About 40Km north of Opuwo was an oasis of calm after the madness of the town. Omungundu camp site was run by a local man who had been a local guide, including taking tourists to Himba villages. Over time he had become more and more empathetic with these people and their simple, traditional way of life that he worked with some of the younger ones to set up a living museum of their culture – a Himba village next to the camp where young Himbas, keen to keep their culture alive, could share it with others. We had so far avoided doing the oft-offered Himba village tours as we felt they would be a bit voyeuristic. But this was different. Local people welcoming visitors in to learn about their disappearing culture. The tour was led by another local girl who spoke good English as well as Himba and we spent the afternoon in her care. She told us about the history of the Namibia people.
We were told that the true Namibians are the San people, or Bushmen. They are the small-of-stature but big-in-courage race that will hunt an animal on foot for hours or even days and will walk up to lions at a kill and take a piece of the feast for themselves. They have a lived in the area for thousands of years and have produced the huge wealth of ancient rock engravings and paintings that Namibia is renowned for.
The San engravings
They have been largely displaced to the remote eastern fringes of the country by other peoples. These include the Himba – a tribe that is descended from people moving south to escape harsh conditions in Angola. Apparently Himba means “give me” and they had a reputation as beggars. They are a nomadic people and their way of life revolves around the cattle (and to a lesser extent sheep and goats) that they herd, moving as the availability of grazing dictates.
Their tiny villages have a set layout. A wooden / brash fence forms the circular boundary, with a entrance at the 4 cardinal points, one for visitors, one for livestock, one for ceremonial purposes and one for the boys when they go out on the raz! Seriously! Inside the fence is a ring of huts, including stores, sleeping quarters and the head man’s hut where all the important business takes place. The huts are made from mopane branches covered by muck and clay – African wattle and daub. The huts have a particular layout, which is the same in all villages. Enclosed by the circle of huts is a small kraal in the middle of the main circle to house the animals at night. In between the head man’s hut and the animal enclosure is the holy fire that is kept lit.
We met the Himba and learnt so much about them. Their technique for grinding their maize with stones to make melie flour (their staple diet), how they greet each other (the man always saying hello first), their clothing (all skin) their songs and dancing (a big part of their culture).
It’s easier to buy it in the shop
The Ochre ladies
Everyone say ahh
The boys are back in town…
We also had a great question and answer session with them where we would as about things like the ochre colouring they cover themselves in (mixed with butter) and they asked us about our lives, including who is looking after our goats whilst we are on holiday It was a really interesting, genuine feeling, experience. One thing that really surprised us was when one of the kids started grumbling, a German tourist with us gave him a bottle of water. They all looked at it and handed it back as they didn’t know how to open it. Despite shopping in town, they never buy water and therefore don’t know how a screw top works.
Next, we head out into the wilds of Kaokoland to test our mettle (metal)