Inspired by headmistress Batseba Rukero, children of the primary school in Okaepe village entertain tourists to Hereroland near the Waterberg and Okakarara with traditional dances, games and songs, ceremonies and scenes from their everyday life.
Batseba’s aim is to offer visitors an insight into the life of the local San and Herero people, then and now. Four different programmes are performed in the local languages and then translated or explained to visitors by the teachers.
The teachers and children aim to generate income through this community effort and to offer something interesting to visitors in an area that is not on an obvious tourist route. Through this ‘hands on history’ type of theatre, they hope to raise money to support learners financially.
The first one-hour performance in traditional dress depicts the main aspects of the traditional Herero way of life, displaying the Herero’s close relationship with their cattle and the bravery of the herders when defending their herds against predators. The Bushman children join in with songs, dances and traditional games that developed around their lives as hunter-gatherers in harmony with nature.
Another one-hour performance portrays a Herero wedding ceremony. Dressed in their traditional outfits made of skin, they invite visitors to witness a celebration in an age-old tradition.
A third option is a three-hour long visit to the Okaepe village, with tourists joining in the daily activities of the Herero villagers as they milk the cows and make the traditional sour milk omaere, their main staple. They also show visitors their cattle herds and explain customs such as the holy fire, giving tourists an opportunity to meet the people, interact and even join in a traditional meal.
A two-hour visit to the Bushman community is the fourth option. Although they share the land with the pastoral Herero people, the Bushmen introduce visitors to their history, giving them an insight into the days when they roamed the land freely. Visitors will hear them sing of successful hunts, watch them imitate the animals they have stalked and be mesmerised by their dancing.
The Okaepe community plans to develop a campsite in the near future, but at the moment free camping is allowed near to the Omatako River under the huge omumborumbonga trees. Legend has it that the omumborumbonga was the tree from which the Herero ancestors originate. Please note that campers should ask for permission to camp here. The Waterberg Plateau Park, with its well-developed campsite, self-catering bungalows and restaurant is close enough as an overnight option. Hamakari Guest Farm also offers accommodation.
The fees charged go directly to the school, the boarding school and the actors in the performances. It is essential to book in advance with Headmistress Rukero at Okaepe School and Living Museum.
Okaepe is located 54 km east of Okakarara on the tar road (D 3822) in the direction of Coblenz. After 4 km, turn right onto the D 3805 dust road. Follow this for 31 km and then turn left onto the D 3801. A further 19 km down the road, take the Okaepe turn-off to the right. Look out for the Okaepe sign or the white school buildings in the village about 100 m off the main road.
Batseba Rukero founded the Okaepe School and the living museum in 2002 to benefit the very poor San and Herero community members who could not afford to send their children to Okakarara. She also started a hostel, as most of the San children live very far away from Okaepe. A boarding school was built and furnished with UN funding. In October 2004 tour operators Bwana Tucke Tucke and Eagles Rock Tours & Safaris attended a cultural day with the villagers. The first foreign visitor to Okaepe in 2005 was Sylvia Fischer from Thüringen in Germany.
This article appeared in the April ‘05 edition of Travel News Namibia.