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The Red Ochre People

Tracey Derrick

Himba in the Kaokoveld, Northern Namibia by Tracey Derrick

The Himba have inhabited this remote wild region for centuries, with few concessions to Westernisation. The Namib, the world's oldest desert was an impenetrable barrier to the Europeans for nearly 300 years. It was not until after 1850, only 145 years ago that the first European expeditionswere made into the Kaokoveld.

The Himba are semi-nomadic, moving with their livestock to the river during the dry season and back to the bush after the rains. Ancestors are used as intermediaries between the living and the supreme being called 'Makuru'. All social, cultural and economic activity cannot take place without the ancestors being called upon to bear witness. This is always done around the sacred fire, (okoruwo), which is passed down from father to senior son.

The Namibian government with a Norwegian-Swedish engineering consortium, wants to dam one of Africa's last wild rivers - the Kunene River - the livliehood of the Himba. At Epupa falls where the proposed dam is to be built, there is food that their livestock depend on during a drought. Their kraals and the graveyards of their ancestors lie both on the Angolan and Namibian banks.

This dam will destroy centuries-old patterns that form the basis of the local Himba social economy. The loss of economic independence will give rise to a community largely dependent on government for their welfare.

Tracey Derrick

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