Himba People and Etosha National Park

Bruce, the slave driver, had us up incredibly early this morning, claiming it was practice for the days to come. If we did not like him so much, there would have been a mutiny. We were on the road by 7:30, so you can imagine the early rising, breakfast, and all that before leaving. After 45 minutes, we arrived at the village of the Himba people, a very distinctive group of people who choose to allow visitors to see how they live.

The guide who met us and was to introduce us and interpret is Himba on his mother’s side, but his father was from another tribe. At the time of day, only women and children were in the village, an area smaller than one square city block in New York City. All of the men were off with the herds of animals that they tend. We presented our gifts to the women where it went into a collective pile. The women would split the goods evening amongst everyone in the community.

What makes the Himba people unique in one way is that they cover their entire bodies with a red ochre paste. The women take certain rocks and grind it down into a powder form make the dust for the paste. In the morning, they scrape off the old coloring from their bodies to purify themselves by burning special plants. For one hour, they squat over these smoking plants to purify their genital area. They never use water to bath. The women get up at 4:00 am to start their purification treatments, which last for three hours. The same ochre is applied to their hair as well. The children were beautiful and curious. They wanted us to play with them and have us take their picture so they could see it on the digital camera.

Many of us had mixed feelings about visiting these people. My initial reaction was this was a human zoo, but I cannot deny that I was fascinated by their way of life. What made me come to terms with it was how the people were treated. We were there to learn about their way of life and as long as everyone was respectful of that, it was justifiable. I thought back to a woman in The Netherlands who lived in a small religious community. She opened the doors to her home for tourists, explained their way of life, and dressed in the traditional costume of that region. She did this for money. When she passed away, it was in the newspapers, since she had become legendary. It seems the only way to learn about differences is to experience them. Some suggested we could have read about them in a book, but then again, we could have read about all we experienced from a book, but not have had the fulfillment of the experience. I hope we left these people with dignity and they were unscathed by our visit.

After another two-hour drive, we stopped at a supermarket for stocking up for the next couple of days. This was our stretch reprieve since we still had two more hours to go to get to Etosha National Park.

Etosha Game park was declared a National Park in 1907 and covering an area of 22 270 square km, it is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, one species of fish.

Etosha, meaning “Great White Place”, is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin, the floor of which was formed around 1000 million years ago. The Etosha Pan covers around 25% of the National Park. The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River. However the course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up. The pan now is a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time. This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts thousands of wading birds including impressive flocks of flamingos. The perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds.

A San legend about the formation of the Etosha Pan tells of how a village was raided and everyone but the women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about the death of her family she cried until her tears formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up nothing was left apart from a huge white pan.

After we dropped our things in the rooms, again four to a cottage, we went for a game drive. We saw herds of zebras, springbok, and oryx to the point that it was more routine after a time rather than exciting as it first was. After some time, we found some lions under a bush resting. There were a few giraffes along the way. One giraffe was sitting on the ground. Bruce explained this was very unusual and the giraffe must be ready to die and unable to stand any longer. It is easy prey for the cats and giraffes cannot get up quickly. In many ways, I felt like this giraffe with my bad hip and leg. I was having so much pain walking, sitting, and getting up. Every suspicious looking person, which they were to my exaggerated imagination, was the hunter and I was the lame prey ready to be an easy victim. This imagery lasted throughout.

Not far from our cottages was a watering hole where people could go and look at the animals that came for a drink. As I approached, I heard people talking about the rhino that had just left. I had great hopes to see a rhino this trip, so I followed the wall until I caught up with it. I was so satisfied. My goals for this part of the trip were to see rhinos and hippos.

Dinner was at 8:00 and Bruce made chicken burgers. They were especially tasty since we had not had them for some time. Ron and I went back to the watering hole after dinner, but it was dark by this time. We could see a lump in the water, but we were not certain if there was a rock in the water, we had not noticed earlier. We stared at it until it finally moved, then tried guessing what it was. First we thought it was an elephant, then a hippo, but it was a rhino. Score two! As we acclimated our eyes to the dark and the distance, there were a total of five rhinos: four adults and one baby.

Two giraffes hesitantly made their way down to the water, plodding slowly across the plains with great caution. Neither of us could get good night shots; it was too dark and a flash was useless from such a distance. The watering hole was a great source of entertainment and discussion.

Again we shared the cottage with Omo and Jean.
We put 300 km on the truck today. 3240 km total to date. We were there to learn about their way of life and as long as everyone was respectful of that, it was justifiable. I thought back to a woman in The Netherlands who lived in a small religious community. She opened the doors to her home for tourists, explained their way of life, and dressed in the traditional costume of that region. She did this for money. When she