The Ovahimba Years
A Transdisciplinary Ethnography in Namibia and Angola
Petite Rina
Les années Ovahimba
Une ethnographie transdisciplinaire en Namibie et Angola

PROGRESS REPORT

October 2003

Introduction

The Ovahimba Years is a long-term multidisciplinary research and community development programme.

Project development was first initiated in Paris in 1997. The following year, it was extended to Windhoek, and subsequently to Opuwo. By the middle of 1998, we commenced our first research studies in Etanga, a small settlement north west of Opuwo. Since then, we have been active in research and community development in Etanga and its outlying districts, in other areas, such as Okanguati, Ehomba, and Kaoko-Otavi, as well as the south western regions of Angola.

During our initial tenure in the field, we concentrated on our studies at various levels of the Ovahimba cultural heritage in order to acquire a comprehensive view of the local context and environment. Progressively, our focus shifted from pure research to applied anthropology in which research and development complement each other in a holistic approach. Our years of research have proved to be an essential process for the planning of community development projects. Without substantial ground knowledge of the community, the implementation of projects would lack the contextual integration necessary to make them sustainable.

Left. Tasting goat’s brains.
Right. Rina SHERMAN with Tjimbosi and Uapepererua Etanga, Namibia

RESEARCH

• Triangular Research Pole. In January 2002, we initiated the creation of a Triangular Research Pole (TRP) between the Department of African Languages at the University of Namibia (UNAM), the Laboratory of Visual and Sound Anthropologies of the Contemporary World of the University of Paris7 and The Ovahimba Years Project. The creation of the TRP was made possible through financial assistance from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The principal aim of the Triangular Research Pole is to promote and develop research cooperation and academic exchange between France and Namibia.

• Exhibition. In July 2002, we presented The Ovahimba Years Work in Progress, a first multi-disciplinary exhibition hosted by the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre (FNCC) in Windhoek. The exhibition presented a slice of Ovahimba life in the form of performances by a youth group of Etanga, sound-scapes of everyday and ritual sounds, photographs, drawings, video images, films, and a lecture series.

FUTURE PERSPECTIVES

• The major task remaining to be accomplished by The Ovahimba Years Project, is to process the collection of data. This involves :

- Films. Editing video material into a feature length film based on the life and times of the Ovahimba of Etanga, as well as a collection of shorter thematic films on a number of topics, such as the cult of the spirits, special ceremonies (circumcision), female hygiene, head dresses and hair dressing, building styles, etc.

Homestead of Mutiri Mbendura, Otjiheke, Angola

- Catalogue. Creating a catalogue of our body of data collected in the field over the past seven years. Each text, photograph, drawing, sound, and video recording is catalogued and cross-referenced on computer.

- Archive. Duplicating numerically our video and sound recordings, and store originals separately, before having them transcribed and translated. Editing the sound recordings of Ovahimba music and dancing and transferring them to CD-Rom.

- Publications. Writing a memorandum based on seven years of observation and participation in Ovahimba everyday life. Writing specific articles on a number of relevant topics (Fieldwork, Informants and Assistants, Anthropology and Development, Applied Anthropology, etc. Preparing for publication selections of photographs and drawings on specific topics (such as dance ceremonies, descriptions of the more than ninety cattle names used by the Ovahimba, etc.) and preparing texts to accompany them.

Publications of research results will be aimed at both the academic community and the public at large. Exhibitions are planned for South Africa, the UK and France.

Further exhibitions are under consideration in South Africa, France, and the UK. Such exhibitions will be accompanied by Ovahimba performances, scholarly lectures, and film screenings. An educational dimension, in the form of exchanges between Ovahimba and foreign cattle farmers, will be organised for each of the exhibition countries.

Left. Collective mourning.
Right. Headman, Mutiri Mbendura, Otjiheke, Angola

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

During the period from 1998 to 2003, over and above our full time commitment to the study of Ovahimba cultural heritage, we have became involved with community development work at various levels in Etanga and its environs.

• We assisted the Etanga community in replacing the water pumping installation at the only borehole in Etanga.

• We undertook several joint actions in collaboration with Nolidep (Northern Livestock Development Programme) in Opuwo:

• We filmed several fodder walks of livestock grazing areas to gather information on overgrazing in the region.

• We participated in the partial rehabilitation and development of the Etanga Rest Camp.

• On request of the anti-alcohol campaign groups in Opuwo and in the Social Services of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, we produced and directed the film Kurakurisa Ouruvi / Shake Your Brains, a film about on alcohol abuse in the Kunene Region. The film allowed people from the region to express themselves in terms of the devastating effects on alcohol on their families and communities. Following a Première in Windhoek, the film is being used in anti-alcohol awareness campaigns in schools and communities.

