Monday, June 6, 2016

Namibia: The Himba

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, Sesriem Canyon And Scenic Flight, Swakopmund Sandboarding, Walvis Bay Dune & Sea Tour, Doro Nawas Camp, Damarland Sites, Damaraland Living Village Song, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, The Skeleton Coast, Hoanib Game Drive and Lions, Serra Cafema Camp and Scenic Drive

One of the activities offered at Serra Cafema Camp is an opportunity to tour a Himba village. The Himba are a tribe that live primarily in Northwest Namibia / Southern Angola. They are nomadic herders moving their cattle, goats, donkeys, and sheep where the grazing is best. Since it hasn't rained here in three years we had no idea how they were feeding their animals.

Albert our guide would give us (including our favorite couple Tony and Val) a tour around the village and aid in communications. A younger camp staffer took off ahead of us on a quad bike - likely to make sure everyone was show-ready. Most portions of this experience were authentic while other aspects were for the tourists. One thing we learned was the camp, as part of their concession grant, maintains a store for the local tribes. The himba can buy grains, textiles, and hair extensions among other things. Yes hair extensions. Nomadic people engaged in trade so why not setup by a place where trade can be conducted easily? The camp has a relation with the village - some people in the village work for the camp, the village relies on the camp store, The camp relies on the tribe to draw tourists, and the camp provides tourists to buy crafts so they have money for the store.

What made this experience different from the Damaraland Living Museum is the fact that this is actually how these people live today.

Albert gave us the rundown on etiquette. We were to meet with one of the women and say hello "Moro Moro" and introduce ourselves "o a me Name". We all did so without fail, including Val. The villager had a tough time saying "David" because V sounds are not part of their language so the translation became "Dawid". Albert told us about her customary clothing and the activities occurring in the village. All the men were gone taking care of the herd so we could only interact with women and children.

The women coat their skin with a paste made from ochre trees and other herbs and flowers, giving their skin an orange-red tint. This acts as a sunscreen, cleanser, insect repellant, and perfume. Their hair is actually cut short and what you see on top is a headpiece. Women won't wear one until they have given birth. In traditional times the long decorations were made from animal skin and tails. Now they are made from hair extensions bought at the camp store.

Albert took us to meet two other ladies and gave us some more insight on daily life. Women do most of the heavy lifting - cooking, cleaning, building the homes, fetching water, etc. This village was about 3 miles from the river where our camp was. The villagers that work in our camp choose to walk to-and-from the village each day rather than stay in the camp staff quarters. The villages are not fenced in because the only animal threat in this part of the region is crocodiles, and they don't move too far from the river. The Himba use a variety of materials to craft their shelters depending on what they can find or trade for with the camp store or other settlements.

Another interesting fact is they do have a sense of patriotism for Namibia despite seeming "off the grid". Across the river in Angola are the Chimba - a similar tribe that differentiates itself with its name to signify where they are from. Modern society does pull the Himba youth to want to experience the world outside the tribe, much like we in America would compare the Amish Rumspringa. Public schools are available to the Himba but many don't send their children fearing they will leave the traditional life for good. The boom in tourism and the regular exposure to Europeans and North Americans is likely expanding their curiosity.

We walked around for a bit, asked Albert more questions, and watched the children play a game of "kick the cricket". Another guide whom arrived after we did called out "store-o" and everyone scattered. Within a few moments a semi-circualar bazaar was open for our shopping pleasure. Albert would do all the translations for us and there was no haggling. We had a mix of Namibian Dollar, Rand, and U.S. Dollar. The exchange rate at the time was $1 for 14 ZAR or ND (both currencies share the same exchange rate) but in Himba camp it was $1 to 10 ZAR because the concept of ten was understandable to them.

Being cultural ambassadors we Browsed each person's offerings before we made purchases from several "shops". We picked up some bracelets made from PVC pipe that were carved with patterns, some nuts with carvings we can use as Christmas ornaments, and a woven plate with colored plastic wrapped around the strands to decorate it. Tony and Val didn't buy anything.

When we left the village Albert took us to an abandoned Himba village. Being nomadic, the Himba up-and-leave their villages and move along. The frames of the buildings remain. If the grazing areas are better another day they may return to this village. We asked if others would come in and squat and he said no because it doesn't belong to the squatters. Noticeable differences between this camp and the living camp were the presence of the boma (animal corral) and the sacred fire area.

More proof that Tony is oblivious to the outside world.

The day after our visit we had a quad bike trip (future post) and passed the village. Over the ridge was A SECOND VILLAGE! There was a boma here! So this is where the livestock was kept and we saw some men as we circled the area. We do believe that some folks did live in the homes we visited, but it was hard to accept that we got a truly authentic experience. It's understandable that people don't want to be on display for tourists. They just could have been a little more upfront about it.

To get a better feel for our experience we'll once again direct you to CNN's Inside Africa episode filmed while we were at camp. The crew visited the village the same day we did. Of course things were a bit more lively for the CNN team. If you look real hard you can see us having breakfast at the 2:42 mark. Holly is wearing the purple shirt.

 

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