Binti

by

Nnedi Okorafor

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Himba Term Analysis

The Himba are an indigenous ethnic group that inhabits Northern Namibia in Southern Africa; Binti and her family are Himba. Like their real-world counterparts, the Himba in the novel cover their skin and hair in otjize; within the world of the novel, they’re “harmonizers” who are skilled at channeling electronic and mathematical currents and therefore make most of the world’s astrolabes. They don’t leave their homeland as a general rule. Binti is the first Himba to attend Oomza University, which causes quite a stir on her travels as few people have ever seen a Himba person before. Other groups, particularly the Khoush, look down on the Himba.

Himba Quotes in Binti

The Binti quotes below are all either spoken by Himba or refer to Himba. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Tom Doherty edition of Binti published in 2015.
Binti Quotes

We Himba don’t travel. We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish. We even cover our bodies with it. Otjize is red land. Here in the launch port, most were Khoush and a few other non-Himba. Here, I was an outsider; I was outside. “What was I thinking?” I whispered.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 12-13
Explanation and Analysis:

“There is a reason why our people do not go to that university. Oomza Uni wants you for its own gain, Binti. You go to that school and you become its slave.” I couldn’t help but contemplate the possible truth in her words. I hadn’t even gotten there yet and already I’d given them my life.

Related Characters: Binti’s Mother (speaker), Binti (speaker), The Chief
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

“It smells like jasmine flowers,” she said to the woman on her left, surprised.

“No shit?” one woman said. “I hear it smells like shit because it is shit.”

“No, definitely jasmine flowers. It is thick like shit, though.”

“Is her hair even real?” another woman asked the woman rubbing her fingers.

“I don’t know.”

“These ‘dirt bathers’ are a filthy people,” the first woman muttered.

I just turned back around, my shoulders hunched. My mother had counseled me to be quiet around Khoush.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Binti’s Mother
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Inside, I smiled. Government security guards were only educated up to age ten, yet because of their jobs, they were used to ordering people around. And they especially looked down on people like me. Apparently, they were the same everywhere, no matter the tribe. He had no idea what a “computative apparatus” was, but he didn’t want to show that I, a poor Himba girl, was more educated than he. Not in front of all these people.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

The people on the ship weren’t Himba, but I soon understood that they were still my people. I stood out as Himba, but the commonalities shined brighter. I made friends quickly. And by the second week in space, they were good friends.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker)
Page Number: 21-22
Explanation and Analysis:

“I couldn’t help it,” he said, his fingertips reddish with my otjize.

“You can’t control yourself?” I snapped.

“You have exactly twenty-one,” he said. “And they’re braided in tessellating triangles. Is it some sort of code?”

I wanted to tell him that there was a code, that the pattern spoke my family’s bloodline, culture, and history. That my father had designed the code and my mother and aunties had shown me how to braid it into my hair.

Related Characters: Heru (speaker), Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

We’d all been taught this Meduse form of killing in history class. The Khoush built the lessons into history, literature, and culture classes across several regions. Even my people were required to learn about it, despite the fact that it wasn’t our fight. The Khoush expected everyone to remember their greatest enemy and injustice. They even worked Meduse anatomy and rudimentary technology into mathematics and science classes.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker)
Page Number: 25-26
Explanation and Analysis:

When I’d sit in the desert, alone, listening to the wind, I would see and feel the numbers the way I did when I was deep in my work in my father’s shop. And those numbers added up to the sum of my destiny.

So in secret, I filled out and uploaded the acceptance forms. The desert was the perfect place for privacy when they contacted my astrolabe for university interviews.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Binti’s Father
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

I couldn’t give all my otjize to this Meduse; this was my culture.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Okwu
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

I sat up straight, ignoring the fatigue trying to pull my bones to the bed. “I am Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka of Namib.” I considered speaking its single name to reflect its cultural simplicity compared to mine, but my strength and bravado were already waning.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Okwu
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

I frowned at it. Realizing something. It spoke like one of my brothers, Bena. I was born only three years after him yet we’d never been very close. He was angry and always speaking out about the way my people were maltreated by the Khoush majority despite the fact that they needed us and our astrolabes to survive. He was always calling them evil, though he’d never traveled to a Khoush country or known a Khoush. His anger was rightful, but all that he said was from what he didn’t truly know.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Okwu, Bena
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

“In your university, in one of its museums, placed on display like a piece of rare meat is the stinger of our chief,” it said. I wrinkled my face, but said nothing. “Our chief is...” it paused. “We know of the attack and mutilation of our chief, but we do not know how it got there. We do not care. We will land on Oomza Uni and take it back.”

