Mutambo is the village chief. He will become my adoptive father. According to the Himba tradition, an adult is a person with a wife and children. Otherwise, you must have parents present in the village. There is no alternative. So I have been adopted as a son in a family.
As months go by, I become aware of a matriarchal functioning of society. The chief acts as a builder and is a representative inside the community. Every evening, he thinks of the next village he will honour with a visit. So he is rarely present among us. It is Kabinga, known as Mémé to her friends, his first wife, who runs the village. From sharing out the food to looking after the animals, you have to ask her. The first rule I imposed myself was never to give anything to a villager but give it to Mémé. She decides who will have it according to everyone’s merit or circumstances with a concern for kindness and justice. This self-discipline has allowed me never to have to face any complaint.
Mémé has nine children. Her eldest is Mokatjoia whose little one is older than Mémé’s last born child. I now understand that a woman able to give birth must have a child either inside her womb or in her arms; otherwise there is a problem.
Ryomandanda whom I have called “the surly old woman” for a long time is the chief’s second wife. She has got an only son in the village, he is called Mandu. Very aloof towards me during the first month, she finally helped me to feel the more “Himba”. After realizing my efforts to respect, to work, to integrate and share, she opened herself to me and made a point of making me speak correctly according to the traditions and with the proper accent by making me repeat as long as necessary. Righteous and strict, she is often more severe with the children than Mémé. We sometimes laugh together about that when she raises her voice more than the situation requires, at least so we think.