Himba Marriage & Healing
The Himba people live in the remote northwest corner of Namibia, in Kaokoland, along the edge of the Namib, one of the oldest deserts in the world. They follow a traditional nomadic lifestyle, herding cattle, sheep, and goats.
Himba marriages are usually arranged by parents, and even in the case of a love match the couple must have the agreement of their parents regarding the bride-price.
Following an evening of feasting and dancing the bride is prepared by her mother. She is heavily ochered and perfumed in the tranquil darkness of her family hut. Adorned in an array of jewellery made from locally smelted iron, animal hides, and shell pendants. The bride is given her mother’s Ekori headdress, one of her most treasured possessions. Traditionally made from the finest hide and passed on from generation to generation, the Ekori symbolizes her marital status.
Nearby, the groom sits in hiding, concealed from his in-laws in a specially built nuptial hut. He is prepared for marriage with a beautifying pomade of charcoal and animal fat. The bride, before departing for her husband’s home, will roll the front coil of her Ekori forward so that she can see only straight ahead and thus is protected from the emotions of leaving home. On arrival at her new home, another feast is given in the bride’s honour after which the couple retire into a ceremonial hut to consummate the marriage.
The Himba believe all sickness is brought either by curse or premature call from the ancestors to join them in the after world. The curse is said to be carried by a black, dovelike bird coming from Angola. In the past male healers from Angola carried out the exorcism of curses, but over the past thirty years, Himba women have become powerful healers, and often practice communal trance healing.
Katjambia is one of the most respected Himba healers living today. A striking six-foot-two-inch tall woman, she travels through the territory with a small team of assistants providing healing wherever it is needed. With the beating of a drum, the shaking of a calabash rattle, and the waving of forked healing sticks, Katjambia induces her patients into a trancelike state. Once in a trance the agitated spirit can be located by the healer who then absorbs it into her own body and returns it to the ancestral world. If the spirit is too strong for her to release she must return to the ancestral fire in her camp and summons the force of three generations of healers believed to be embodied within the flame.