"Pour survivre, les Himbas doivent avoir les pieds enracinés dans leurs traditions et les voix qui portent jusqu’aux grands pays au-delà de la grande mer..."

Kovahimba, l'association ayant pour but d'aider les Himbas, peuple nomade de Namibie
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The Himbas

The Himbas' wealth 

Semi-nomadic pastors, the Himbas’ life and thoughts are aimed at increasing the size of their herd.

According to a Himba saying, “a Himba is nothing without a herd”. Indeed, the cattle is at the heart of all the Himba’s life. The enclosure is located in the middle of the kraal (Himba camp), the huts are built around it in a circle and throughout the day cows and oxen wander freely around houses. Besides, the reason why Himba women cover their body with ochre (otjize) and fat (omaze) is to be as beautiful and strong as the red cows, known to be the most resistant. The Himba language contains more than five hundred words to refer to cattle. 

Still nowadays, the Himbas essentially gain their livelihood from their herds. Their food is based on cow milk and meat. With cow and ox leather, the Himbas make belts, bags, blankets and adornments. Ladies’ skirts are made of sheep leather. When mixed with soil, cow dung is used to build huts which remain warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Above all, the cattle is a symbol of social status. A man with no or very little cattle is not respectful. As a matter of fact, the word Tjimba, meaning a Himba with no cattle, is regarded as injurious. But even more important is the fact that, for a Himba, the cattle is the way towards self achievement. A Himba maintains an individual and unique relationship with each of his animals. 

Food-producing does not exist as it forces people to remain sedentary. The only areas where crops are grown are around the village where the head of district lives, constituting with his family a sedentary cell. The field work lies with the women and the main or only culture is millet. Cereals or tobacco are exchanged against a few cows or goats. 

During the rainy season, the Himbas live nearby temporary water points. They divide into very small groups (of sometimes only one or two persons) and scatter with a part of the cattle, walking up in the mountain following rain clouds, to find new grazing areas. Their route varies from one year to the next and their migrations cannot be defined exactly.

The Himbas use the temporary water points over the longest period possible and try to arrive as late as possible by the permanent water points, so that the latter still have water at the end of the dry season. Unfortunately, it’s seldom the case. The Himbas generally arrive in the permanent camps in late June when the camps tend to be grouped together and more populated. Most ceremonies are held in that period. 

The Himba nomadic way of life is an excellent rotation system. Doctor Paskin, a veterinary, notes that, in normal conditions, the Himbas never let their cattle graze more than half the length of the “Bushman grass” (Stipagrostis spp). As soon as half the length is eaten, pastors take their cattle elsewhere. As a result, graze lands are in better conditions when inhabited by the Himbas than in other parts of Kaokoland, although rainfalls are more seldom. Likewise, soil erosion is less important. 

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