In May 2012, we arranged for Uyaphi.Com client Ken Vine from Devon in England to stay with the traditional Himba people in two remote villages in the middle of Kaokoland, Namibia. He lived, slept, ate, conversed and photographed these Himba villagers. He produced a video documentary of his encounter and has given several lectures for charity about his stay with the Himba. In this Q & A interview, we ask Ken about his memories and his experiences.
Uyaphi: What motivated you to stay with the Himba?
KV: I suppose a fascination for people and cultures. Also, I was on holiday in Peru where I met up with a guy from South Africa who told me about the Himba. My interest spread from there and then I found your company on the internet who could arrange such a trip.
Uyaphi: Why did you choose the Himba above other traditional peoples?
KV: Purely by chance, before I met the guy from South Africa, I was interested in spending time with tribes’ people in the Amazon.
Uyaphi: Staying in the village, what were your first impressions?
KV: What a harsh and unforgiving environment to live in. The first Himba I saw were in the frontier town of Opuwo, basically the last crossroads before the wilderness and they had sort of become westernised.
Uyaphi: Were you welcomed by the villagers or were they suspicious of you?
KV: The first two days they were certainly suspicious of why I was there and I had to sleep outside of the village but then my guide managed to persuade the chief that I was harmless. Then they accepted me with an amused tolerance, and then after that I joined in all of their daily activities. I must say, I never felt threatened and they were a very friendly people.
Uyaphi: You slept in a tiny, cow dung rondavel. How was that like?
KV: Very strange sleeping on a cowhide mat. It was so small you couldn’t stand up in it. The lady who lived there cooked outside for me and lit the fire in the evening. The rondavel was much too hot for me in the day so I joined the Himba sitting in the shade. It was fine at night. (Editor’s note: May is approaching winter with hot days but very cold evenings in this arid, semi desert landscape).
Uyaphi: The villagers seemed to be well fed and generally happy from the video. Would you say that is a true reflection?
KV: Yes, I would. They are very happy people. They seemed to have plenty of cattle and goats. I think they had good rains earlier in the year. They ate lots of maize cobs and had melons (where they got them from, I don’t know). They were really lovely people. The Namibian government is trying to educate them and bring them more in line with modern society.
Uyaphi: Would you say that the Himba, as a traditional people, are thriving and what would you say are the major threats to their way of life?
KV: Their way of life will diminish more and more. I would be amazed that even in ten years’ time; life will be the same as I saw them. Whether that is a good thing or not, that is not for me to say.
Uyaphi: During the video, there is a clip about them enthusiastically receiving your western medicine for their various ailments. Does this reflect disenchantment with their traditional medicines or just interest in trying out new things?
KV: I think they know that certain medicines give instant relief. The older people will be more resistant and stay with their traditional medicines. I was wary of giving them tablets as I didn’t know how it would affect them. The chief who I am sure was suffering from malaria, kept asking me for paracetemol which gave him some temporary relief from his pain. I am sure that traditional medicine will be maintained in some form in the future.
Uyaphi: On reflection, 12 months after your experience, what are your overriding memories?
KV: For me, I didn’t realise how poor they were but it was nice to see people who shared everything. They were not interested in the material world. It doesn’t mean anything to them. They didn’t want anything from me which was unusually nice. As long as they don’t get exploited, I would like to see them get better healthcare and education
Uyaphi: Ken, thank you very much for your time and we wish you good luck with your next adventure in 2014, staying with a remote Maasai people near the Masai Mara Reserve.
KV: Thank you. I am going to Antarctica later in the year and then I look forward to my next African trip.
Ken produced a video of his encounter entitled Living With The Himba and has given a lecture for the Children With Cancer charity of his time with the Himba. If you would like to receive a copy of the DVD, please contact Ken directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org