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  • I just finished reading Alexandra Fuller`s DON`T LET`S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT and Tony D`Soza`s WHITEMAN - such talented writers! Then I ask myself: why the heck do I write my mediocre stuff? Better stop it?

    Then came San Cassimally`s thoughts about the ICEBERG and rescued me. It made me remember a phrase by Joan Walsh Anglund : A BIRD SINGS BECAUSE IT HAS A SONG, NOT BECAUSE SOMEONE LISTENS.

    I guess, in reality, a bird sings so that a potential mate listens, still there also seems to be truth in the saying, because it has a song inside and will sing anyways.....

    I am courageous then to share another story of my visits to the Himba in Damaraland , while my husband and I lived in Namibia for a year in 2007:

    Besides the Ovambos, the most numerous tribe in Namibia, there are the Himba, brothers of the Herero. It is said that both were one tribe that came down south from where today the Masai live, then during the last centuies divided in dress and custom.

    “Every Himba man and woman has their lower four front teeth extracted when they are children. I am a Himba, too, but I kept my teeth. Because I did, members of my tribe do not accept me as one of them,” explains our guide Matthias. He leads us through a Himba village on a private ranch in Damaraland, some two hundred kilometers north of Swakopmund. Most traditional Himba settlements lie much further north in Kaokoland, or even Angola. We sit with Matthias in an adobe house which was built by and belongs to one of the wives of the chief. Small as it is, the domed structure has been divided into two parts. To the left of the entrance sit the men including my husband and Matthias. I have joined the women on the right. I sit beside a gorgeous young Himba woman. Even with the four teeth missing, her smile is enchanting. In fact, until Matthias explained the custom, I had not even noticed the gap.

    The number of wives a Himba man may marry depends on how many head of cattle he owns. Five cattle is sufficient to support a wife; each additional five head will support another woman. The first duty of a young wife is to build her hut which houses her husband when he visits.

    Except for her elaborate headdress and short skirt, both made of leather, the young woman is completely naked. Many necklaces and bracelets made out of leather cording and reworked fence wire adorn her body. She has covered her body, top to bottom, with a mixture of a special ochre clay and butter. This gives her a red color, the source of the Himbas’ nickname, The Red People -- this despite the fact that only women paint themselves. “Every traditional Himba woman spends up to three hours a day preparing the paint and applying it,” Matthias continues. “The women help each other to do this. Also, they never use water for their daily hygiene. Water is only for drinking. The smoke of herbs is used to clean their genitals…” And just as he explains this, the beauty beside me lights the bunch of herbs she has placed in a clay pot. When the flames have died and only smoke arising, she squats over the pot to cleanse. Her toddler comes running in. She manages to put him to her breast while she hunkers, all the while maintaining her gentle smile.

    “She will remain squatting until her face begins to sweat,” Matthias tells us. After a while I see perspiration forming under her nostrils; she puts the pot away.

    ”The men do use water for washing,” we are told. “And great care is taken that their hair never, ever touches the ground. That is the purpose of their wood pillows.” I pick up one of the curious sleeping aids which has a very small platform about four inches above its base. I put it behind my ear to get an idea of what it would be like to rest my head on it all night. Had I to sleep on narrow wood, I would never get an ounce of sleep again!

    Beyond the stool, the family’s only other furnishings are a cowhide on the floor on which the woman and her husband and children sleep. An indentation in the floor contains the fire against the cold desert nights. The Himbas’ wealth is their cattle and goats. Outside, in the middle of the settlement under some shady
    trees, a number of cows lie. Various women approach the animals for milking. The liquid is held in huge gourds, which are stored, when not in use, from a branch on a tree in front of their hut or from a post and beam, constructed for the purpose. The gourd is continually manipulated by the women as they milk so that the fresh liquid is churned into the butter they use for their bodies.

    Most of the women are extremely beautiful, skinny and strong. What impresses me most is that they all appear happy and relaxed.

    “This village has adopted many orphans from other settlements,” Matthias informs us. ”You know there are many AIDS orphans in Namibia. The women share the responsibility of these children.”

    Indeed, there are children everywhere. They run here and there; they climb fences and trees. I don’t see any Western-style toys. Instead they play with sticks and stones. Not one child seems bored or angry. During the couple of hours of our visit, I do not witness one fight between children. Not a cry is heard except from the babies and toddlers. Those children adorned in traditional ornaments seem like African princes to me. Those dressed in worn-out Western clothes look like paupers.

    The women approach us repeatedly to be photographed. The Mayans of Chiapas would throw stones at us in a similar situation!

    “Most young Himbas leave their villages to search for a different life in the cities,” says Matthias. ”There are still some six thousand Himbas living their traditional life as these do. I image in a few decades, though, they will all be integrated into modern society.”

    I cannot imagine myself living such a life. But I do envy these women for the deep calmness their faces express. Do they ever doubt the meaning of life? It seems that the meaning of their lives lies right in front of them.

    A few months later we return to that same village. Matthias has left for the capital. This time the owner of the guest house we stay in in Karmanjab is our guide. He is a stocky young white Namibian, maybe thirty five years old. “My brother and I have been adopted by a Himba chief when we were little boys…”he tells us and our ears open as wide as wide can be….

    “Once we were grown we invited this Himba village to put up their huts on our ranch and my brother married three of the women.”

    “Does your brother have children with his wives?” I ask

    He shakes his head. “No”, he says,” but they help take care of all the orphans who they have adopted in the village. Usually a Himba woman who cannot bear children suffers a lot. Often infertile women are made fun of until they hang themselves in a tree.”

    Fortunately his three young sisters – in – law do not show any signs of depression or sadness because of not having their own children. Finally my sister, niece, son, husband and I sit in the hut of one of the three women. She smiles her most beautiful smiles at us. She is absolutely gorgeous. Our guide talks and talks,” Himba women cover themselves with the red ochre and butter because they imitate the elephants. Elephants cover themselves with mud, so that hunters cannot see them well. For the same reason the Himbas started with the red earth.”

    I have read that elephants cover themselves with mud to protect their skin against the sun and kill off parasites. If the Himba cover themselves with earth to not be seen by their enemies, why do just the women do so and the men go pitch black as they are? I want to ask all these questions, but our guide is long past that subject. He now takes a huge Oryx horn in his hands. On one end of it the opening is made longer and wider with hardened beeswax.

    “This is my brother’s horn”, explains our guide,” it is older than 150 years and just my brother is allowed to blow through it so that the sound calls his cattle together!”

    We are all allowed to hold the miraculous horn in our hands for a short moment, and then he returns it to his sister – in- law. She supposedly does not understand our conversations in English. She has a sheepish grin on her beautiful lips, takes the mouthpiece of the special horn rapidly between her sensual lips and blows forcefully through it! A deep sound placidly touches our ears. Our guide is very red in his face and does not look at us; I desperately avoid looking at my husband or sister. I know we would burst out laughing.

    When we return to our car, our guide’s brother enters the village, the supposed big chief with his big horn. A good looking young man is lovingly draped all around him. We immediately understand why this man does not have any children with his three beautiful Himba wives. I suppose that they take much more care of the orphans than he does.

    After dinner our guide from the morning is our host again. He serves us good food and delicious wine. He keeps telling us stories. That antilopes jump 4 m high, elephants put mud on themselves, because they copy the Himba... I understand that he spins yarn, he is a born storyteller...

    More about African Women: Forgiving The Murderers
    and: African Women

    Photography by Kiki

    More Paintings
    My Blog
    Mi blog
    Kiki en TELEMUNDO
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