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The Himba are famous for their striking visual identity. In a rapidly westernizing world, the Himba are among those who, by and large, continue to practice their traditional lifestyle.

Namibia is a country of sweeping other-worldly landscapes. The Himba are a semi-nomadic people who live in the arid landscape of north-western Namibia.

The women cover their skin with red ochre, and their hair is braided with clay. Pre-pubescent girls wear their hair with two braids over their faces.

They are heavily clad with necklaces, bracelets, anklets and other jewellery.

Himba men wear a single braid along the back of their head when they are unmarried. When they are married, their hair will be covered for the rest of their lives, unless they become widowed. They carry the small arrow to scratch their head if it gets itchy. The covering is usually only removed and head shaved for funerals.

The Himba are closely related to the Herero, who live in the same region. In fact, a long time ago they were one and the same: the Himba had not yet come into being as a separate group. It was during conflict and famine that the Herero split, and the one group became known as the Himba, which means “beggars”. The Herero women, who once would have dressed much like the Himba women pictured above, now wear the elaborate clothing reminiscent of the German colonisers.

Despite their rich traditions, the are not untouched by western influence. Children and adults alike are commonly seen in either a mixture of traditional and western dress, or full western dress.

Like many traditional cultures, the Himba are predominantly an oral culture. This means written text has less meaning and relevance to them than spoken word, even if they can read, which many can’t.

This is why Wycliffe Bible Translators SA are involved in producing oral Bible translations for the Himba people of Namibia.

“Generally in Africa there is a high percentage of illiterate people. Illiterate doesn’t mean people are ignorant, it means they are also oral. Oral is the main means of communication. When you bring an oral person a written text, that person would have hard time to understand it. But if you bring that written text into oral form, the people will understand it. And you are not transmitting the text following the written features, but you bring the text using the oral features that are very relevant to the people.” – Bonifacio Paulo, Translation Consultant.

So far the book of Mark and 83 Bible stories have been translated. I had the privilege of being present for the dedication of the book of Mark, where many members of the community stood up to share testimonies about how having scripture in their language had transformed their lives.

“Such a beautiful tale of Multiplication! One can’t imagine, even at this early stage of MP3 distribution… how many have heard the Gospel – the name of Jesus, for the first time. We are hearing stories of villages gathering around the campfire listening, singing and learning. Wonderful!” – Michael Cardy.

For more about Wycliffe Bible Translators SA see

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