Himba are Herero-speaking semi-nomadic pastoralists living in north-western Namibia and south-western Angola. Currently numbering an estimated 15,000 people (there are no reliable figures), their comparative isolation in a harsh and arid region have meant that they have retained traditional social and cultural patterns to a greater extent than Herero peoples elsewhere in Namibia
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Himba migrated along the Kunene River and settled in what is today north-western Namibia and south-western Angola.
The Himba’s sophisticated cattle herding has led to relative prosperity by regional standards. However, a catastrophic drought from 1979 to 1982 decimated herds and turned many Himba to wage-labour, foraging and relief handouts. At the same time the opening of a new front in the war between SWAPO and the South African army restricted mobility and caused many casualties from land-mines. With the end of the war, independent Namibia’s Ministry for Basic Education, Sport and Culture targeted resources to minority groups, including the Himba. This has led to improvements in education and healthcare.
In the 1990s, a Namibian government proposal for construction of a dam at Epupa on the Kunene river threatened dry season grazing land and sacred burial sites. Many Himba opposed the plan for these reasons, although some, especially from younger generations, supported the dam proposal out of a desire for more local development and jobs. In recent years, the Angolan and Namibian governments have turned away from the Epupa dam, with an offshore gas-to-power project and a dam site elsewhere on the Kunene receiving more favour.
Reports in 2005 indicated that the Angolan government abandoned its favoured site for the Kunene hydroelectric dam at Epupa. In October 2007, it was confirmed that a smaller dam project may go forward at the so-called Baynes site. This would still affect the Himba people, but on a smaller scale. According to a 1997 feasibility study, the dam at Baynes would flood the land of 100 ‘permanent users’ and 2,000 ‘occasional users’, as opposed to 1,000 and 5,000, respectively, at the Epupa site.