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 history and information is challenging. Posting key experiences each day is ideal, but with long days and limited Internet access it’s not always possible.
We hiked near Khorixas in northwest Namibia’s Etosha Pan. Etosha means ‘Great White Place’ in the Oshiwambo language. The large pan is part of Southern Africa’s Kalahari Basin and spreads across a quarter of Etosha National Park covering over 8,000 miles. The pan is home to many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and astonishingly, one species of fish.
We visited the Petrified Forest in the Kunene River channel. Described as ‘an occurrence of fossilized trees’, Namibia declared the forest a national monument in 1950. Our Damara guide pointed out unique indigenous plants growing in the forest, including the unusual national plant of Namibia – Welwitschia Mirabilis – named after Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch.
Welwitschia is endemic to the Namib Desert. The unique long-lived 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 people 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 and later they battled German colonial troops. Warfare caused extermination of a large part of their populations.
Herero emphasis on cattle farming is clear in the attire the women wear. The stunning traditional outfits come from a Victorian woman’s dress worn over petticoats topped with a horn-shaped hat (said to represent the horns of a cow) made from rolled cloth.
“The traditional Herero festival is held in Okahandja on Maherero Day, which falls on the last weekend in August. Various paramilitary groups parade before their chiefs, and Herero women line the streets in their beautiful 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 traders of the late 19th century”.
The Himba are livestock farmers who breed cattle and goats in the arid, mountainous 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 traditional 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.
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. They seemed to enjoy our presence. As part of our village visit we brought a gift of food and some members of our safari group 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. The San showed us how they use plants for food, fire, and medicine. Later in the evening they danced for us by firelight under a dark African sky full of stars.
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. The subjects painted are mainly 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. Jamie Uys film “The Gods Must Be Crazy” provides an interesting commentary on the San. Their clicking language is fascinating.