The Himba of Southwestern Africa and the Implications of the Nation State

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The Himba of Southwestern Africa and the Implications of the Nation State For over five centuries, the Himba people have breathed the “hot and filmy” air of the Earth’s oldest desert, raising fat, prosperous herds of livestock in a shrewd network of grazing lands, and honoring their ancestors through ancient sacred fires and venerated grave sites (Crandall). Anthropologists suppose “the Himba's [ancestral] firelight has been flickering . . . since the 1600s, when they arrived as part of the great Bantu migrations from the north” (Salopek). Unbeknownst to them, the arid and volatile beauty of Southwestern Africa has provided the Himba the world’s best cultural haven from violent confrontation and influence of foreign power (Salopek). However, this desert haven is no longer a refuge from racial discrimination and environmental destruction: in an ironic twist of history, the Himba are now threatened, not by European colonists, but by their own Independent nation state governments. In the past, foreign wars and encroaching Western colonists left the Himba relatively untouched. However, globalization has wrought a new government mind in Namibia and Angola: progress is profit at all cost, which translates to extensive tourism and unquestioned governmental river and land exploitation through hasty damming projects. As both independent governments now urgently move towards Western ideals of ruthless progress, the international community must respond to Southwest Afrcia’s government proposals for Angola’s Iona National Park and Namibia’s Epupa Falls Dam. 25,000 semi-nomadic Himba “peasants”, divided between Southern Angola and Northern Namibia boarders, now fight for their rights to choose the way of their future. In the struggle for Himba sovereignty, these two cases stand out as blaring war cries of Himba cultural and political rights under attack. Smeared with otjize, a blend of butterfat and powered iron ochre for protection against the arid climate and blistering sun, the Himba are physically distinguishable as the “Red People” on the gold and brown landscape of Southwestern Africa ( Crandall). “ In scattered encampments [or homesteads] of 20 to 30 people” the Himba “drift with the seasons to new [settlements] in search of water and grazing lands” (Bensman). Tending to semi-permanent gardens of maize, pumpkins, and melons, the Himba primarily live off the yogurt and butter fat of their livestock (Ezzell). As animals are sacred to the Himba, the passing of an elder is the only momentous occasion for cattle to be slaughtered. By transferring ancestral fire to the exact place of burial, community life is physically and internally centered on the fire.

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