ones. Female teenagers use water to shower until they reach their first period and are biologically fertile. From there on, no more water is used for cleaning.
Instead, they shower in smoke. Each woman collects their own herbs, fruits and spices for her own distinctive smell.
These get burned in a hand size coal burner and intensifies her own perfume. The smoke kills pesticides as well.
The coal oven is placed inside a coarse hand-woven basket and their ‘leather skirt’ is placed around it.This works like an inhaler but also cleans her skirt at the same time.
Mixed with butter, this ash paste gets smeared around the neck. A shiny traditional perfume.
After a slow, anxious start from both sides, the motion loosened up when I was invited into the chief’s hut.
Cabassa, a water or liquid holder, were hanging from the main pole, and a wedding dress and other clothing hung up on the wall.
One woman repeated her early morning shower ritual for me to witness, as another sat near the entrance.
With the help off guide Pineas, a little palaver started. Strangely enough, the women asked many questions about my life. It is hard to understand for a lot of my friends on how I chose to live my life, freely as a wheely. For the Himba women, disbelief is an understatement.
All in all, the Himba don’t seem to smile much. There have been many thoughtful faces. Maybe there isn’t much to smile about? Without outside social interference and living closely together, there wouldn’t be too many news around.
Only when I asked something silly, a smile appeared.
From a traditional point of view, this was very interesting to interact with this Himba tribe. However, I noticed many and mostly sad and thoughtful faces. At least when I was around. Being a show pony in front of a lens wouldn’t make me happy either, but I think these are worried faces about their future. Not everyone chooses a traditional upbringing, just like tour guide Pineas. In these modern times, many kids go to school. The costs are not cheap. Not being able to wander the plains with their livestock and gathering food from the desert anymore, their only income is by selling jewellery. To be able to interact with tourists, the need to speak English at least. One bonus coming out off untraditional upbringing.
I left this village with mixed emotions. I really do hope that the Himba will keep living their traditional ways in the future. Tourism money is needed for their survival, just as much as anywhere else in Africa.
I dropped by the supermarket the next morning, buying milk, butter and lots of maize meal. This won’t last for too long, but at least they all get a steady meal for a day or two. Penias and female traditional drop out Esther helped me to carry the goods to the unexpected villagers. At last, a little smile appeared.
I handed Esther my iPad to show the photos I’ve taken yesterday.
The language of OM-D did it again. There were plenty of laughter and smiles as the photos were revealed.
Meanwhile, a mother cooked some Millie pap over an open fire, which she enjoyed immensely.
Not wearing the traditional hairdo means she has lost her hair. The hair gets cut off when she is in mourning.
Her young boy, still single, was hungry too.
He looked rather cute with more pap over his face than in his belly.
No spoons available around here. Finger licking good.
I asked for a group photo when they all lined up.
Only a few smiled for the camera, but that’s better than nothing. Penian took a few photos with me standing by the Himba tribe too.
I met chief Kasapa at the car park, who just returned on his bicycle. Hearing about the unexpected food drop off, he shook my hand and said ‘okuhepa’. A Himba thank you. He invited me for an evening around the holy fire, next time I am around.
I hope there will be a few more smiling faces then. I gave one of the young girls a lift into town. She took a blanket with her to sit on.
Not to prevent my car from getting dirty or smelly, but for her to keep her own perfume on. Okuhepa Kandongo, thank you Himba.