Today we drove another 5 or so hours to our campsite which is literally in the middle of nowhere. Well, there is a village nearby but it's a Himba tribal village and this is the purpose of our visit. Once again I'll quote from our itinerary regarding the Himba's:-
"The Himba are descendents of the Herero people and still speak a dialect of the old Herero language. There are about 20 000 - 50 000 Himba people living in the Kunene region, where they have recently built two villages at Kamanjab. The Himba are semi-nomadic pastoralists who breed cattle and goats in this dry, rugged, and mountainous area. They are some of the most photographed people in the world, due to their striking style of dress and their traditional lifestyle. Their appearance is characterised by scanty goat-skin clothing, and they are heavily adorned with jewellery of shells, copper and iron, according to the tribal hierarchy. The distinctive red colour of their skin and hair is a mixture of butter, ash and ochre (otjize) which protects them from the harsh desert climate.
Typically the women take care of the children, do the milking and other work, whilst men take care of the political tasks. The villages are made up of family homesteads - huts built around a central fire and livestock enclosure. Both the livestock and fire are pivotal to the Himba belief in ancestor worship, the fire representing ancestral protection of the living community."
After putting our tents up a local tribesman came to collect us. He has been well educated, speaks English and acts as the guide and translator for our visit to the Himba village. However, the one we visit is not where he lives. His village is nearby.
He explained that the villagers are expecting us and we are allowed to visit them and their homes. They will show us how they live and teach us some of their beliefs.
It was just a 5 minute walk from the campsite to a small clearing in the trees where the village is situated. Many of the locals welcomed us and we gave them school books and pens for their children as a way of paying for allowing us into their homes. On this note I'll add that not all children are allowed to go to school as many are kept at home by their parents to work. Only a select few are chosen each year to go to school and they really appreciate the opportunity and work hard.
We could have given them food or money but Siziba advised us against this explaining that they provide much of their own food and if we gave them money it is likely that they would spend it on alcohol and not put it to good use. We did buy them a few big bags of flour though which is acceptable.
First of all we were taken to see 3 ladies lying outside one of the huts. They barely looked older than teenagers but all three had metal bands on their ankles (used as protection from snake bites) and for every metal line running vertically through the bands they have 1 child. All 3 have a child.
Two of the women were braiding the hair of the third one which is a process that apparently takes 3 days. Only women who have come of age (had at least 3 periods) can have their hair styled in this way. It is a very complex process of weaving the hair with ash and then coating it in an ochre substance which gives it a red colour. Once complete the braids last 3 months.
The woman having her hair braided was very interested in us and asked our guide to translate many questions. She seemed most interested in me and wanted to know where I was from and if I was married. She told me that I am beautiful! Later she demanded to have her photograph taken with me and held my hand very tightly. She didn't look more than 16!
Next we were taken around the various huts where people were sitting outside and we learnt a little about them such as how old they were and how many children they have. The huts themselves are made of straw, wood and a kind of wattle and daub made with cow dung. The walls last for 6 months and then need repairs but the huts themselves can last for up to 15 years. When the children come of age their own hut is built for them next to their parent's.
Talking of children there were many in the village and all quite young. I think we were told there are 29 in total. All were running around and playing and taking great interest in the group. You can take photos of anyone you want to but the agreement is that you show them the photo once you have taken it. Many of the children had great fun posing and then demanding to see what they looked like on our strange western contraptions. Several tried to take our cameras and flick through themselves but they had very little understanding of technology other than what they see from passing tourists and we were worried they would break something.
Everyone is covered in ochre and the children are very tactile. We were warned to wear old clothes as they may get ruined from the red colouring as the children grab and play with us. We were also warned not to eat anything as they children have been known to take chewing gum out of people's mouths and eat it! Many also tried to remove jewellery and watches from our arms and had to be forcibly told that they couldn't have them. That said they were very respectable of their elders and when told off were very ashamed.
They were running around barefoot through all the mud and cow dung and the conditions were less than perfect. The people here clearly have very good immune systems compared to people of more western civilisations.
On that note the Himba people are well aware of how life is for other people outside of their beliefs but I was pleased to hear that they do not care for other ways of life, even if it is better, and they plan to keep up their own traditions. That is why they allow us to visit, so that we can help to fund them and allow them to maintain their ways.
Finally we were taken into the hut owned by the Chief and Leading Lady. The Chief is away visiting other villages but we were to be shown the traditional smoke bath by the Leading Lady!
The men of the tribe have access to a local water tank and they shower each day as we normally would. However, the women are not allowed to touch water, at all! Each day they use a small vessel filled with herbs and left to smoke and they hold it to their bodies and stay like that for an hour or more until they are completely covered in sweat, a bit like a smoky steam room. The sweat is believed to cleanse the skin and the smell of the herbs is their version of perfume. They do this every day of their lives and surprisingly smell better than most other, more civilized African's.
After visiting the village we went back to the outskirts where they have stalls containing all their handicrafts and some of us bought bracelets and other items to help fund them.
It was a fantastically interesting afternoon and a highlight for me so far!