Slowly the landscape changed when we’re driving more northwards. The empty stone deserts, sand dunes and Savanna’s became more tropical. Till now I’d only seen dry river beddings in Namibia but now there was a small water stream now and then, and even a palm tree arised sometimes next to the water. Finally we arrived at the Kunenne river, a wide with water and crocodiles filled river that is marking the northern border between Namibia and Angola. Thousands of palm trees formed a long green stripe along both sides of the of the river. It still rains only a few times a year, but this area is more habitable for humans. The mystical Himba tripe is populating the area. This tripe used to live all across the country but since the Germans colonized the south they were pushed more northwards. They used to be hunters, traveling after the wildlife. But since the wildlife is protected, they switched to having cattle instead. Along the river we see several very primitive settlements usually consisting of a few small huts made of a wood and clay within a round wall of wooden sticks. Goats, cows and chicken are walking all around the settlements. Even tough there is enough water in this area to irrigate the land to grow vegetables, I could not spot any crops or weeds. We thought that is maybe because the Himba’s are still moving from place to place with their cattle once the resources of their habitat are getting to poor to feed the tripe.
We had bought a photo book about the Himba’s made by an English photographer in the 90s. She was send to this area because the Namibian government was planning on building a dam in the river causing the Himba territory to flood. She was researching how this would effect on the Himba tripe and became in touch with a himba family she felt really connected to. She decided to stick longer and returned coming back several times to document their culture. Before the colonization the Himba tripe was the making the biggest group of the country, now there only 5000 individuals left. They hold on so strongly to their beliefs that they didn’t were able to adjust on their changing environment. They still measure wealth by how many cattle and children you have for example. What is remarkable is that this tripe is ruled by the woman and man don’t really seem to have an important role at all. Even the way they look expresses the power that women have and the values they think are most important. Their hair is covered in stripes of red clay ending in perfectly soft endings like it is a mantel. On their head they wear a crown made of goat leather and on their necks most of the women have big shell in between their always naked breasts. This shell can only be found on a very specific place in Angola, when a man wants to propose to a Himba women he is meant to make the journey to get one himself. However they do sort of marry to one partner, the women have many lovers. Also their kids are raised by the whole community and are often not even knowing who of the man is their biological father. The roles seem to be as followed: the women take care of the village, the food and the children. The man are doing not a lot But drinking their self made liquor and the children are taking care of the cattle.
My mom was reading out loud in the photobook telling stories about how the journalist (Karin) got in contact with one of the himba women without speaking each other’s languages or knowing each other values. I was driving on while she was reading on a very bad path. When we stopped along the road to picknick to Himba woman suddenly appeared from out of the bush. I think they were observing us from a distance before deciding to approach us. They were shy, they didn’t spoke English and were staring at us like they never saw white people before. When we offered them a cup of tea they joined us sitting on the ground. Since we couldn’t speak a word with each other we tried to communicate by drawing in a little book. Al though they seem to understand what we were trying to say they couldn’t replay because they didn’t know how to use a pen. After 10 minutes also some kids were slowly approaching us, they yelled and within 5 minutes all the woman and children of the village were surrounding our cars, observing us curiously. When they saw the photobook on one of the car seats trough the windshield they started yelling and pointing at it. It happened to be that we we arrived by pure coincidence in the himba village that the book was going about. On the cover of the book a Himba young himba woman aged 17 was posing with her just born kid. Now the kid was 17 and his mother standing on the cover of the book was 34. I think they must have thought we were send by the author and they started clapping, singing and dancing in a big circle around us. This was their way of welcoming us. It was funny how we were suddenly connected with a himba family via this journalist that came here two decades ago.
We decided to stay the night at the village. When the rest of my family was making camp I was asked by one of the Himba women to help her getting water from the pump. We both carried a big yellow jerrycan to the source. She was balanceing it on her head with ease. We walked together to her village trying to communicate with signs but even western sign language was different to what they know. She was taller than me, almost naked except for some self made necklaces. She was the sister of mother nature.