Tag Archives: Kunene Region

A visit to the Marienfluss area of Namibia

In my previous blog I wrote about what a beautiful oasis Marble Camp is.  It was a great spot for us to recover and prepare ourselves for our trip up to Camp Synchro on the Kunene River.  We met some other campers who were towing a trailer and they told us about Red Drum Pass that awaited us shortly after we left Marble Camp.  The Pass turned out to be relatively easy to negotiate, but the rocks were quite jagged and we crossed fingers that they wouldn’t damage our tyres.  Apart from a few small tears in the sidewalls of the tyres, we survived the climb up and over Red Drum Pass relatively unscathed.

The road up Red Drum Pass

From there it was a short drive to Red Drum, which, although it features on all the road maps of the Kunene region, is really no more than a junction marked by a red drum.  We came upon it quite suddenly and it took us a moment or two to realize that this was the famous Red Drum that everyone talks about.  We had to stop and take the obligatory photos to show that we’d passed it!  Rob looks a bit perplexed about something – probably wondering what all the fuss is about.

Rob at Red Drum

Once we turned off at Red Drum and headed into the Marienfluss, the going was a lot easier.  The Marienfluss is a valley that runs alongside the Hartmann Mountains in northern Namibia and it is definitely one of the prettiest areas in the Kunene region.  It is described as one of the southern Africa’s last wilderness areas because of its isolation, and it’s easy to see why.  Although it is dotted with little Himba settlements, they are few and far between so do little to change one’s perception of being in an undeveloped and remote area.  These colourful Himba ladies graciously allowed me to photograph them.  Unfortunately our idea of a reasonable price to pay for a photo was somewhat different to theirs – their thinking was more in line with what a model like Kate Moss would charge!  As a result their smiles turned to glares as we drove away.

Three colourful Himba ladies

We loved the beautiful fairy circles that dotted the Marienfluss and stopped often to photograph them, the yellow grass, mountains and red road.  The area has an almost ethereal quality about it.

The beautiful Marienfluss scenery

The road was very corrugated and sandy in patches.  It was quite sad to see how motorists had left the track often to get away from the sand and corrugations, causing the track to become ever wider.  Sometimes we had as many as six tracks to choose from.    Driving off the road is not encouraged as the damage to the environment is usually permanent.

The wide red road

There were lots of wild animals and birds to be seen along the way.  These ostriches made a beautiful picture in the landscape.

Ostriches in the Marienfluss

We also stopped to watch a Pale chanting goshawk swoop down and catch a snake.  When Rob set off on foot to try and photograph it, the goshawk flew off clutching its prey in its talons.  These are the magical moments on a trip and they need to be savoured without being in a hurry to get to your next destination.

Pale chanting goshawk with a snake

What a special time it was in this area.  If you’re prepared to put up with the atrocious roads to get there, the beauty will amply reward you for your tenacity and endurance.  Our destination for the day was Camp Synchro on the Kunene River – one of two camping places at Otjinungwa.  More about that lovely spot next week …..


The Himba – Namibia’s proud people of the past

It is hard to imagine that just a few hours drive from the teeming metropolis of modern Windhoek, there lives a small native tribe who exist pretty much as they have done for hundreds of years.  I’m referring to the Himba who are found in the Kunene region of north-western Namibia.  A tribe that is clinging tenaciously to the customs and traditions of their forefathers with little hope of being able to stem the tide of Westernisation that is lapping at their feet, beckoning the youngsters with the trappings of modern life.

Originally part of the nomadic Herero tribe that lived in southern Angola and migrated to Namibia in the early 16th century, they were driven into the waterless and inhospitable Kaokoland area by the Ovambo’s who guarded their own territory jealously and ferociously.  The Herero’s eventually decided to head east where life was easier and they were converted to Christianity, whilst the Himba stayed on the western side of the country and resisted change to their culture.  They often had to beg for food in order to survive and the name ‘Himba” derives from ‘Tjiiimba’ which means ‘the people that beg.’  And they still do, believe me!

Kaokoland/Kunene Region

Kaokoland/Kunene Region

The Herero’s covered their bodies with long dresses and multiple petticoats, whilst the Himba retained their tradition of near-nakedness because of the heat and lack of water. The two tribes still speak the same language in spite of their differences, although the Himba’s are looked upon with disdain by their former tribesmen.

Today they still live a nomadic existence, often abandoning their mud huts and settlements in search of water for themselves and their herds of cattle, goats and sheep, which are their main currency and provide for all their necessities in the way of milk, meat, clothing and utensils.   They have adapted to their arid environment, but are becoming more sedentary due to tourism and modern innovations such as water pumps and wells.

An arid and harsh environment

An arid and harsh environment

The Himba have many unique customs, which tourists find most interesting.  The women are physically very beautiful and adorn themselves with fine jewelry made of metal, bone and skin.  They rub ‘otjize’ over themselves, which is a mixture of butter fat, red rock powder and sap from a local tree.  It gives their bodies a glowing red colour and protects them from the sun and insects.  Himba women don’t wash themselves, probably because of the lack of water.  Instead, they use the sweet smoke from an herb burned in a container called an ‘ombware’ to cleanse and perfume their bodies before smearing the otjize on themselves every morning.  This beauty preparation takes three hours every day.  Time is obviously not a problem for them.
Beautiful lady - beautiful smile!

Beautiful lady - beautiful smile!

Himba hairstyles tell a lot about the person; identifying their social status.  For example, pre-pubescent girls wear two thick braids in front of their faces – these look like ram horns.  After puberty the braids are replaced by many strands hanging all over their heads and faces.  As she gets older the braids are lengthened and tied back, indicating that she is ready for marriage.  Once married, an ‘erembe’ (a piece of goat leather) is tied to the top of her head.  Single men wear their hair in a single braid running backwards from their crowns (called an ‘ondatu’) with the rest shaved off; two plaits if they are eligible to marry and a turban style hairdo for married men.  Often these are covered by a similar shaped hat or material.

On our drive from Kunene River Lodge to Epupa Falls, we came across a Himba burial site.  The gravestones were surrounded by a wooden fence and a number of ox skulls placed on a tree in the area.  The skulls apparently denote the wealth of the deceased – each skull representing one hundred oxen that the person owned.  Also the direction the skulls are placed tells whether the deceased was male or female.

Burial ground

Burial ground

Death of the physical body is not the end for the Himba as they believe that the deceased stays in the homestead with them for two generations.  Each Himba settlement has what is known as the Holy Fire (Okoruwo).  This is always positioned between the entrance to the kraal and the door of the main dwelling.  The Holy Fire is used to light all fires in the settlement and it is the duty of the oldest member of the patriclan to ensure that it is kept smoldering and never goes out.  Flames from the Holy Fire are used for daily rituals and special ceremonies like births, deaths, marriages and circumcision, and it is through this medium that communication takes place with the ancestors.  Special rituals are always performed by the Onganga or witchdoctor.

So much more could be written about this fascinating tribe, but I hope that I have whet your appetite a bit to come and see them for yourselves.  They are a proud and friendly people, although as I said earlier, their begging can be a little off-putting to travelers who would like to get to know them better.