Namibia's Tribes


The Herero came to Namibia during the 17th century from East Africa. They’re traditionally pastoralists, with cattle playing a major role in their nomadic lifestyle. Today, though, most Herero are farmers or merchants in Namibia's urban hubs; some have also become professionals. Herero women are known for their stylish dress—full-length colorful gowns and unique, wide-brim hats. Ironically, this style of dress was adopted from missionaries that introduced German colonial rule to Namibia in the early part of the 20th century. The Herero–German War (1904–07) was a cruel episode in the history of Southern Africa as German military policy was to annihilate or confine Herero to labor camps so Europeans could establish farms. Issues regarding the treatment of the Herero during this time are still being battled out in the legal system: the German government has issued an official apology, but the Herero feel they deserve more for the death of an estimated 65,000 tribe members, and are seeking financial reparations through the international courts.


The Himba, a matriarchal tribe closely related to the Herero, are famous for covering their faces and hair with a light mixture of ochre, herbs, and animal fat to shield them from the hot sun. They wear very little clothing due to the harsh desert climate. The tribe lives mainly in the Kunene region of northern Namibia and, like the Herero, the Himba are a nomadic people who breed cattle as well as goats. Himba women do most of the work in the tribe—they bear children, take care of the children, tend to the livestock, and even build homes. In the 1980s and '90s, Himba culture was endangered due to severe draught and the war in nearby Angola. Recently they had to battle modernization and fight against a proposed hydroelectric dam, which threatened to flood their homesteads and destroy their pastures. However, with help from the international community, the Himba have successfully blocked the dam and managed to maintain control of their land and their traditions.

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