I usually don’t love the word tribe (used to describe a group of people-non Western) as I feel like it’s a product of colonialism, but for lack of a better word it’s the title of this blog sooo, yeah. I’ve had the pleasure of learning about and spending time with different tribes in Namibia on this journey, such as the Bushmen, Sans, and Himbas tribes.
Having been in South Africa for a few months, I’ve heard a lot about the Bushmen, who originated in Namibia and North Western South Africa. Being a nomadic group, they painted various animals they hunted on rocks and in caves to communicate with one another, which I was lucky to see in Namibia. They also speak a clicking language (that I’m fascinated by) consisting of four main clicks that are used with words. Slowly, I’m putting together a puzzle of tribe migration, language, and how it all connects/ fits together now.
I figured out that the braided women I saw in the craft market in Swakopmund are from the Himbas tribe. This tribe is very distinctive in their dress, jewelery, and hair. Women braid extensions into thier hair and leave the end of the braid loose, melting the braid itself with a red wax. Beads on thier sandals communicate to the world how many children they have and a specific necklace is a signal for an unmarried woman. Adorned with jewelry, the women wear a cloth around their waist, belts, bracelets, and their breasts are uncovered.
As I walk through the village I see the familiar sights of wood and mud huts with straw roofs. Animals are kept in the center of the circular village with huts on the perimeter. I sit with the women, I’m invited into a home, and I accidentally step into a sacred line leading from the center of the village to the main hut- oops. I soak up as much as I can about the Himbas culture and way of life. It feels a bit exploitative for me to take pictures, but the women urge me to do so, they benefit from tourism as much as I’m intrigued by their culture I suppose.
Part of me wonders how tourism is changing their culture- are the crafts women now make and set out on animal skins for us or for them? Is a bunch of white people walking through the village disruptive? How do you explore and experience without exploiting? I’m forever fascinated and curious about cultures that are different from my own. There are other ways of life beyond big houses, paved roads, television, and cars- neither are good or bad, just different. I respect the differences and I deeply respect the tribes I’m spent time with in Namibia.