This blog post describes interesting indigenous people visited in Botswana and Namibia. It was a privilege spending time with them learning about their lives and rich African culture.
Surviving a fast-moving safari means learning to live on the fly with constantly changing scenery and adjusting to new and different circumstances. During safari not much is under your control. Each day reveals more African secrets but absorbing so much information is challenging. Posting key daily experiences is ideal, but with long days and limited Internet access, sometimes it isn’t possible. It’s best to be light and go with the flow. Some days are more demanding than others.
The oldest inhabitants of Namibia, Damara are aboriginal hunter-gatherers turned agriculturalists. They occupy The Brandberg (aka Fire Mountain) and Khorixas area in the Erongo Mountains of Namibia’s Kunene Region.
“Fire Mountain is so called because of the effect created by the setting sun on its western face, which causes the granite massif to resemble a burning slag-heap glowing red.” Namibia.org
We hiked near Khorixas in the northwest Etosha Pan. Etosha means ‘Great White Place’ in the native Oshiwambo language. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin. It covers over 8,000 miles spreading across a quarter of Etosha National Park. The pan is home to many species of reptiles, mammals, amphibians, and birds, and unbelievably, even a species of fish.
During the hike, we visited the Petrified Forest in the Kunene River channel. Described as ‘an occurrence of fossilized trees’. In 1950, Namibia declared the forest a national monument. Our Damara guide pointed out unique indigenous plants growing in the forest, including Namibia’s unusual national plant – Welwitschia Mirabilis – named after Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch.
Welwitschia is endemic to the Namib Desert. The unique, long-living plant has a short stem surrounded by leaves that become twisted and frayed as they age. Some of these unusual plants are over 1500 years old!
Nama and Herero
The Nama lived a semi-nomadic pastoral life in Namaqualand. The Herero are pastoral cattle breeding people living in central and eastern Namibia. For years, the Herero and Nama fought each other. Later, they battled German colonial troops. Warfare caused extermination of a large part of their populations.
An emphasis on cattle farming is clear in the attire of Herero women. Outfits are fashioned after Victorian dresses worn over petticoats topped with a horn-shaped hat (said to represent the horns of a cow) made from rolled cloth.
“A traditional Herero festival is held in Okahandja on Maherero Day, the last weekend in August. Paramilitary groups parade before their chiefs, and Herero women line the streets wearing colorful dresses.”
A 2013 book by photographer Jim Naughten – Conflict and Costume: the Herero Tribe of Namibia – in Pictures – features traditional Herero costumes “fashioned on the influence of Namibia’s German missionaries and late 19th century traders”.
The Himba are livestock farmers who breed cattle and goats in the arid Namib Desert. Women of Namibia’s famous Himba Tribe paint themselves twice a day with red clay, take elaborate daily “smoke” baths, and never bathe with water.
The reddish-orange color of their skin and hair shields them from severe desert temperatures. It’s created by mixing butter, ash, and ochre. Their appearance includes short skirts made of goat skins and long red clay covered plaits of hair ending with tassels.
In contrast, most Himba men wear western-style clothing and spend time away from the village tending herds of cattle and goats. Livestock and “holy” fire signifying ancestral guarding of the community are crucial to Himba beliefs in ancestor worship.
“Glossy images of Bushmen hunters are unashamedly used by Botswana’s Tourism Board to promote tourism to the country, while government authorities are doing everything they can to wipe out any last trace of the tribe.” survivalinternational.org
We spent several hours visiting with Himba women and their children (an interpreter guide was present). Himba people have a hard life but are gentle, friendly, and open. Accustomed to visiting tourists, they seemed to enjoy our presence. As part of our village visit, we brought a gift of food and bought their handmade jewelry and crafts.
The San People of Botswana are indigenous hunter-gatherers. The San are called “true Bushmen” since they survive by living solely off the land. We spent several hours visiting and walking through the land they inhabit. San showed us how they use plants for food, fire, and medicine. Later that evening, they danced for us by firelight under a starry African sky.
San history is revealed in their paintings and engravings on the walls of caves and ledges from Cape Town to Namibia and the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. Subjects painted include wild and domestic animals, hunting scenes, and human figures.
The San are small, slender people seldom over 5 ft. tall. They have keen eyesight and skills in tracking, hunting, music, and art. The Jamie Uys film “The Gods Must Be Crazy” provides an interesting commentary on the San. Their clicking language is fascinating.