The Humbi people live the fertile plains around Cunene River between the towns of Humbe and Xangongo. (Angola)
Humbi are a large tribal group of artisans and agro-pastoralists. Since 1965, many aspects of Humbi traditional culture have been modified due to the presence of Christian missionaries and commercial relationships with westernized peoples of neighboring Namibia. Despite foreign influence, Humbi society has been able to preserve tribal aspects of social organization, such as rites of passage (‘fi co’) where young women show impressive hairdos in the form of crests and elephant ears.
Muhumbi speak Nyaneka language.
Population and Ecosystem
150.000 Muhumbi people live the fertile plains around Cunene River between the towns of Humbe and Xangongo. (Angola)
Aesthetics and Belief System
Following the process of cultural assimilation by missionaries, the Humbi have lost much of their original aesthetics. Few families have retained that aesthetic connection to the Humbi past. In some towns, near Humbe, it is possible to find women over fifty wearing the original Humbi hairstyles -largely created with artificial hair-, as well as wearing the skirts of shiny fabrics that replaced the fur ones in 1960.
Despite this loss of culture, it is also possible to observe the original Humbi hairstyles during female initiation ceremonies. Girls’ hair is modeled first in the form of a crest and finally in the form of “elephant ears”, in the period before they are considered marriageable women.
The most stunning aspect of visual Muhumbi culture are the complex hairdos practiced to young women undergoing ‘fico’ or rite of passage (13-16 years old). There are two existing styles; the elephant ears style and the crest style.
Officially, all Humbi are Protestant Christians nowadays, although the connection to the vernacular spiritual world and to certain rituals is still alive in the most remote inland towns.
Economy and Social Organization
The Humbi are agro-ranchers on the fertile plains between the Huila Plateau and the Cunene River. Their fields extend among forests of ancient baobabs. From these giant trees, they obtain fruits to eat and pulp with which they make soap. Humbi women make beautiful decorated grass baskets and grain containers that they sell in local markets. Cattle farming has been gaining weight due to the demand for meat in neighboring Namibia. The Humbi nation was ruled by a monarchy that fought for its survival during the Portuguese colonization. Nowadays, it has lost importance and only village chiefs and councils of elders remain as a form of local power. The figure of diviners to fix social problems still has influence in the remotest communities.
Humbi women are true hairdressing artists. The complex hairstyles they perform during ceremonies and initiations have no competition in southern Africa. Each hairstyle is a true work of art. Like good craftswomen, the Humbi also make beautiful baskets and barns of dry plants in different colors.
The toy dolls, made with raffia, are being replaced by plastic bottles with artificial wigs. Humbi villages, built among forests of centuries-old baobabs, stand out for their geometric composition: rectangular wooden houses with a thatched or zinc roof and huge palisades to protect domestic animals from vermin.