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Published: December 7th 2006
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The African animal kingdom attracted me, but from the early stages of my planning for this trip to Namibia, without a doubt, my greatest desire was to get to know, even if only a little, the people of the land, and in particularly the Himba people.
Here, south of Etosha, I could meet the ovahimba
who have migrated from the far north region of Namibia, the Kaokoland.
What I came here to really experience was African people and culture, and the Himba people fascinated me the minute I read a little about them. Now I was about to be among them.
Another incredible campsite, just for our group of 8. "Lovely", like the girls here would say, with a very strong accent, which I'm starting to catch!
After lunch, it was super hot and nobody wanted to climb the rocks by the campsite, except for me. I am too impacient to just
look at beauty, when I see it and I know I can experience it even more. So, I climbed it all by myself. Was the climb in the heat worth? Absolutely!!!! An amazing view from the top, including of the Himba village tucked into the greenery.
At 4pm we all hiked to the small Oase Himba community. Our guides stayed behind, as only Himba guides are allowed in the village.
Small round mud huts with straw roofs formed a circle. In the center of it, a fire area which is kept constantly burning, a few trees, and a bunch of naked or semi-naked kids playing around.
The sounded of crying kids erupted fairly often, as they took turn pushing or hitting each other. Sometimes the only way to tell boys and girls apart is the hair: boys with shaved or semi-shaved heads and girls with hair braided from back to front (until they get their second period. Than, it's braided front to back!)
The estatuest women, naturally bearing their breasts, were stunning! Striking skin smeared with a mixture of animal butter, ash and ground ochre, gave them a reddish color. This mixture serves as a natural
sun-screen. Even the 45 year old queen looked extremely young. I know a lot of people back home who'd love to get the stuff in their quest to stop, or fool, the aging process.
This skin care product" is applied every month or so, thus instead of water, the women "bath" is done daily without water. For 3 long hours, they clean themselves with a "portable sauna". A little pot with burning tigs from a bush. That includes the cleaning of the private areas!
HAIR: Peculiar style, plastered with the same mix, and changed only every 3 months!!!
JEWELRY: several necklaces, a large shell. The one thick leather necklace, or the one with shell, aren't used if the mother is breastfeeding young infants; bracellets, anklets.
PERFUME. a Natural black ground herb; actually smelled very good.
BIRTH: in the woods, where other women go to help.
MARRIAGE: arranged when boys are about 19 and girls 13. It's expensive to wed a daughter, as fathers have to give 3 cows to the groom's family. If he wants to take the girl away from the village, 5 cows gotta go.
I heard that in the last years,
more Himba men leave the village, and while away, they contract AIDS, which they bring back to the wives. Yeap. Himba do get AIDS, but usually not the treatment for it.
TEETH. When Himbas are 12 years old, 4 front bottom teeth are knocked down on a single struck. The reason? To speak the language better!!!!!
TOBACCO like, sniffing. Yes, I did try it when it was passed around the circle, and I sneezed right after. Not bad actually, I must confess!!!!
KIDS. Both sexes get circunsized when about 9 to 10 years old. Boys can than go on the field after that.
"My girl" was a sweet girl between 8 and 10 years old, who followed me around. While I was seated inside the hut learning about the traditions of the Himba, she touched my hair, rolled strands between her fingers. Later, as I was leaving the community, she initiated a "hair attack" on my hair, similar to the one I had been a "victim" under the hands of Tibetan Nomad females. Here, several girls started to pull several strands of my hair, and in response to the escalating pain of the pulling, I ended
up on the ground, while my hair got braided by many girls, all laughing and having fun.
The contact of the Himba with tourists, like myself, is a topic of controversy. Conservisionists believe we will interfere with their traditional lifestyle and should be leave them alone. On the other hand, others believe they can't deny them contact with civilization and the opportunities which can come with engagement
So, trying to respect as much as possible, no gifts were given, and taken, were only pictures.
The women and kids were so happy to see the replays of their pictures on the digital camerals, exclaming: "Uhhhm, Uhmmm""
I walked out of the village last, and that's when the girls touched my hair, etc.
Crossing the fance, the Himba guide waited for me. I privately asked him if it would be okay/ethical, to take polaroid pictures to give to the women, without crossing the boundaries of respect for their culture. He said: "That will make them so happy, as people shoot the pictures and leave".
Now I had as "my private guide" a girl ("Cency") in western clothing. She is the only member of the village who goes
to school and she can speak English.
As night fell, we could hear the Himba people clapping and singing. Were them dancing? Celebrating? Were the men back from hunting? I could still feel their presence, even though I was no longer in their world, as I shouldn't. Part of me still wander, if I should ever been there to start with, if I had impacted them negatively in any way.
Already inside my perfectly located tent, I heard shouts: "It's a tiger snake!" "I missed it." "It's poisoning.". Oh, Yes, it's a scorpion." It got away".
Diane and I freaked. There was no way we were going to sleep at that spot knowing all those creatures were by our tent. The guides thought it would be safer to move both our tents closer to the campfire. They, the guisdes, slept on top of the truck... afraid!!!
By 11:15pm the clapping of the Himba stopped, the night fell silent, and another Namibian day ended, with more memories engraved in my heart.
Again, I wrote lots (too much?). But this was a spetactular day. I hope the pictures will tell about the people beyond my words. PS:
If you ever go to Namibia, please respect the Himba. Lets help them preserve their culture. COULD YOU do me a big favor and PLEASE SEND ME A MESSAGE AND LET ME KNOW HOW YOU FOUND THIS BLOG and THANK YOU.
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