People: Himba, Herero, Townships, Namibia
If you get a chance to tour or visit one of Namibia's black townships (see my comments regarding township visits on this page), be sure to get a beer at a shebeen.
Shebeens are unlicensed taverns that operate in people's houses. It's a way that they make additional N$.
The locals are generally friendly, but be sure to go with someone who knows the area.
If you’re travelling anywhere in the north/central part of Namibia, e.g. near the town of Okahandja, you’re bound to see groups of Herero women selling crafts at the side of the road. The most popular item is a doll dressed in the traditional Herero costume. If like us you don’t want to buy, it’s still worth stopping and asking if you can take some photos – most won’t mind but it’s courteous to offer them a small tip if you’re not also buying their goods, of course.
The Herero are cattle farmers who measure their wealth in cattle, and the importance of cattle to them is even evident in the women’s dresses. The traditional dress is derived from a Victorian woman's dress, and consists of an enormous crinoline worn over a several petticoats, and a horn shaped hat made from rolled cloth, which is said to represent the horns of a cow.
We asked that, during our visit to Namibia, that we be allowed to interact with as many of the locals as is possible. We were invited to visit a school in Tsumeb that has been founded for the children of the displaced San (Bushman) peoples of northern Namibia.
The Ombili School was founded in 1989, and is supported largely by the Lions' Club of Mosbach, Germany, along with several other sponsors. They have approximately 300 children in school, ages 4 - 16 or so. And, immediately surrounding the school, a more permanent Bushman village has grown into being. In addition to the school, the Ombili Foundation supports health care and instruction in gardening and craft marketing for the peoples that they serve. According to Ombili's literature, their aim is "Help to self-help".
Anyway, if you'd like to visit a Bushman school and a worthy endeavor near Tsumeb, I'd suggest you hook up with Ombili. Also, please check out my travelogue photos on Ombili, on my main Namibia page.
Directions? Head NW out of Tsumeb on the B1 highway. Approximately 70 km outside Tsumeb, turn right on the D3004. The turnoff to Ombili is another 20 km. CALL AHEAD.
If you would like to HEAR the Ombili School choir (see photo), write to me. I'll send you (to an external email address) a short .wma file of the choir singing. All that I ask is that you promise to send a small donation to the folks at Ombili.
The Ombili Stiftung-Foundation
P. O. Box 137
www.ombili.org OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Himba women are certainly the striking half of the race. Their dress is intricate, the “skirt” being made of softened leather, impregnated over time by the ochre they use on their skin.
The neck, arm and leg decorations are made from metal, often copper, decorated with shells and pearls, brought on foot from markets many days away.
Adult women wear their hair in intricate dreadlocks with a leather headpiece woven into their hair. The children’s hairstyle changes over time. Boys heads are shaved except for a small braid pointing to the back of the head. Little girls have their heads saved except for the braid mentioned above, which points forward. They grow their dreadlocks at puberty.
There is no accurate record of the number of Himba people still living in Namibia. I have read reports that suggest numbers anywhere between 6,000 and 20,000 – quite a margin of error! It was certainly a privilege to be able to spend some time at this village and to experience the curiosity of the family about out world which matched entirely our curiosity about theirs. We were asked for example if it was true that there was to be a war in Iraq!
The safari company with which we travelled, took great care in organising their trips to ensure that the Himba villages were not over-visited. In the case of our visit, there had not been a party in the village for many months. In this picture you see the women and children gathered looking at photographs of themselves that had been taken during the previous visit. They were extremely amused!
We also carried with us some supplies for the villagers which they would otherwise need to have carried themselves.
Towards the end of our visit, the women of the village assembled a number of objects that they use in their every day lives: home made children’s toys, sandals, cooking pots, neck, arm and ankle decorations, pots in which they keep their ochre. It was the most amazing bazaar I have ever had the good fortune to stumble across. This way they earn a little money for staples that they cannot grow or cultivate themselves – corn flour for example. I came away with a great neck decoration and a decorated gourd. They are both completely saturated with the ochre treatment, and every time I smell them, it brings back strong memories of the 24 hours we spent in the company of these friendly and welcoming people.
