Then and Now: The Herero

In the afternoon of the same day we met the Himba, Weston, the owner of the campsite we were staying at in Opuwo, took us to see the Herero tribe. Though now they are easily distinguishable, the Herero and Himba are the same ethnicity, at least originally.

Spiritual Trifecta

Before the colonists arrived in Namibia, there was the Herero tribe: bare chested, ochre dyed, animal tending tribes who shared one language and one culture, tradition and beliefs.

The Herero believe in one god, Mukuru, but also place a great importance on the ancestors. There is a sacred fire near the centre of each village where about once a week the fire keeper sets it alight and communicates with the ancestors and Mukuru. The Herero also believe in omiti or witchcraft and make use of witch doctors.

herero sacred fire
The sacred fire in a Herero village

A Brief History

The Herero entered present day Namibia sometime around 1600 and later when the Nama people arrived, they began to war with them. Much later the Germans arrived, and in an attempt to put down an uprising by both the Herero and Nama, genocide was committed against the Herero people. About 65,000 of the 80,000 Herero perished after being pursued into the desert, away from the last watering holes.

herero boys
Two Herero boys on the steps.

At some point, some of the Herero fled to Angola where, without their livestock, they turned to begging various Angolan tribes for provisions to survive. In Angola, one tribe’s word for beggar was himba, and the name stuck. When large numbers of the new Himba returned to Namibia they found that the Herero who didn’t flee had abandoned many of their customs.

A New Culture

herero woman sewing dress
Herero woman sewing a traditional dress.

The women, of whom many worked as servants and housemaids to German families, adopted their own version of their madams’ dresses. They wear up to seven slips under a finely pleated dress and apron. Because the Herero did still tend cattle and count them as a measure of wealth, the women fashioned their hats to represent their pride and dependence on cows and shaped them into horns.

The Herero also adopted a square and rectangular housing design, but some retained the same method of construction featuring dung. Their villages still center around the sacred fire and while witchcraft and animism are still practiced, most Herero identify themselves as Christians.

herero house
Moreno with Herero boys and grandmother

So the Himba are the real Herero culturally, but the Herero managed to retain the name of their people despite embracing some western values and identity.  Don’d be shy about referring to the Himba as such though, they are fiercely proud of that name and what it identifies with.

Today the Herero and Himba and basically all of Namibia’s many ethnicities get along well and there is no longer any serious conflict.

Week 6: Damaraland – Africa Anticipated

This week in Namibia we head north through the Skeleton coast up to the Angolan border.


Skeleton Coast

After leaving creepy Mile 108, we finally made it to the infamous Skeleton Coast. We didn’t have reservations to stay within the park, so the guard had to turn on the generator to turn on the phones to call the lodge there to make sure there was room for us! He also made us take a package to give someone there, it was all very mysterious.

The Skeleton Coast is ‘infamous’ because of all the shipwrecks, but it was a bit of a disappointment. We actually only saw one, but assuming we’d see hundreds we didn’t even stop to take a photo of it! *facepalm

oil rig
The only thing we really saw at the Skeleton Coast: a rusty, derelict oil rig


The next day we left the windy coast and quickly started peeling off the layers as we entered the Damaraland province of Namibia. All of a sudden it looked like the Africa I know from the Lion King, it was magnificent. If only we had spotted wild elephants, it would’ve been the Africa I’ve always imagined.


We visited Twyfelfontein, one of Namibia’s World Heritage Sites, and one of the biggest rock engravings sites on the continent, carved for centuries by the San bushmen (who the Damara people descended from).

giraffe rock engraving
A giraffe engraving at Twyfelfontein

And then it happened. We got to a very cheap bush camp, glad to save some money, when someone told us desert elephants were around. And we saw elephants!! In the wild! Just…doing their thing! Moreno’s writing a post on our little adventure with them, but it was amazing, and I don’t think the image I’ve had in my head all these years could’ve played out any better.

Elephants everywhere! There ended up being about 20 of them.

The next day we headed north. And look! Giraffes! Three of them, and they were so beautiful. It was a bit ironic that we managed to get closer to some of these animals in the wild than in the parks we’ve been to so far.


We didn’t mean to stay in Opuwo, but man, are we glad we did. It’s a little town, with not much in it, but it was the first one not overrun by tourists (which was a bit overwhelming in itself) and the town was filled with a mishmash of different African cultures: some people were in modern ‘americanized’ clothing, the Herero women were in their Victorian style dresses, and the Himba women, painted in red ochre, were bare-chested in not much more than a cow hide skirt.

house in herero viillage
Moreno takes selfies with the kids, while a Herero woman patches a wall of her house

It was extraordinary, and we decided to stay another day and visit some villages to learn more about them.

getting up on a donkey
Children in the Himba village prepare to go fetch water from a nearby hill

And, bonus! We met another long-term overlander, Brian from London, later that night and he had a saw Moreno could use to fix our “cabinet can’t open without hip-checking the fridge” problem. Yaaay!

moreno sawing cabinet
Moreno fixing our cabinet door…by sawing off one of the corners

Epupa Falls

Then it was further north, to Epupa Falls, which appeared an oasis in the desert as we came over another dusty hill.

moreno at epupa falls
Token pose in front of the falls

It was easily one of the most beautiful places we’ve been so far on this trip, and it gave us an extra kick to know that Angola was just across the river.

kat at epupa falls
Taking it all in…

Now and Next

We are currently in Kamanjab, doing nothing but hiding from the heat and catching up on some interwebs. They let overlanders stay free as long as we support them by eating at their bar/restaurant. No complaints here.

Next: We’ll be here for another few days and then instead of heading to the Etosha Game Park as we intended, we might be heading back south to Windhoek, the capital, to get that Landy snorkel looked at, and get some passport things figured out.

And AND! Since we’re all caught up on the updates now (for now anyway), we’ll be concentrating on getting posts and photos out about all these things we’ve been mentioning (when my laptop works anyway). (Sidebar: god, I miss my mac).

Till then!