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Culture Of Himba People of Namibia

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Imaginary Worlds

The Himba of Namibia share beliefs of an imaginary world, including the nature of the heart, the importance of ancestors, and the nature of the Earth. While they share this common worldview, individuals in Himba society differ in their perceptions of specific ideas. Likewise, students at Brigham Young University exercise individual thought within the collective worldview shared by Americans.

The Himba

According to Himba tradition, being a good person “requires a good heart and a good head—both gifts from Mukuru [the Himbas’ deity]; it also demands an honesty acquired piece by piece, experience by experience” (Crandall 94). This idea of a good heart refers to a person’s capacity to judge right from wrong. The belief is that “the brain has a thought and sends it to the heart” (Crandall 100) for deliberation and judgment. A good heart will advise a person to act in the morally right way, while a bad heart will remain silent. If an individual with a good heart acts against its judgment, the person will feel guilt. A good heart can become bad if “a man has rejected its counsel for so long. There are people who do evil things without hesitation because their hearts no longer work” (Crandall 102).

Several acts of crime—theft of cattle—have occurred in Otutati. In one particular instance, three young men worked together to steal and sell cattle for money. The young men were put on trial by the other men in their homestead. One of the accused, Zondoka, expressed sincere sorrow during his trial. He said, “’I know it was wrong of us to steal. And truly, I’m sorry for what I’ve done’” (Crandall 244). Zondoka had a good heart; he committed a crime, and he felt remorse for his wrongdoing. Another young man who participated in the crime is referred to as Tall One. Tall One openly admitted to his crime. “’In my mind I know stealing is wrong,’ he said. ‘But I also love to steal; it gives me great pleasure’” (Crandall 249). Tall One had stolen many other cattle before this incident, and his common acts of wrongdoing changed his heart to a bad one. Two young men took part in the same crime, but they responded so differently during their trials. Each individual has an idiosyncratic view of the importance of having a good heart.

One man, Kuwiya, felt guilty because he had followed his mind instead of his heart and had an affair with a woman. He wanted the heaviness lifted from his heart. The traditional thing to do would have been to speak to his fire-keeper and have him act as a liaison to the ancestors. However, Kuwiya felt ashamed and embarrassed that his fire-keeper should know that such a matter was troubling him, so he did something rather unconventional: he addressed Mukuru and his ancestors directly from his home. He recounts: “I told them about my heavy heart—that I knew they were cursing me and why. … Many times I repeated myself, and when I finished, I opened the door … As I walked along, I could feel my heart becoming lighter and lighter … and I thanked Mukuru” (Crandall 128). His actions were idiosyncratic to the Himba’s collective imaginary world, though he still held the belief that his heart was a moral guide.

The example of Kuwiya also illustrated the importance of ancestors to the Himba. The Himba believe that their ancestors are driving forces behind illnesses, extremes in the weather, and many other life events. They live in homesteads, small circles of homes inhabited by members of an extended family. At the center of each homestead is an okuruwo, or ancestral fire, that is believed to influence the wellbeing of each family member. The oldest man of the family’s patrilineage is the fire-keeper, meaning that he is responsible for speaking to Mukuru and the patrilineal ancestors through the ancestral fire. The Himba believe that “without the presence and blessing of the ancestors in their lives, and the ancestral protection afforded by the fire, provident living … would be impossible” (Crandall 18).

A man named Repuree had a strange dream and sought interpretation from a man called Ngipore. The dream involved a man, a warthog that spoke to Repuree, and seven dogs that surrounded them. Ngipore interpreted the dream to be “a dream of comfort, a way for [Repuree’s] fathers to assure [him] of their presence. … The dogs… were [his] fathers. They ran to [him,] they surrounded [him], they gave [him] strength.” (Crandall 203). The dream was a message from Repuree’s ancestors; he did not remember them enough, and they wanted him to know how much they protected him. A dream about dogs and a warthog could have easily been interpreted in very different ways, but the importance of ancestors in the Himba’s imaginary world shaped the meaning of the dream for these men.

The Himba believe that their ancestors cause them harm as well as bringing them protection. Ngipore fell ill during the cold season. He waited a few days to recover, but his condition only got worse. He requested a medical diviner to find the root of his malady, only to find out that it was “a gift from his deceased mother” (Crandall 76). She was displeased with the coveralls he was wearing instead of traditional Himba attire. She spoke through the diviner and told her son to remember that he was Himba. He was to “burn the coveralls, [and] sacrifice a sheep to his parents” (Crandall 76) as a symbol of respect. His strength returned almost immediately as he carried out these orders. If a different diviner had been the medium of communication between Ngipore and his deceased mother, the orders he was to carry out could have been quite different.

Another prevailing belief is that the ancestors can control the rain to keep the people from being hungry. It is common for the fire-keeper to pray for rain to feed the cattle. The Himba believe that unless Mukuru and the ancestors decide to intervene, “Nature is indifferent. The world cares nothing; it wills nothing; it thinks nothing. The world only is. Nature does not protect human beings, only Mukuru does” (Crandall 74). The Himba view the world as an apathetic, uncaring entity that runs its own course in its own course. They see “floods, drought, lightning, sickness, and death” as “things … not for [them] to control, but [to] remind [them] of [their] frailty and dependence upon Mukuru and the ancestors” (Crandall 22).

The Himba share a common belief about the nature of the planet itself. According to one Himba man, “The earth on which we live is flat. … All of the earth’s land sits together in one great mass. … The true size of this land mass is beyond guessing, such a thing can only be known by a man who has walked the width and breath of it” (Crandall 22). They believe the earth to be round, shaped like a disk, and so they model their homes after this shape. [INSERT EXAMPLE OF SQUARE HOME HERE]

The Himba base their view of the earth on two things with which they have copious experience—walking and changing seasons. When Dr. Crandall was bidding farewell to Wamesepa, the elder of the village, the old man asked how long it would take him to walk to England should he want to visit Crandall. Crandall replied that it was very far and would take him two full rotations through the seasons to reach him (Crandall 258). This idea of the earth being a small place—small enough place that one could walk anywhere—is held primarily by the older Himba, such as Wamesepa. Younger generations have been exposed to consumer goods and westernized clothing, music, and ideals regarding money (Crandall 267-268). Such ideas have undoubtedly painted a picture of a much larger world for young Himba. The discrepancies between traditional Himba culture and these new western ideals are due to “the school classroom and the efforts of Christianizing missionaries” (Crandall 268), according to the elder generation, and they are sure to become wider as time goes on.

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