Related Characters: Okwu (speaker), Binti, The Chief
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

“Was it the sting?” I asked.

“No,” it said. “That is something else. You understand, because you truly are what you say you are—a harmonizer.”

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Okwu (speaker)
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

But above all this, outside of the horror of what we’d done, we all felt an awesome glorious...shock. Our hair hung in thick clumps, black in the moonlight. Our skin glistened, dark brown. Glistened. And there had been a breeze that night and it felt amazing on our exposed skin.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Several of the human professors looked at each other and chuckled. One of the large insectile people clicked its mandibles. I frowned, flaring my nostrils. It was the first time I’d received treatment similar to the way my people were treated on Earth by the Khoush. In a way, this set me at ease. People were people, everywhere. These professors were just like anyone else.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Haras, The Chief, Okwu
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

“That is true, but what about your home? Will you ever return?”

“Of course,” I said. “Eventually, I will visit and...”

“I have studied your people,” she said. “They don’t like outsiders.”

“I’m not an outsider,” I said, with a twinge of irritation. “I am...” And that’s when it caught my eye.

Related Characters: Okpala (speaker), Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize, Okuoko
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

I pulled my hand away and took a deep breath. If I couldn’t make otjize here, then I’d have to...change. I touched one of my tentacle-like locks and felt a painful pressure in my chest as my mind tried to take me to a place I wasn’t ready to go. I plunged my two fingers into my new concoction...and scooped it up. I spread it on my flesh. Then I wept.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize, Okuoko
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Binti LitChart as a printable PDF.
Binti PDF

Himba Term Timeline in Binti

The timeline below shows where the term Himba appears in Binti. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Binti
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...practice. Binti ignores people’s stares but glances. Everyone else is pale; Binti is the only Himba. Binti knows it’s easy enough to make a shuttle like this with the right equipment... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...is dressed like her. Turning red, Binti feels stupid and is reminded again that the Himba don’t leave their ancestral land. This is why they cover their bodies in otjize, which... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...lots of power but only receive education until they’re 10. They’re often especially rude to Himba, but this man doesn’t want to betray that he’s less educated than Binti is. Binti... (full context)
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...in “red greasy clay” and wearing heavy anklets. He forces her to explain that the Himba use the otjize as skincare and wear the anklets to protect from snakebites. He pauses... (full context)
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Binti is the only Himba on the ship. The Himba are known for their innovative technology, but the tribe is... (full context)
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...a term that Binti knows even though it’s a Khoush term. Binti and her fellow Himba learned about it in history class, though they have nothing to do with the Meduse... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
...accepted, Dele joked that Binti wouldn’t have to worry about the Meduse as the only Himba on the ship. Binti thinks of how she’s ignored everyone since getting her scholarship and... (full context)
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Binti is the first Himba ever to be accepted into Oomza Uni. Even though the hateful messages and threats from... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...She also figures that the Khoush gave her a room with subpar security, since she’s Himba—and because she’s the only human on a Khoush ship, she’s still a target for the... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...Meduse because it’s part of her culture. Okwu says that its chief knows about the Himba and knows Binti must have more with her, but Binti snaps that the chief will... (full context)
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...out that there are lots of different types of humans, and it explains that the Himba don’t usually leave Earth. As several Meduse enter the room, Okwu moves closer to Binti.... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...floor is humming to itself and she sits up. Binti tells the chief that the Himba create and build astrolabes using math to create their currents. Suddenly, Binti realizes why the... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
...that they used more otjize to heal their sick and that they’ll always remember the Himba. Okwu sounds less and less monstrous. It leads Binti out. Binti leaves the edan behind. (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
...and considered washing all the otjize off, but she decided that someone would’ve researched the Himba and would know she was naked. (full context)
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...point out the Meduse are at war with the Khoush, and the Khoush think of Himba people as almost slaves. She points out that the professors have never seen the Meduse... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
...edan. Okpala clarifies and asks Binti if she’ll ever go home; she knows of the Himba and knows they don’t like “outsiders.” Irritated, Binti insists that she’s not an outsider, but... (full context)
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...her. Now, that otjize is gone, and Binti is someone else—and maybe she’s not even Himba. She wonders what Okwu thinks of her. (full context)