Himba (Ovahimba) People
In 1978 during a visit to one of the Himba villages in Kaokoland by a group of international journalists, one of them remarked, “Look at how uncivilized and backward these people are. It’s shocking!” His remark was translated from English into Herero. One of the Himba present, dressed traditional loin cloth and smeared with animal fat mixed with red ochre , after a short exchange between himself and the nterpreter responded in fluent Afrikaans, “Our life is good. We have no fighting, no crime, no hunger, no hatred. We are satisfied. Do you live as well in your land?”
The Himba indeed have the appearance of having been forgotten by the rest of the world but this is only as a result of their extreme isolation and conservative way of life.
Many years ago, when the main body of the Herero nation moved southwards into Namibia with their vast herds of cattle into the water rich central regions, some stayed behind in the mountainous regions of Kaokoland. Long spells of drought forced them to live off the land, collecting wild fruit and digging out roots. This lifestyle was regarded as inferior by the proud southern Herero, and they called the Kaokoland Herero “Tjimba”, derived from “ondjimba-ndjimba” which means aardvark, or someone who digs food up out of the ground.
The Tjimba then fell victim to marauding Nama who had settled at Sesfontein. The Nama raided most of the little livestock that remained and most of the Tjimba fled across the border into Angola where they sought refuge with the Ngambwe tribe. The Ngambwe treated them with disdain and called them “ovaHimba” meaning beggars, because they had come to beg residence and food. Hence the name Ovahimba. The Himba in later years, hearing that the war between German forces and the Herero nation had ended under the leadership of a dynamic young Herero, Vita, moved back into Kaokoland.
Many of the younger generation have accepted some of the changes and are being educated in the Namibian national system, and will in time, abandon many of their older customs and traditions.
However, most of the older generation still cling to their traditions and when their children return from school or visits to town, strongly encourage them to dress or undress, according to traditional style, and to live like a true Himba.
After a visit to this most fascinating and unique part of Namibia and understanding some of their traditional ways of life, one can indeed understand the question back in 1978, “Do you live as well in your land?”