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Cultural Capital and The Himba Tribe

Himba Tribe: Namibia

Previously, we wrote about the concept of cultural capital. A unique case study for the concept of a unique approach to cultural capital can be found when studying the indigenous Himba tribe in Namibia. They are indigenous to the Kunene Region in northwestern Namibia, numbers around 50,000 individuals and speaks OtjiHimba, a dialect of the Herero language. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists, primarily relying on cattle herding for both sustenance and social wealth, which holds significant cultural importance. Himba women are notable for their unique beauty ritual that involves covering their skin and hair with a mixture of butterfat, ochre, and herbs, known as “otjize”, which cleanses and protects the skin against the harsh desert environment while also being aesthetically significant. Their traditional attire includes skirts made from calfskin and ornate headdresses for married women, complemented by jewelry fashioned from iron or shell beads.

The Himba are deeply spiritual, practicing animism and ancestor worship; they revere a god named Mukuru and the spirits of ancestors who influence their daily lives. Their homesteads are circular structures made from saplings, mud, and dung, organized around a central chief who leads the extended family. Cultural practices, including ceremonies like the “Okuyi” coming-of-age ceremony for young girls, enrich their community life with dance, song, and storytelling.

Their approach differs significantly from that derived from the capitalist system prevalent in Western societies. Their perspective on cultural capital is centered around their connection with nature. Through their profound connection with their environment, the Himba have developed sustainable practices utilizing indigenous plants for medicine, food, and materials, demonstrating a deep-rooted commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainable development.

The Himba tribe continues to reside in extended family units, Within these communities, they develop a deep understanding of their local environment and ecosystems, including a belief in a spiritual connection with nature and their ancestors. This knowledge is passed on from one generation to the next. Young individuals, for example, acquire traditional knowledge and cultural capital through engagement in cultural practices including, performing rituals and ceremonies to honour their ancestors and the spirits of the land. This fosters a sense of responsibility toward preserving the environment for future generations.

The Himba tribe employs a variety of sustainable practices that include cultivating crops adapted to arid conditions, utilizing water conservation techniques, and constructing shelters from materials that are locally sourced. Their carbon emissions are notably low, partly because they rarely use air travel for international transportation. They possess extensive knowledge of local flora, which they use effectively for medicinal purposes.

For the Himba, concepts of success, wealth, and happiness are closely intertwined with their cultural identity and environmental consciousness. Their lifestyle exemplifies a comprehensive approach to coexisting with nature, underscoring the critical role of indigenous knowledge in tackling contemporary environmental issues. Including such underrepresented ethnic minority groups in global discussions can enrich the pool of experiences, perspectives, and strategies for mitigating climate change.

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Francis Mendy

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Chizoba

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