Compared to the dreariness of Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia, the provincial city of Opuwo is awesome.
Many different tribes surround us in full costume: rotund women of the Herero tribe with their vibrant clothes and striking headdresses, strapping Owambo boys resembling rappers from an MTV video, and the beautiful Himba girls with their pelt skirts, jewels of cast-off Western junk and naked breasts.
In Ovambo, we eat our first authentic Namibian meal: mahango, stewed millet and goat. Although edible, it is unlikely to garner praise and isn’t a good ambassador for Namibian cuisine. The local beer is superb, and the locals are mad for it this evening. We go along for the ride, already wondering how many Nurofens we’ll need in the morning.
With our heads throbbing, we set out with Elisabeth the following morning. She is a member of the Himba tribe, who has offered to take us to the village of her birth. Once, Elisabeth showed promise at school and received lessons from the priests there. Unfortunately, it didn’t help her find a better job, as she soon became lumbered with eight children. The many different fathers somehow managed to skirt all their responsibilities. Elisabeth’s village is a small encampment 15km outside the city.
Here, the Himba live as they have for centuries, in dark loam huts. The women cultivate corn and pumpkin and take care of the goats whilst the men occupy themselves with hanging out in the shade, just as they have done for hundreds of years. A small, thirsty child slips under a goat and begins sucking on its teat. The men appear half-westernized, with trainers and T-shirts, but the women are still swathed in traditional clothing.
The most striking thing about their appearance is the red concoction smeared all over their bodies – a mixture of butter, ash and red ochre. It is surprising a big cosmetics company has not patented the formula, because all the women have remarkably soft, supple skin. Rather awkwardly, we move about, wondering exactly what there is for us to find here.
It seems clear that it is up to these people to decide when (and if) they wish to join the modern world or not. In any case, their children attend school, they receive medical attention, so why don’t we just let them be? I guess it’s because of curiosity; we want to see for ourselves these peaceful folk living according to ancient tradition. But change is inevitable.
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