I am sorry for my delay in writing this week but Bev and I just returned from a 5 day trip to north western Namibia. Our destination was Opuwo – the area of Namibia where the Himba tribes live. The Himba are famous for their practice of smearing read ochre over their bodies and their not-so-modest clothing.
Getting there and back required two days of travel each way, with multiple legs. It was exhausting but thanks to Bev’s network of VSO volunteers, we had places to stay along the way (all with nice, hot showers!). Going there, we attempted to hike the gravel road along the north of the country, which proved to be very challenging as there were no private cars travelling through there. Fortunately, we got a couple hikes with the road workers who are building the tar road. We jumped in over-crowded cars, piled into the back of pick-up trucks, took kombis (which we waited 4 hours for it to fill) and even rode in a comfy, leather seated Toyota SUV with a sweet Afrikaner, Wally.
Opuwo was drastically different from anything I had yet to see in Namibia. In the Herero language, the word Opuwo means “the end” as it is the last town in the north west and is surrounded by dry, arid wilderness. The town of 5000 people was hilly and very, very dusty. A variety of people live there – with different languages and dress, which made it the most interesting and dynamic place in Namibia so far. On the way to the supermarket, among the many Ovambo who have adopted Western dress, we saw a bunch of bare chested Himba women and some Herero ladies wearing their traditional Victorian dress. And unlike in my region, there were hairy pigs running loose everywhere (in addition to the typical cows, goats and donkeys!).
We stayed with a Dutch VSO volunteer, Marjolyn. She arranged a wonderful braai for us on Friday night with other volunteers and then took us to a local shebeen (bar) on Saturday night. I learned very quickly why she has been named the ‘Shabeen Queen’ by other volunteers! We brought pockets full of coins and monopolized the juke box all night. Good fun 🙂
On Sunday morning we had a tour of a Himba village by a guy, Jimmy, whose father was Himba. There were only 4 of us on the tour so it made for an authentic, intimate visit. The village we visited was about 17 km outside of town and was comprised of 5-6 huts, 50+ cattle and goats and approximately 20 Himba inhabitants. Each village is a family unit – one male and his multiple wives and children. They live off the land and have little reliance on the outside world.
Upon our arrival, Jimmy ran in to make sure it was okay that we come to visit and as is typical when visiting a village as a tourist, we brought bags of maize meal as an offering. At first, being in the village felt awkward and uncomfortable. The Himba don’t speak English so it was impossible to communicate with them without the help of Jimmy. We watched them do their morning ritual of milking the cows and preparing their yogurt for the following day. Then the women gathered together under a tree and sat combing the ends of their hair and passing the babies around, while the kids played.
As usual, the kids were the easiest to connect with. One little boy, Catanga, was fascinated with my hair clip, so I clipped it in his hair. The kids wanted to learn our names and touch our hair and clothes. We didn’t get to see the main male of the tribe as he was away for the day.
The first wife invited us into her hut to have a look. It was small and very basic – mud floor with a fire pit in the middle. Her and her husband slept on an animal skin and had a couple blankets. She showed us how she applied the ochre – dabbing a butter-like substance in her hand and mixing in the ochre powder and then smearing it on her body. She would do this approximately twice daily and more often if it was a special day or ceremony. While the ochre protects them from the sun and mosquitoes, it was originally done for aesthetic reasons. Then she showed us how she deodorizes herself, her jewelry and clothing using the smoke of coals (Himba never bath or shower).
Well, that is all I can think of now…I will post more photos when I have more patience and I am sure I will post more as I remember things I missed. But I wanted to leave you with the quote of the weekend – said by Bev as she got out of the car on Saturday evening: “OMG! There’s a hairy pig out here, and it’s not my ex-husband!”