It is raining in Sydney so I can't go running. Boo.
So -The Himba
were one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Namibia. I had a friend visit about a year ago and he was telling me about two of the tribes in northern Namibia who live as neighbors but one maintains traditional dress of not much more than a loin cloth, bare chested, and the other wears full length dresses covering everything from their neck to the wrists to their ankles. I remember him saying something along the lines of "So in the same supermarket you could see a woman with no shirt on and a woman with a missionary style dress." That is what I wanted to see.
And indeed it is all true. The Himba
, as pictured on my flickr
site, dress in leather
skirts, ankle cuffs, necklaces, and not much else. The women cover their bodies in a butter/ground ochre
mix making them reddish in color. The other distinguishing and I think amazingly beautiful characteristic of their dress is their hair- packed with clay making long red chords. The children also have a particular hairstyle before they mature - the young girls' hair is braided in one big braid curling over their forehead. The women also never bathe in water. Instead they steam bath every morning with perfume herbs and different lotions. Apparently their main chores involve cooking
, looking after the children, and making themselves look beautiful
. They are traditionally nomadic people and many of the family groups do still move around frequently.
The Herero on the other hand, who technically are the same people as the Himba - Ovahimba is a subgroup of Herero, fell under the instructive control of german missionaries - hence the long dresses. And funny head dresses. Which are now kind of a mix between colonial style dress and african flare. I met some Namibian Peace Corps volunteers who said that- for whatever reason the style started - the Herero now consider it their traditional costume - explainging the massive petticoats and the horn like hat as a proud nod to their cattle. It is so interesting to me that a tribe would shift their norms in response to missionaries (maybe it was by force...), and now, a hundred years later, still work to preserve that tradition in the face of western culture all around them. Namibia is a not a densely populate place but it is far more developed than Zambia.
The Herero are not a homogeneous people. This is because the main group in central Namibia (called Herero proper) has been heavily influenced by Western culture during the colonial period, creating, thus, a mixture of the European and Herero cultures, that is a whole new identity. Even though the different groups share the same language, culture, and origin, their traditions differ sharply. The North-Western groups (such as Himba, Kuvale, and Tjimba) are more conservative, preserving cultural aspects that have been lost by the southern groups (Herero proper and Mbanderu). For example, the Southern Herero have traded in their leather garments for the type worn by Europeans in colonial times. The Southern Herero are involved in the economies of Namibia and Botswana, mostly as cattle breeders. The Kaokoland Herero and those in Angola have remained isolated and are still pastoral nomads, practicing limited horticulture.
(You can also read here about the masacres that took place during German colonialism... Ruben and I feel like Namibia is still a very racially tense place - unlike Zambia).
And as far as I could tell, a traditionally dressed Himba or a traditionally dressed Herero could be sitting amongst Namibians in t-shirts and jeans at a gas station and no one really thought much about the variety. Except me. But I was a tourist.
I am of course not the only person who finds these tribes interesting. They receive a lot of attention and many of the Himba women have left the north for the bigger tourist attractions to make money by having their picture taken. The effects of interaction between western culture and people who have maintained consistant traditions is a long standing query of mine. On some level I want traditions to be protected. I want the world to house as many diverse histories and cultures as people have created. On the other hand, it isn't ethical to deny people in far flung places conviencies that would lighten their burden, or keep them from dying of things that are preventable. As far as the Himba go - their uniquness and beauty attract alot of outside attention - but is that attention giving them another reason to maintain their way of life or just drawing them away from their villages and throwing them into another world. If the rest of the country is become more and more modern, if jobs are in the big cities, than is it only a matter of time until everyone leaves the village in search of work, or education, or modernity. I don't know.
The Himba village I visited was a cultural village set up to receive tourist. It was a community project, all the money goes to the village and the people who participate for food, medicine, travel etc. Tours to the village are part of a scheme to care for orphans. That doesn't really seem like a bad idea- no one has to stay, they know what they are in for and they are use to dealing with tourist groups - who come on their terms. Fair enough. This village also said that most of the kids do not go to school because they do not want them to loose their traditions...
I hate being a tourist and all of this is just me trying to figure out how to be responsible tourist. I love traveling places. I love seeing things that are so different from anything I have ever seen before. I love being in beautiful places. I think the more people interact the more they care about and understand each other. And tourism is undeniably an economic opportunity and CAN be an economic opportunity for people who don't have many other opportunities. (That was another thing I thought was cool in Namibia. I THINK that some of the attractions we went to - the rock carving and cave paintings - were community projects - goverenment run but benefiting the people who lived there.) BUT I also know that tourism can be destructive. It can bring unwelcome things into different parts of the world, it can take advantage of desperate people, and it can cause environmental harm.
Where is my money really going? What am I contributing to? These are overwhelming questions for me. But significant.
Anyway. Namibia is really great. I want to go back. I want to go back in my own vehicle so I can get to hard to reach places. Like the very very north. Like the sand dunes that run into the ocean. Like Soussevlei which is probably one of the most spectacular sites in the world and I didn't go because of money. That seems stupid now. Another time. I will go back.
The more I travel the more I want to see - and the more places to which I want to some day return to.