The Himba are an ethnic group of about 20,000 to 50,000 people living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene region (formerly Kaokoland). They are a nomadic, pastoral people, closely related to the Herero, and speak Otjihimba, a dialect of the Herero language.
The Himba breed cattle and goats. The responsibility of milking the cows lies with the women. Women take care of the children, and one woman will take care of another woman's children. Women tend to perform more labor-intensive work than men do, such as carrying water to the village and building homes. Men handle the political tasks and legal trials.
Members of an extended family typically dwell in a homestead, "a small, circular hamlet of huts and work shelters" that surrounds "an okuruwo (ancestral fire) and a central livestock enclosure." Both the fire and the livestock are closely tied to their belief in ancestor worship, the fire representing ancestral protection and the livestock allowing "proper relations between human and ancestor."
The Himba wear little clothing, but the women are famous for covering themselves with otjize, a mixture of butter fat and ochre, possibly to protect themselves from the sun. The mixture gives their skins a reddish tinge. This symbolizes earth's rich red color and the blood that symbolizes life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty. Women braid each other's hair and cover it in their ochre mixture.
The Himba never wash, even after childbirth. In order to get rid of body odour, they apply strong-smelling substances to their bodies. They do not wash their hands either - instead they use specific dust to clean their hands.
Modern clothes are scarce, but generally go to the men when available. Traditionally both men and women go topless and wear skirts or loincloths made of animal skins in various colors. Adult women wear beaded anklets to protect their legs from venomous animal bites.
Boys are generally circumcised before puberty, to make them eligible for marriage. Marriages are arranged at a daughter's birth and usually take place when the girl is between about 14 and 17.
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