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Ethnic & Cultural Groups: Himba Culture


Today I want to discuss the Himba people of Namibia. Ever since I first interacted with them, they’ve had a great impact on me. Yes, I’m half Igbo (ethnic group in Nigeria) but the Himba people taught me something about Africa that can only be felt when hearings their personal stories of their history. We hear of what cultures and ethnic groups practiced before colonialism, but it’s rare to see those customs still played out today. The Himba people first awed me with their strength, strength to hold on to their values with no interruption. There are many articles on them, but I want to tell you my first hand account. I remember a student thoroughly explaining to me the meaning behind the Himba name. See, in Namibia, there are 13 ethnic groups but where I was in the north, Opuwo, there are two main ethnic groups, the Himbas and the Hereros. They are the same people, but just followed two different paths. As my student told me, the Hereros were all one people; as a result of a German invasion called the Herero genocide, some Hereros had to go into exile in the neighboring country of Angola. In Angola, these Herero people were begging, and the Angolan people gave them the name “Himba”, because in one of the Angolan languages the word Himba means “to beg”. Upon the Himbas returning to Namibia, the Hereros had already converted to the German way of dress and western civilization; the Himbas remained as they were before leaving Namibia. That is why today you’ll see them speak the same language but dress differently and have different lifestyles.

Himba people practice their traditions as they were before colonialism. This was interesting because they lived amongst people who were practicing western civilization. Everything from their clothing styles, to their food choice, and even the way they viewed time was included in their way of life. I had always heard about Africans and how we historically viewed time, and of course I know about CPT Colored people’s time, and African time; but to see people really live without a source of time and be so structured was amazing. Historically, Africans viewed time as something that was not to be rushed, we encouraged the fact that everyone will meet at the appointed time and things will happen in their own time. The funny thing is, people end up meeting at or around the same time anyway! (I’ve personally had this experience in my own life when I left my phone at home for a week)

With all that being said, Himba people are the richest group in Namibia because they still value cattle and use it as a source of income. They also share the wealth amongst themselves and pass on something down to their children and the fm next generations. They also make money by making the most beautiful handmade jewelry, I sat and watched the women use a zipper to make the most beautiful bracelet. They An outsider may say they have on very few clothes so they must be poor, when actually everything they wear means something significant to their society. Forexample, a hairstyle, an article of clothing, the way the clothing is worn, how many beads they have on their waist, just to name a few, can all determine who they are and what they mean to society. Everything from being married, to widowed, to determining if one is ready for marriage can be seen just by what the person has on and how they wear it. The women wear red Ocre on their hair and body to protect them from the sun, it is made from the fat of cow milk and thick red clay-like soil from the earth. Most Himba men walk around with a stick, generally used to herd cattle but it is also a symbol of manhood.

Being socialized one way in the world can often give you a lens to see society through, but it’s important to challenge that lens to say, although this group is not like me, their contribution to the world is just as important, not weird, but different, and different in a good way. The Himba people taught me to challenge my own lens; I thought that my African experience in Nigeria was enough or close to knowing what I need to know about the ways of African people. For one, it gets COLD in Namibia, like they have a winter! Although I generally have a positive look on Africa, I realized that even within similar African customs, there’s still so much diversity.

Please feel free to ask me more questions about my experience and hear accounts from Namibians themselves. I would encourage you to google them, but being that they are still so traditional some of the accounts on google have a biased view or provide misinformation that stems from misunderstanding. However, research them and try to go there one day!

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