From Swakopmund, we were transferred by light aircraft up Skeleton Coast to Serra Cafema Camp. Serra Cafema is located on the Kunene River across from Angola in the far northern corner of Namibia and is one of the most remote camps in Africa. It is made up of 8 canvas and thatched chalets. Most people come here to unplug from the world, disconnect in order to reconnect. There is no wifi let alone mobile signal here.
There is not much in terms of wildlife here. Like in Sossusvlei, you will find some oryxes, ostriches, as well as Hartmann’s mountain zebras. The main difference between mountain zebras and plain zebras is that the stripes of the mountain zebras do not go all the way around the body. Instead the stripes stop before reaching the stomach leaving that area white.
The highlight of coming to this remote land is no doubt visiting the Himba tribes who live nearby. The colorful Himba people are some of the true nomadic people of Africa. They mainly live along the Kunene River which is the only permanent water source in the area. There are altogether about 50,000 Himba, most of them are livestock farmers who are especially skilled at rearing cattle in this arid environment. The livestock provide them with eggs, milk, and sometimes meat. They are constantly on the move with their cattle and goats in search of water and grass. They never over-graze the land and they know how to search for water by digging and building watering holes. There are some Himba settlements near larger towns but to truly see their traditional way of life, one should come here to this area where visitors can only be flown in and there are no major roads leading to the rest of the country.
The Himba villages we visited were predominantly female with several nuclear families living together. All the men are usually away tending to the cattle at outposts or working in towns. The women remained in the villages and raised the children with very little involvement from their fathers. The Himba still grasp onto their traditional ways of life even though they are now exposed to tourism and other developments. There is something to be said about communal living where everyone looks out and cares for each other and where everything is shared. In contrast, I barely know anyone living in my building let alone my neighbour across the hall.
Himba women cover themselves with the orange-reddish otjize paste made of butterfat and ochre pigment which protects them from the hot and dry climate. Otjize has come to be viewed as a beauty product and the orange-reddish color is the Himba ideal of beauty. They never remove this paste from their skin because they never bathe with water. Instead they smoke bathe themselves with commiphora branches and herbs to maintain personal hygiene. Himba women spend a lot of time braiding their hair into these otjize-covered plaits using goat hair and hair extensions they purchase in town.
For the Himbas, one’s hairstyle, especially for females, identifies her status and phase of life in society. A young HImba girl will have two braids at the front of her head until she reaches puberty. Once a girl reaches puberty, she will wear multiple braids that cover her face like a veil. When a young woman is ready to marry, these braids will be braided towards the back of her head so that her face can be seen. Women begin to wear an erembe headdress after being married or has had their first child.
The Himbas are polygamous with a man generally having two or more wives. The number of cattle a man owns is the symbol of his wealth. In order to marry a wife, the man must have at least 5 cows and 10 goats. Owners of cattle may give out livestock on a loan basis to the younger males of the family. They follow a matrilineal form of inheritance where all the wealth and cattle go first from the deceased to a brother of one mother and then to a sister’s son, or any equivalent in the matriline like a sister’s daughter’s son. This kind of inheritance rules create a system where everybody contributes in rearing the cattle with the hope of being the sole owner of the herd someday.
There is something to be learned here for us city dwellers. We are constantly rushing around and meeting deadlines. It is interesting how the Himbas do not have the same concept of time as us. “Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or a blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins, it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” – Thomas Mann. The Himbas do not celebrate birthdays nor do they keep count of their own age. They do not believe in aging and natural death, if someone dies, he or she must have been cursed. For them, each day just rolls into the next. Time is not fleeting, time is the present and time stretches into eternity. What a luxury it is to just daydream and watch time go by…. It is a lesson for all of us to slow down and smell the roses.
It was truly a privilege to set foot in such a remote and seldom visited place. It is any photographer’s dream. I came to appreciate the harsh beauty of the vast landscapes and endless horizons and the beautiful Himba people. They reminded me of how simple life really ought to be and how dependent we have grown to these unnecessary but now essential modern conveniences. We often forget to slow down and appreciate what life has to offer. Being completely unplugged (no internet or phones here) from the rest of the world was daunting at first but after a couple of days I stopped checking my phone, and how liberating that was!
That’s a wrap, until the next time Africa! Next post will be on Doha where we made a pit stop. Stayed tuned!
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