My state of mind when arriving in this African country was as innocent as possible. I had decided not to read anything; geography, literature, history or anything. I had come thinking I was “the other”. So I have never judged according to my cultural references. Of course I keep my own values but I observe a way of life I simply reckon as different.
But still, it is difficult not to take into account the difficulties of such an experiment.
The Himba people are a minority in the country. About ten thousand people out of a total population of a little over two million. Their traditions, especially the ointment they cover their body with, are not understood by the other ethnic groups. They are despised and considered dirty and uninteresting. The world Himba comes from an old Angolan word that means “beggar”. Even though this word today refers to those who live in the river area, people still remember this origin condescendingly.
They only explained this to me at the end of my first stay. At the beginning they did not understand why a white man, who could live with all the comfort of the world, had decided to sleep, eat and share their life. After many months they came to the conclusion that after all they must be interesting. After having feared to unsettle them with my presence, I can hardly conceal how proud I am to have brought them this kind of self-esteem.