The practice is known as “okujepisa omukazendu” – which loosely means “offering a wife to a guest” – the practice is little known outside these reclusive communities, whose population is estimated at 86 000. It is a kind of gentlemen’s agreement where friends can have sex with each others’ wives – no strings attached.
Of course, the wives don’t have much say in the matter. They’re swapped and changed and swung between different men in a country with one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates.
But the Ovahimba and Ovazemba tribes defend their cultural practice, saying it strengthens their friendships and prevents promiscuity. “It’s a culture that gives us unity and friendship,” said Kazeongere Tjeundo, a lawmaker and deputy president of the opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance of Namibia. “It’s up to you to choose (among) your mates who you like the most… to allow him to sleep with your wife,” said Tjeundo, a member of the Ovahimba ethnic group. Tjeundo plans to propose a wife-swapping law following a November legislative poll when he’s tipped for re-election.
Mainly found in the north-western Kunene region near the Angolan border, the tribes are largely isolated from the rest of the country.
They have resisted the trappings of modern life, keep livestock, live off the land and practice ancestral worship.