AT THE OVAHIMBA LIVING MUSEUM
Text and photographs Ron Swilling
Text and photographs Ron Swilling
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.
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.
+264 (0)81 838 2556 | firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
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.
This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Summer 16/17 issue.