The distinctive skin colour of the Himba people comes from a skin treatment they prepare and apply on a daily basis as adults. It is made from grinding ochre stone (which gives the red colour) and mixing it with aromatic herbs and animal fat. It is not possible to visit Himba people without leaving covered in the red colouring: it is everywhere – on clothes, seats, the walls of huts, pots and even on the chickens running around.
We were warned before arriving in the village that it would appear very rude if we were to wipe it off our skin or clothes. As it turned out, the number 1 wife put some on my arm. It was as soft as the most expensive skin lotion you have ever bought!
Dress and decoration are very important to the Himba people. From babies they wear pearls, shells and other decorations which define age, sex and stages of life. In this photo we see the mother. She is clearly of child-bearing age according to her hair style, and she has had at least 2 children, according to the metal ankle decorations she is wearing. The hairstyle of the older child defines him as a boy who has not yet reached puberty, and similarly the little girl, with her two thick braids, has not reached puberty.
We visited a Himba village that is unconnected to any road system. The Himba live in small family tribes and many of them lead the same life today as their ancestors did. You can certainly see Himba people in the Kaokoland markets in the north of the country, but it was such a privilege to spend time with them, and to camp just outide their village.
We went with the fantastic safari company, Chameleon Safaris, based in Windhoek. Otherwise I think this visit would be difficult.
If you are worried about the impact of tourists on these people, the Chameleon visit different villages each time. The village we visited had not seen a visitor for 5 months, and they seemed to love it - More photos to come.
Himba people are one of the last real primitive Africans. Women use to put a red mould everywhere on the skin; for traditional custom girls have nude breast, so my picture of Himba are not allowed on VT: go to www.pbase.com/namibia/himba.
This girls are really beautiful, full of the charm of genuine simplicity. Nice and lovely!
The large black townships of Namibia are home to the true heart of the country. Certainly, Namibia is multi-racial, and hosts a sizeable German, English and Afrikaan populace. However, the great majority of the people are of various black tribal origin.
Many of the black Namibians who live in the city are resident in the large townships toward the edge of town. In Windhoek, the township is called Katature. In Swakopmund, it is called Mondesa.
We hooked up with a small operation called Hata Angu Cultural Tours. They operate township tours in Swakop. Our visit included time (30 minutes- 1 hour) in three different township houses. One featured a Herero woman (Naftalene) in full ceremonial dress, describing Herero custom and family. Another was home to an artist named Hans, where we enjoyed a lovely mint tea with his family. Also, we visited Stanley Witbooi, a local expert on herbal medicine. His talk, in Ovambo click tongue (translated by our driver) was quite entertaining.
And last, we had a dinner at a traditional Ovambo hut. It wasn't really something that westerners would order again, but it was an experience. We actually ate mapane worms!
The cold beers that I bought at the shebeen next door (see my local customs comment and photo of a shebeen) helped me forget about the worms.
AFter dinner, we enjoyed approximately 30 minutes of tribal dance, performed by about a dozen young girls of the neighborhood. They were accompanied by some teenaged boys playing drums, and danced at the edge of a large fire.
Truly an experience to remember forever.
The people that we met were very friendly and wanted to learn about us as we learned about them. BUT, there are some situations in the townships that could be hazardous for western visitors. Visit Mondesa.....but go with someone who knows the area.
This tribe that lives in the highlands around Windhoek are very distinctive for its coloured dresses. They copied the european dresses of the last century, but with the african coloured clothes. Their head ornament is quite peculiar too!!
Get off the main road, drive through the small villages to see the real Namibian life, and if you're lucky you'll meet the Herera Ladies with their beautifull Bavarian Skirts, but you need to pay some money before you can make a picture.
The red ochre is everywhere even on the chickens, and it is considered offensive to wipe it off. Its softer than the most expensive hand cream, probably better too.......