by Marita van Rooyen
“There are certain unique aspects to every culture – features that differentiate people in different groups from each other. This is why it is so important to learn about the values and traditions of other people. To me, this is how you learn to respect a person.”
These were the sentiments of Namibia’s newest cultural entrepreneur, Bertha Mbundu, expressed while she was demonstrating how to stamp mahangu. Bertha recently opened the Okahandja Cultural Village 10 kilometres outside Okahandja off the Hochveld road. The village consists of homesteads from seven of Namibia’s cultural groups, a reception lapa, braai and potjie-making facilities, and camping grounds.
Traditional huts of the Owambo, Damara, San, Tswana, Caprivian, Himba and Herero people are spread over 27 hectares of fertile land. Huts representing the Kavango people are currently being erected. Bertha has tried to organise a Nama homestead on the grounds, but has thus far been unable to find someone to help her. As regards the Rehoboth Basters, Coloureds, Afrikaners and Germans, the costs involved in constructing their houses would be too high, so for the time being these groups are not represented. As a token of respect, Bertha consulted with traditional leaders from the respective groups before construction began to make sure they were thoroughly represented, that the village would become a community project, and that it would make people feel they were being acknowledged.
Real people, real houses
The idea is to have ‘real people living in real houses – the traditional way’. The areas surrounding the homesteads are used for cultivating mahangu, sorghum and vegetables. Bertha hopes to bring in a herd of cattle in the near future, to make the cultural village more authentic, and because they keep snakes away. Future plans include a restaurant serving traditional, local and modern foods; a souvenir shop; a kiosk selling vegetables straight from the garden; and a number of en-suite rooms and self-catering units for overnight guests. “I want this project to become a form of income for those stationed here, to show others that it is possible to make a living out of traditional culture.”
The village hasn’t been developed only for tourists interested in Namibia’s diverse ethnic groups, but also for local people to have a taste of village life, or just to get out of town for a braai. It is also a good way to teach and show the younger generation how their ancestors used to live. As Bertha says, “Respect and love comes through understanding.”
Who is Bertha Mbundu?
Bertha started her career at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) as a personal assistant to the minister. She was later appointed Chief Control Resort Officer at the same ministry.
After her time at the MET, she moved on to Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), taking on the position of Customer Care Manager. While working at the NWR, she was given the opportunity to study at the University of Surrey in London, where she completed her master’s degree in Tourism Development, Policy and Planning. It was during this time that she realised what was lacking in the Namibian tourism sector. As she says, “The development of tourism has attained high standards on most fronts, with the exception of cultural tourism.” By following her own initiative and using her experience in the sector, she has contributed much towards filling this gap.
This article appeared in the April/ May 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.