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Subtitle: A Guide to the Living Music and Dance of Namibia
This book captures beautifully the musical philosophy of Ovahimba and Ovazimba in their cultural context, and the author approaches this in a way that makes the understanding and appreciation of this complex philosophy possible.
It is a valuable source of inspiration for teachers, learners, students, scholars and the community members who are interested in traditional music, and as well as for those who practice and do research in tradition in general and music or musical instruments in particular, as it is a blend of both practical and theoretical facts. A research, such as this one, in cultural dances and music will promote understanding and appreciation of the notion of cultural unity out of cultural diversity.
Mans' book is aimed at educators, researchers and students at all levels to be a resource. Teachers, particularly of arts subjects, would enjoy this book as it gives fresh ideas and includes not only original Namibian songs and dances but also a broad anthropological context with excellent photographs. What is unusual and very helpful is that it comes with an audio CD which give musical examples that are cross referenced in the text.
This book would also be of use to university students, particularly those studying African music and ethnomusicology. Written in an engaging, informative style, Minette Mans has produced an exceptional book, which should stimulate teachers to use the activities and songs in their classes.
In the past Ovahimba lived a nomadic pastoral life. Although they owned livestock, they didn't settle in one place for long, but herded their cattle and goats from one watering place to another, according to grazing and water needs. In the distant past (possibly as early as the 1600s), they were part of a large group of Ovaherero who migrated south from Mocamedes province in Angola. These people settled in the north-western part of the country. According to Kavari and local oral history, the leader of that migration was called Kaoko. Subsequently some of the Ovaherero, led by Maendo, son of Kaoko, moved further south towards the central areas of Namibia around Omaruru, Okahandja, Otjimbingwe, the Waterberg and further east, where they adopted a more settled pastoralism with permanent abodes. The deceased Herero leader, Hosea Kutako, said that his ancestors came from Okangundumba just south of Kaoko-Otavi.
During the nineteenth century, Ovahimba who remained in the north-west became targets of cattle raids by Topnaar or Orlam people who had begun to settle in the area of Sesfontein. Because Ovahimba moved around in small family groups, it was easy for raiders to overpower them and chase large herds of animals further south, often also killing many people. This history is captured in oral narratives, relating the horror of these attacks. Eventually people could take it no longer, and to save their lives they fled north of the Kunene River (to present-day Angola). By this time they had almost no animals left and they were forced to rely on the goodwill of locals. They had to beg for food and a place to stay, hence (it is speculated) the name Ovahimba came into existence, referring to begging.
In the early twentieth century, a man named Vita ('Oorlog') Harunga went north from Otjimbingwe. He was of mixed Herero and Tswana descent, born around 1865. In Angola he met up with other Otjiherero-speakers. He started organizing people into a fighting force working for the Portuguese against Kuvare (Kuvale), Ngumbi and Kwanyama groups. As they became more skilled in warfare and the livestock situation of his people improved, and the Angolan Government changed to a civil rather than military government, Vita rallied together those who wanted to return and along with Muhona Katiti led them back to Namibia in 1912 and 1917 respectively. They once again settled in the area then referred to as Kaokoland, at Otjijandjasemo. After returning from Angola, they slowly rebuilt their huge cattle herds and resumed their way of life, some of them moving as far south as Kalkveld, known in Otjiherero as Omuramba wandjou.
Contact with Angola and neighbouring Owambo kingdoms was strong even during the German occupation. Today Ovahimba are the owners of many goats and cattle, although the recurring droughts continue to wreak havoc among these herds. Up to recent times Ovahimba were somewhat isolated from other parts of Namibia due to a combination of factors - the creation of a 'c1eared zone' in southern Kaoko in 1929 and the later 'Red Line' veterinary boundary, the distance from other urban areas, and lack of developmental infrastructure inc1uding bad roads. Ovahimba have, to a certain extent, ignored modern western culture, maintaining some of their distinctive lifestyle, dress, language, and rituals. This makes the area very attractive for cultural tourism.
Even though modernisation is changing the lifestyles of people in the region, they are discovering that the unspoilt landscape and their colourful cultural practices have great potential for the tourism industry. Although families today have settled homesteads, some aspects of the nomadic existence still remain. Women still go to the mountains to mine the ochre that is prized as a cosmetic substance. Young men (sometimes accompanied by women) look after cattle and move them from one place to another, occupying temporary homes (or posts) in the different areas. Some people spend part of the year nomadically, and part of the year living in and around Opuwo or other villages. When they are on the move, they bar the door of the home with branches until their return. Much of this lifestyle is reflected in the Ovahimba praises and music. Often represented as a 'dying race' and as 'a primitive' group, we hope to show that the complexity of the cultural and musical life of Ovahimba proves the opposite.
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