August 10, 2015

1802 NAMIBIA - A Himba woman

The Himba (singular: OmuHimba, plural: OvaHimba) is an ethnic group with an population of about 50,000 people, living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene region and on the other side of the Kunene River in  Angola. The OvaHimba are a semi-nomadic, pastoral people, culturally distinguishable from the  Herero people, and speak OtjiHimba (a Herero language dialect), which belongs to the language family of the  Bantu. They are predominantly livestock farmers who breed fat-tailed sheep and goats, but count their wealth in the number of their cattle. They also grow and farm rain-fed crops such as maize and millet.

Women and girls tend to perform more labor-intensive work than men and boys do. The men's main task is preoccupied tending to the livestock farming, herding where the men will often be away from the family home for extended periods, animal slaughtering, construction, and holding council with village headmen. Members of a single extended family typically dwell in a homestead (onganda), a small family-village, consisting of a circular hamlet of huts and work shelters that surround an okuruwo (sacred ancestral fire) and a central enclosure (kraal) for the sacred livestock.

Both men and women wears clothing that befits their living environment, often consisting of skirt-like clothing made from calfskins or increasingly from more modern textiles, and occasionally sandals, with foot soles often found made from old car tires. The women especially are famous for covering themselves with otjize paste, a cosmetic mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment, to cleanse the skin due to water scarcity and protect themselves from the extremely hot and dry climate as well as against mosquito insect bites. The cosmetic mixture, often perfumed with the aromatic resin of the omuzumba shrub, gives their skin and hair plaits a distinctive orange or red-tinge characteristic, as well as texture and style.

Otjize is a highly desirable aesthetic beauty cosmetic, red symbolizing the color of the earth, but also the color of the blood, the essence of life. Hairstyle and jewelry play a significant role, indicating age and social status. The children have their heads shaved or a small crop of hair on their head crown; this soon is sculptured to one braided hair plait extended to the rear of the head for young boys and young girls have two braided hair plaits extended forward towards the face often parallel to their eyes, the form of wear being determined by the oruzo membership (patrilineal descent group).

From pubescence, boys continue to have one braided hair plait, girls will have many otjize textured hair plaits, some arranged to veil the girl's face, in daily practice the hair plaits are often tied together and held parted back from the face. Women who have been married for about a year, or have had a child, wear an ornate headpiece called the Erembe, sculptured from sheepskin, with many streams of braided hair, coloured and put in shape with otjize paste. The OvaHimba are also accustomed to use wood ash for hair cleansing due to water scarcity.

About the stamps
The stamp is part of the series Medium-sized Antelopes of Namibia, about which I wrote here.

Himba people - Wikipedia
Himba - Before They
Himba - Traditionas and Customs

Sender: Marianne
Sent from ??? (Namibia), on 26.05.2015
Photo: Siggi Straube

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