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Guest: Namibia Part 2
elephant at Etosha National Park, Namibia

Namibia Part II:
Where Wild Women Meet Wildlife

Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photos by Bruce Genderson

told myself ahead of time I would not stare. Even though the bare breasts hung low and large, my eyes instead went to the large, intricate metal jewelry adorning their necks, wrists and ankles. I was relieved that what might have been an embarrassing focus became only a gloss-over glance.

Himba woman covering body with red ocher pigment, Namibia

Viewing a live nude show in Vegas? Not quite. Instead, this was my introduction to the beautiful bodies and gentle lifestyle of the Himba people, the last remaining tribe in Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa, to cling savagely to its native identity dating back over 500 years.

Although most of the country’s 12 separate ethnic groups have retained their own language, food and beliefs, many have been converted to Christianity and, while still very poor, have become somewhat Westernized. Not so the Himbas. Clad in very little clothing, breasts exposed, their bodies covered daily through a lengthy ritual with red ocher pigment mixed with animal fat, the Himbas maintain a primitive culture. There are no stores in the village, no satellite dishes, and no outhouses. Using the woods that border their village as their toilet, it was clearly the largest bathroom facility I had ever seen. On the other hand, the men don’t have to worry about remembering to put the seat down.

woman amidst circular huts in a Himba village

Unlike other tribes, the more isolated and economically self-sustaining Himbas were able to resist the influence of missionaries who wanted them to cover their bodies, change their gods, upgrade their stick, mud and dung huts, and modernize their nomadic lifestyle. They are similar perhaps to the more well-known Masai tribes in Kenya in their ability to maintain ancient customs.

Bhavi related the story that several years ago, one of the Himba leaders was invited to Germany, a country that once controlled Namibia in the early 1900’s, to talk about the German atrocities that occurred there in 1904. Though urged to wear modern clothes, he refused to sacrifice his traditional attire.

Himba woman with children

Commenting on the matriarchal society of the Himba, in which the women do most of the work inside and outside the household, our guide pointed out: “The women call the shots but they make the men feel they’re in charge.” Somehow this did not seem like such an alien concept to the men on our tour…

Several of the women in the small village, made up of circular huts that might, depending upon the time of day, house as many chickens or calves as they do people, gathered in a circle to tell stories and sell their wares. Through a local interpreter/guide, I queried the female elder of the tribe about whether the young girls object to the daily ocher ritual or might want to dress in a more modern fashion: “They do not want to change,” she adamantly assured me. “They are happy continuing their traditions.” Nonetheless, the local guide shyly indicated that that’s not always true.

The guide further explained that in reality the Himbas are slowly being forced to alter their lifestyle due to lack of pasture for their cattle, encroachment upon their land by more modern-leaning tribes, and other Western influences. Not surprisingly, this is something they do not want to accept.

I then asked my captive audience if the Himbas were under any pressure from the government to change. The response: “Because we are a self-sustaining society –- we tend our own goats and cattle and grow our own food –- there is nothing external that can force us to change. Even people coming with electricity and other forms of modernization –- even if they come with cattle prods to move a stubborn herd –- we will resist.” She was pretty convincing. The local guide looked skeptical.

The Himbas were only one of several different tribes people we met with and in every other case; the mere mention of President Obama brought exuberant thumbs up and high fives. When I alluded to him in front of the lovely group of Himba women, however, I was greeted with blank stares.

Those of you who wish a closer look at Himba culture without traveling to Namibia should rent the feature film, “Babies,” which came out, appropriately, in time for last Mother’s Day. It follows toddlers from four countries, including one from a Himba community in Namibia.

adult giraffe with calf drinking from a watering hole

Namibia is not only known for its interesting two-legged inhabitants; its four-legged creatures are equally intriguing. Although Etosha National Park is the premiere game-viewing area, we had seen quite a few animals, including ostrich, oryx, kudo, springbok, giraffe, zebra, baboon, jackal and elephant, during a previous stop at the Palmwag Concession southwest of the park.

By the time we got to Etosha, we were all pretty much of one mind: if it’s not a lion, cheetah or a rhino, don’t bother telling us. But Etosha, home to 114 species of wildlife, didn’t disappoint. Within 10 minutes of entering the park, we saw a lion. Okay, it was more than 350 yards away, but Bhavi said it was a lion and we believed him.

After that, however, it was downhill. When we next stopped miles later, it was for a rabbit. I thought, “Wow, he’s getting desperate!” But my cynicism was short-lived. Soon we arrived at a watering hole giving sustenance to a whole family of lions –- a large-maned dad, a sleek-looking mom and a number of cuddly cubs, while nearby a lioness neighbor was feasting on a dead rhino. Hanging out at a safe distance were dozens of thirsty springboks, zebras and jackals just hoping the lions would tire of the watering hole and leave. They just stood there –- lusting –- and Bhavi predicted that none would get to drink that day.

a rhinoceros at the Etosha National Park

The intimidation was palpable -– until one very brave little warthog approached the far end of the waterhole; eventually, a couple of zebras and springboks followed suit. I could just imagine the thought process: “Well, if he could do it, I may as well try.”

At that point, I could have returned to our lodge and been very happy with the day’s outing –- and it was only 9 o’clock in the morning! But in truth, animal viewing in Etosha can be somewhat sporadic.

If the goal of your trip is a safari, go to Tanzania, Kenya or Botswana; but if you’re seeking sheer diversity of experience extending from unique topography –- the highest sand dunes in the world -- to indigenous culture to a fair amount of animal viewing, Namibia should be at the top of anyone’s Big Five (to keep with safari terminology) list!

For more information, log onto the Overseas Adventure Travel site or call (800) 955-1925.

(Posted 12-1-2010)

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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!


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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in about the Garifuna.


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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.


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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy

Ed Boitano's travel blog/review
Three Musical Pilgrimages: Mozart, Grieg and Hendrix

Troldhaugen Villa in Bergen, Norway
Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) could read and compose music, plus play the violin and piano, when he was five years old. Born into a musical family in Salzburg, Austria (then the Holy Roman Empire), he had a unique ability for imitating music, which first became evident when he recited a musical piece by simply observing his father conducting a lesson to his older sister. This led to a childhood on the road, where the young prodigy performed before many of the royal courts of Europe.

Go There

Tom Weber's travel blog/review
Treasures of Ireland: The Irish Goodbye (Dispatch #20)

Irish sunset

The Palladian Traveler brings to a close his 20-part series on the Emerald Isle from an upscale restaurant in downtown Dublin where he files his final dispatch and then quietly slips away.

Go There

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