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Himba Lessons about Drought Coping Strategies  


Periods of drought require special surviving strategies.
Source: Flickr / Untipographico 2009
( click to enlarge )

Excerpts from a Translated Interview with the Himba Elder Mbatjanani Kapika

M. Bollig: What is the first drought that you remember?

Mbatjanani: During the year of “Chasing Away the Hungry” many of our cattle died, until we moved to the Kunene River, to a place called Kehorouua. There we stayed until our cattle started dying again and the people were left on an open, empty plain. In the year that followed, the drought came and we came back here to our old homestead. There, near these black stones, the cattle gave birth again and they became many.

M. Bollig: When a year developed into a drought year, what did you eat then?

Mbatjanani: We ate three things: goats, cattle and sheep. Before we ate the livestock, we would eat only palm nuts. On a day when the people felt weak in their knees they would take one goat from the enclosure to slaughter it and eat it. Then they returned to eating palm nuts. When the palm nuts became too many in the stomach, they slaughtered a sheep, and when it was finished they returned to their palm nuts once again. When their knees weakened again they returned to the livestock enclosure and took out a cow. When it was finished they returned to the palm nuts. If they felt in their hearts that it was becoming too much they entered the livestock enclosure again and took out a sheep.

M. Bollig: In the year of “The Dying”, where did you try to move to?

Mbatjanani: In the year of “The Dying” some cattle of this area died near the mountain of Oheuva. Others which were moved from here climbed up to the Omavanda mountains. Some herds of cattle were driven across the Kunene to Angola and were sold for bags of maize.

M. Bollig: When (in the past) there was a drought, where did you go? Look, there is this big mountain of Okuhama. Did you find help there?

Mbatjanani: Yes, the mountain helped. When I say that, I am talking about the Omavanda Mountains where the grass never finishes.

M. Bollig: Now when you settled there on the mountain, did you ask permission from the Tjimba who live there or did you just settle there?

Mbatjanani: They do not have cattle, they do not have goats. And you do not know where their honey is. So why should they prevent you? Now if you come to live there they just say “thank you”. So they live and drink curdled milk in our cattle posts. They say “come to stay” even if they live there and feel hungry.

M. Bollig: Now if some Tjimba stay there they have their things which they collect from the bush, like honey from bees and other things. Do they give these things to you?

Mbatjanani: Yes, they give us honey. Then they go to the mountain and they collect things like ozoseu, ozondungwarara, omahu, and they bring them to us. During spring wild onions grow in some quantity in some mountainous places.

M. Bollig: When you migrated and moved to Okuhama Mountain, from where did the people and livestock get water?

Mbatjanani: There is a hand dug waterhole. The cattle will not finish it. Even if many homesteads settle there, the water does not.

M. Bollig: Where is this waterhole?

Mbatjanani: It is on the mountain, in a cave. It is an open place where the cattle can drink water easily. They climb the mountain from many sides.

M. Bollig: You stay here and if the year becomes a drought will you decide to move to the river and to live there?

Mbatjanani: Yes, we stay there and even these days we migrate there and settle there. And when the rain is not coming we will go to the river again.

Source: Bollig 1997




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