Back to the future

Three days in Swakopmund
December 29, 2016
Five hundred years of purity
January 2, 2017

AT THE OVAHIMBA LIVING MUSEUM

Text and photographs Ron Swilling

The latest living museum, celebrating the rich and ancient Himba culture, is now open to visitors 40 km north of Opuwo, en route to Epupa Falls …

I t’s not every day that you have a chance to milk a goat, learn to stick fight or play an erose (cattle trumpet), instructed by the Himba wearing their traditional dress.

An exhilarating, energetic demonstration of the Himba culture – aka a ‘living museum’ – has recently opened, giving you the opportunity to do all this, and more, as well as to learn about the intriguing traditional life of the Himba people. This includes their dress, food and craft (wood carving and metal work). Guests learn about how the homestead is built, with the Holy Fire at its heart, where all the important communication with the ancestors takes place. They also have the unique opportunity to sit in a hut with a bevy of Himba women learning about their intricate beauty rituals, which enable them to look strikingly beautiful even in the remote areas of Kaokoland. A translator is on hand to make a two-way conversation possible, allowing you into the mysterious life of one of the last seminomadic desert-dwelling people in Africa. It also, amusingly, allows the Himba to ask you a question or two: ‘’Are you married?’’ ‘’How many wives does your husband have?’’ ‘’Do you keep animals at home?’’

The living-museum concept may sound like an oxymoron, but the Living Culture Foundation Namibia (LCFN), established in 2006, has merged the two in a healthy and holistic relationship. Rather than being a “museum” in the conventional sense, which houses implements and artefacts from days long past, the living museum is set in an outdoor arena (in the case of the Himba, modelled on a traditional homestead), is interactive (if you want it to be) and is dynamic i.e. involves the cultural group demonstrating their traditional way of life while you watch or partake in the activities. This has multiple benefits. It reinforces cultural values, educates the young, revives age-old skills and provides an income to members in the rural areas where there is little chance of employment. It also, importantly, reduces the risk of exploitation. And it does all this while giving the lucky traveller the opportunity to experience this intriguing culture. The Ovahimba Living Museum is the sixth living museum in Namibia to date.

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The museum originated in a slightly different way than the others. This time, they were approached by Rimunikavi (John) Tjipurua, who had come up with a similar idea and approached the LCFN to collaborate. John had seen cultural displays on a trip to South Africa, organised by the Namibian Tourism Board, and had been impressed and inspired. It was on the same trip that he also met one of the members from the Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi-San, who told him about LCFN and the support they offer to the living museums in the form of marketing and guidance.

John had built a simple campsite on family land at Omungunda, near Opuwo in northern Namibia, which he realised would be the perfect location. He started to build the homestead and enlist willing performers. He also discussed the idea with the tribal elder and received his approval. It was all set to go.

The Ovahimba Living Museum opened officially on 5 November 2016 after a refreshing rain shower, with a presentation of the programme in the morning – culminating in an exuberant performance of singing and dancing – and the opening in the late afternoon. A supper feast was held in the evening, as befits any important Himba occasion.

According to John, “preserving the Himba culture” is the essence of the living museum. Brought up in the area as a rural Himba boy wearing traditional dress, he realises the importance of the age-old traditions. “Life is changing and the traditional way is dying slowly but surely, because of the influence of the modern world.”

With the opening of the living museum, he is looking positively ahead to the future.

CONTACT DETAILS:
+264 (0)81 838 2556   |   tjipuruaj@yahoo.com

DIRECTIONS:
The Ovahimba Living Museum is on the C43, 40 km north of Opuwo. (Camping is available at the Omungunda Campsite)

Living Culture Foundation Namibia (LCFN)
+264 (0)61 220 563   |   www.lcfn.info/en

THE SIX LIVING MUSEUMS OF NAMIBIA:

  • The first living museum to be established: The Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi-San at Grashoek (on the C44 to Tsumkwe)
  • In the north-east: The Living Museum of the Mbunza, 14 km west of Rundu (on the B10 towards Nkurenkuru) and the Living Museum of the Mafwe reached from the D3502 turn-off at Kongola
  • Near Twyfelfontein: The Living Museum of the Damara
  • The Little Hunter’s Museum, on the outskirts of Tsumkwe, which offers a three-day programme in the Nyae Nyae conservancy where traditional hunting is still allowed
  • And, the newest, the Living Museum of the Ovahimba!

A brief history:
Far from his original intention, Werner Pfeiffer’s idea of starting up living museums in Namibia grew from meeting the residents of the small village of Grashoek while working on a devil’s claw project. Werner had experience with a similar concept in Europe, re-enacting Stone Age times. Over the years, he adapted and expanded it to encompass the Namibian cultures. In 2004, the Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi-San was opened, offering a special San (Bushman) experience to visitors. Two years later, the LCFN was born with three founding members: Werner Pfeiffer and Sebastian and Kathrin Dürrschmidt. In subsequent years they met with other cultural groups around the country and several living museums were established.

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“If an old man dies in Africa, an entire library goes up in flames.”
– Amadou Hampâté Bâ –

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This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Summer 16/17 issue.

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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