Image source: Face2Face Africa

The Himba tribe and why water baths aren’t part of their daily routine.

The Himba (singular: OmuHimba, plural: OvaHimba) are indigenous peoples with an estimated population of about 50,000 people[ living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene Region (formerly Kaokoland) and on the other side of the Kunene River in Angola.[ There are also a few groups left of the OvaTwa, who are also OvaHimba, but are hunter-gatherers. The OvaHimba are a semi-nomadic, pastoralist people, culturally distinguishable from the Herero people in northern Namibia and southern Angola, and speak OtjiHimba, a variety of Herero, which belongs to the Bantu family within Niger–Congo.[

The OvaHimba are considered the last (semi-) nomadic people of Namibia.

One of the most remarkable Himba traits is that the women are not allowed to use water for washing. This implies themselves and also their clothes. Again, according to the elderly this dates back to the great droughts where water was scarce and only men were allowed access to water for washing purposes. Apart from applying red ochre on their skin, Himba women do take a daily smoke bath in order to maintain personal hygiene. They will put some smouldering charcoal into a little bowl of herbs (mostly leaves and little branches of Commiphora trees) and wait for the smoke to ascend. Thereafter, they will bow over the smoking bowl and due to the heat they will start perspiring. For a full body wash they cover themselves with a blanket so that the smoke gets trapped underneath the fabric.H

The first settlements of the Himba people can be traced back to the early 16th century when they crossed the Angolan border and chose Kaokoland (nowadays called Kunene region) as their new homeland. At that time the word Himba did not exist because of the fact that they had not yet separated themselves from the Herero tribe.

At the end of the 19th century Namibia was plagued by a relentless bovine epidemic. Most of the cattle that the Herero depended on perished and the tribe faced a great crisis. Subsequently, the tribe moved south and started to explore different regions in order to enhance their chances of survival. Still, some members decided to stay and rather struggle for survival in familiar territories. Then and there the schism between the two tribes became a reality and the Himba identity came into being.

Outside of the smoke baths you must be wondering why we think this tribe is strange, we can tell you one of their cultures. They give sex for free to their guests and also they adorn newborn with bead necklaces.  As if these are not enough, the tribe lives in isolation and is wary of external contacts. The people work hard to ensure that their beliefs and culture is not contaminated in any form by outsiders.  You can see why we are curious to know this people who have not accepted civilization.

However, not taking their bath is strange. Before you are taking aback, the reason why they don’t bath with water is because of the harsh climatic situation in their region. The Himba people lives in one of the most extreme environments; the harsh desert climate and the lack of portable are the reasons why this tribe have difficulty getting a bath.

mage Source: tripinc.net

Their lack of bath routine doesn’t mean that they look less pretty. When you find them on their traditional attire, they look great while some have their bodies exposed like the women. Since, taking of bath is difficult, they make use of the red ochre on their skins and then make use of a daily smoke bath in order to maintain their hygiene.

A shouldering charcoal is dropped into a bowl filled with herbs and the smoke is allowed to ascend and the people bow over this smoking bowl and because of heat, the body perspires and helps in washing the body. The people are friendly to strangers and visitors but will not allow any interference in their culture.

Sources 1, 2,

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