Hembinda Family

Village: Otjeme, Namibia

Population: 150

Elder: Mbunguha Hembinda

S 17O 36’ 40.9” W 13O 20’ 01”

About the family

We are a clan of warriors — Tall and Giant.

With its large herd of cattle, the Hembinda family is considered one of the richest among the Himba. They are distinctive in their height and build. Mbunguha Hembinda is the elder of the village and he has lots of stories to tell about the family’s history.

What's in a name

You can’t mention your own father’s name. You just say: My father.

To the Himba, the names of ancestors are sacred. As a show of respect, Himba children refrain from saying their father's name aloud.

Mbunguha Kavemuvaza

Mbunguha’s name is derived from the word okupunguha, which is the name of a ceremony that was taking place when he was born. His father gave him his second name, Kavemuvaza, which means “very far", because his grandfather’s grave was so far from the village.

Tjiuone Hembinda

Tjiuone’s name means “snoring”, because when he was a baby he was very fat and always snoring. His second name, Ueiyangisa, means “promise”. His grandfather had promised to slaughter his cow at his father’s wedding, then chose a relative’s cow instead at the last minute.

Muzari Ngombe

Muzari Ngombe Hembinda is one of the oldest people in the village, older even than Mbunguha. Her name means “the place where the cows have grazed before”. Another woman in the village has the exact opposite name: “the place where the cows have never grazed before.”

Mbunguha’s first hunt

When the leopard came, we let the dogs attack it, then we killed it with a spear.

Mbunguha started hunting kudu, zebra and leopards with other children from the village when he was a boy. He recalls that once, after they killed a leopard, most of the children didn’t want to eat the meat because the animal looked too similar to a dog. Mbunguha’s father and grandfather hunted lions and elephants but by the time he was a grown man Namibia had banned the hunting of big animals.

A generation of drought

It used to be one year rain and three years no rain. In the year of the rain we do babies.

Mbunguha’s parents told him he was born during an intense drought, which marked a tough period for the family. He never experienced a drought again until the age of 20. Since then, he says, the drought has persisted. He worries about its effect on future generations.

The elder’s wives

I have 3 wives,because when you marry one, she will eventually stop having children.

Most Himba men take more than one wife. Mbunguha’s wives — Mukaandere, Uahumbura, and Tuaivaive — are responsible for collecting firewood and water, building huts, cooking, taking care of the family’s 11 children, and helping out with the grandchildren.

African woman

Prayers to the ancestors

According to Himba belief, people can communicate with their ancestors and ask them for help and guidance through a special ritual called Okupunguha.

Elders collect the sacred mopane leaves from trees on two opposing sides of the village, and bring them to the holy fire.

While they call on their ancestors, the elders wet the mopane leaves in a basket, then chew and spit them.

The women (dressed in
ceremonial outfits) and other family members approach the holy fire on all fours and also chew and spit the leaves.

A number of men go cut a branch from a tree outside of the village.

An elder slaughters a cow and one piece is placed on the holy fire as a sacrifice to the ancestors.

The skull is hung up in a
prominent place in the village, while the rest of the meat is cooked in a pot for several hours to be shared among the men.

Life in Otjeme

Hembinda family members