• In 2000, we started working with youth leaders on the creation of the Veripaka Youth Club of Etanga. The Youth Club was formed to group and organise the youth, to provide guidance and training to them, and to initiate community development projects in conjunction with the leaders and elders of the community.

• In 2001 and 2002, we were instrumental in obtaining funding and donations for various segments of the community:

• The Spanish Cooperation donated substantial equipment and stationary to the Etanga Primary School Office for two consecutive years.

• The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany donated solar panels to the community for installation in the Etanga Community Resource Centre, currently under construction.

• The British High Commission and the Embassy of the Netherlands have agreed to assist with computer equipment and furnishing to the Etanga Community Resource Centre.

• The Michelle McLean Children’s Trust donated blankets, sleeping bags, and other utility goods to the Etanga Primary School.

• During this same period, we started raising funds for the Etanga Community Resource Centre project, initiated by the Veripaka Youth Club on behalf of the local leaders and community members. The principal aim of the Centre is to alleviate poverty by means of youth and adult guidance and training, and the initiation of sustainable income generating activities.

• In 2002, NAMSOV (Pty) Ltd agreed to finance the construction of the Etanga Community Resource Centre. Designed by Kerry McNamara Architects, le construction of the Centre is underway.

• The Fund for Social Development of the French Embassy in Windhoek contributed to the equipment and implementation of the Centre.

Our principal concern at present is the implementation of the Centre in Etanga.

Left. Caltex sponsorship dinner, Windhoek.
Right. Presentation meeting of the DCC, Etanga, Namibia

• Voluntary. The Catholic Delegation for Cooperation (France) has designated a voluntary to the Etanga Community Resource Centre for a period of two years. Alexandra CARRIE will arrive in Etanga early in 2004, and will occupy the post of Manager-Accountant. She will be responsible for the initial implementation of the Centre, and for the training of a management and financial administration team.

• Training. The University Centre for Studies in Namibia (TUCSIN) has agreed to host a special Public Relations Training Course for members of the Ovahimba community in 2004. The course runs over a period of eight months, and covers the following subjects: English, Cultural Anthropology, History and Archeology and Law. Recruitment.

• TUCSIN Alumni Committee and the Etanga Community Resource Centre. An alumni committee has been created by former TUCSIN grantees, which will develop short and mid-term training programmes for the Etanga Community Resource Centre.

• Copies of « The Ovahimba Years » project’s research results (films and rushes on VHS cassettes, copies of the photographs and sound recordings) will be made available to the Centre as a permanent exhibition, and could be used as a community based resource for income generating activities.

CONCLUSION

The Ovahimba Years project is now into its seventh year of research and community development in Etanga. The years of research provided us with insights and knowledge of the community that have been valuable in the application of development projects. In turn, the observations that we have made in development projects, have contributed to our research studies.

The Etanga Community Resource Centre is currently being constructed, and implementation has begun and will continue over the next two years. We are participating in a process whereby the community is taking their own development in hand, and in doing so, is creating the premises to preserve their identity whilst participating more fully in the larger world context.

PERSPECTIVES

Following two sojourns in south-west Angola, we plan to undertake a long-term study of the Otjiherero speaking peoples of this region. The aim this study is to extend the scope of the research on the Ovahimba cultural heritage undertaken in Etanga in order to create extensive documentation on the material and intangible culture of this cultural landscape which includes these peoples on both sides of the Kunene River frontier between Namibia and Angola. (Ovahimba, Ovakuvale, Ovadhimba, Ovagambwe, Ovahakaona, Ovatua, and other small groups.)

Left. Ovacaroca women, St João do Sul. Middle: Omukuvale woman, Virei.
Right. Ovahimba cemetary, Otjiheke, Namibe, Angola

These populations that inhabit the arid regions of north-west Namibia and south-west Angola live in permanent and intermittent contact with one another. They share the same ancestral belief systems, a common language and have similar life styles. Other than documents that date from the first half of the twentieth century (Cf. Father Estermann), the material and intangible culture of these peoples are little known.

     This study could lead to filing a cross-border (Namibia – Angola) application for classification with the Intangible Heritage of UNESCO.

     Alerted to the risk of disappearing of Mbali funeral art, we have undertaken a pre-study of this art in Namibe. Practised by the descendants of slaves recruited by the Portuguese, this bi-cultural art of funeral stones present a rare example of stone art in Africa. Today, the remaining stones are at risk of disappearing due to theft, vandalism and weather conditions.

Left. Kimbali workers. Middle: Mbali Funeral Stones, Namibe Cemetery.
Right. Kimbali mother and daughter during an initiation rite.

     We have completely documentation of the Namibe cemetery and have partially documented the cemetery of Saco do Mare near Namibe. Locating and documenting the several remaining Mbali cemeteries will necessitate excavations in some cases.

     Mbali funeral art is little known, but presents an exceptional bi-cultural dynamic. This process is also present in the rite of passage ceremonies that are still practiced today.