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 and Khorixas area in the Erongo Region.
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.
Traveling along with you and enjoying the photos and descriptions of the people and the land of Africa. Burglary and fire are very disturbing. Glad you are okay. Hope things go smoothly from here on! Best to you!
Oh my, what a wonderful trip you are having. So refreshing to see you discovering the local tribes and lifestyles as well as wildlife and startling scenery. I had heard of the bushmen years ago – probably something I read as a child – and my knowledge was re-inforced by that film you mention. But Himba and Herero are new terms for me. By the way, when I was travelling around Europe and had dodgy internet access, I discovered I could still write the blogs on my iPad in NOTES, and then cut and paste into wordpress when I had internet access. A bit clunky, but did ensure I was writing from first impressions and not recall some days later. . . . I so admire your adventurous spirit, and thank you for taking us along on this journey.
Yes, agree and try to write narrative and then download and match photos categorized by date but sometimes I’m super tired (at 69 am the oldest person on the safari) at the end of the day and simply cannot. Nothing ever goes as scheduled and in Africa everything takes so much longer than you think. Could be this safari is really a bit too fast paced! I definitely prefer solo travel where you set your own pace and decide what to do each day.
Am jotting down themes for fictional stories and have accumulated some interesting ideas – but as you surely know having the discipline to sit down and put things together in a post or short story is another subject. One plant – called Rhino Bush – is fatal to humans but so many uninformed people on safari have either rubbed up against it in the bush and infected themselves and died or used the bush to start camp fires and then died from inhaling the toxic smoke!
Haven’t written yet about things like the fact that our safari truck was burglarized while we overnighted two days in the Okavango Delta (they smashed in a window) or how we were awakened in the middle of the night in Chobe National Park when the restaurant / bar building at our lodge caught fire – possibly from lightening. It was a semi terrifying experience watching the massive fire against the dark African sky. They evacuated everyone from the other buildings for 4 hours until it was certain there was no more danger. One of the other safari people had a hysterical panic attack – not a pretty picture. There are so many things I need / want to write about but simply have not had enough time to ponder and put it in writing. Guess I will have to pack the info away in my brain and do it in April when back in Cape Town.
Thanks for reading my posts :)!
I know the feeling! I rarely blogged on my last trip and felt bad about it – but I was just too exhausted! Then I couldn’t re-invigorate the feeling, and wondered how I had managed to write daily when we were in Europe a couple of years back. Perhaps the best I can offer is that you keep a small notebook with you and just jot a line or phrase with a date and at a later time when you have the photo of that day, try to make a story then. Some of the things you relate would make good entries to magazines and such. On the upside, if you haven’t already blogged the story, then you have the opportunity to enter short story competitions and such using the material. Food for thought! Good on you for taking this adventure on. xxx Gwen
The notebook was a very easy thing that came to mind – thanks for reinforcing. I was a tech writer at the beginning of my business career so organizing easy. Hard to explain the challenges of a 2 month safari, one of those things you need to do to understand!
These people look like some fascinating starting points for stories. I finally got my idea a year ago after dipping into writing and have just finished the novel. Yes, it was hard work and I did take my eye off blogging and other delights for a while to reach my target of finishing. Now the editing….. Am sure an idea will come but sit down and take some time out! Hard to do!
You totally read my mind – there are so many story “seeds” germinating in my brain but since I’m really still traveling and now living in Cape Town have had trouble being a disciplined writer. At a certain point you just must write or life seems lacking – the discipline part is the hardest and I am so easily distracted.
Congratulations on your accomplishment!!! That is fantastic! :)
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