So there’s a long running debate on cultural practices that we shared in precolonial Africa. I’d like to say upfront that I don’t believe that how we practice our marriages have any bearing on unity as a people. I believe that as long as we are engaging in healthy, life-giving (man and woman), relationships, we will be able to build families around strong bloodlines and generational wealth building as we move towards liberation. The foundation of societies are strong families, but I want to use this blog post and video to debunk that all of precolonial Africa practiced patriarchy and submission.
This is part 1 because, I want to go way more in depth about this. In this video is use 3 models: my Igbo culture (Nigeria), the Himba people of Namibia that I lived with when I was teaching there, and Ghanaian culture based on accounts from Ghanaian friends to show that women were honored as the life giving vessel, seen as closer to God because of our ability to give birth, and esteemed amongst society. God was also genderless as a being, I’ll get into that in part 2. Let me know what you think of this video!
So today is the first #ThrowbackThursday of the new posting schedule, where I tell you what I was thinking during the time I wrote an old blog post, and today I am featuring the first blog post I ever wrote when I arrived in my new town to teach in Opuwo, Namibia. I actually started blogging via Tumblr when I arrived in Namibia to give people an accurate depiction of Africa. I knew beforehand that my experiences of the world, especially Nigeria, were often misconstrued by the rest of the world, so I was happy to give an accurate perspective of a rural African town from a Black person such as myself, especially as a person working there. In addition to this blog post, I remember arriving in my town and everybody being happy that I was Black. The Principal, teachers, and the students all expressed that they were tired of white volunteers coming from America and Europe, undermining their culture and telling them what to do, making them feel inferior – they told me all this on the first day, they actually assumed I would be white, and they urged me to tell Black people to please come to Africa. When I got there I was thinking, wow, I did it, I’m really here helping my people. I made sure to tell them that I was here to learn about them just as much as I want them to learn about me, so I did not follow the rules of making them speak English all the time, oh well. So settling in was interesting, they were so interested in me and I felt I was going to have a good time. Oh, and the name of the language I was referencing below is Xhosa. Check out the original blog post by clicking here, or reading below!
I Live Right Next to the School!
So I arrived in my new town today, It wasn’t quite how they described it but the people here are very nice. It was an 8 hour drive from Windhoek to my town where I’ll be teaching called Opuwu. The driver was funny, and I saw 3 Giraffes, The Giraffes stood there so tall and reminded of how good God is. I couldn’t help but think, look at the beautiful design of those Giraffes and how they stand there looking like statues, Just beautiful! And the landscapes and mountains were beyond amazing. I’m realizing that Nigeria and Namibia are so much alike and so much different at the same time. The same African Spirit is still there, but the cultures are so diverse it really makes me appreciate being able to experience two different African Cultures. For example, that clicking sound that people often make fun of when referring to Africans is real, except the clicks come in between words and there is a certain way that you have to click to get the meaning of each word. It’s actually very sophisticated. The driver that bought Karina and I to our placements actually speaks that language, and He told me what it was but I didn’t get the spelling so I don’t want to give you guys the incorrect spelling. I liked listening to him talk to his friends in his language as we stopped along the way, he even listened to a radio station with the language. Well I’m all over the place with this blog but now I’m in the town, the principal and vice principal of the school are so happy to have me here, my room is nice and the teacher I’m living with is nice along with her family. Tomorrow I’ll go into town and meet people and another WorldTeach volunteer (year long) lives close by, we’ll most likely meet tomorrow, she’s been here since January. Oh by the way, I saw Himba women in their traditional clothes today, it was quite interesting. They wear a certain paste on their body and hair to protect them from the sun, and yes, they are somewhat naked but their style of dress and the way they present themselves shows who they are in society, it is a very sophisticated way of life and is historical as well as inspirational. It’s good to see Africans that still keep their traditions although having so much western influence around them.
Today I want to discuss the Himba people of Namibia. Ever since I first interacted with them, they’ve had a great impact on me. Yes, I’m half Igbo (ethnic group in Nigeria) but the Himba people taught me something about Africa that can only be felt when hearings their personal stories of their history. We hear of what cultures and ethnic groups practiced before colonialism, but it’s rare to see those customs still played out today. The Himba people first awed me with their strength, strength to hold on to their values with no interruption. There are many articles on them, but I want to tell you my first hand account. I remember a student thoroughly explaining to me the meaning behind the Himba name. See, in Namibia, there are 13 ethnic groups but where I was in the north, Opuwo, there are two main ethnic groups, the Himbas and the Hereros. They are the same people, but just followed two different paths. As my student told me, the Hereros were all one people; as a result of a German invasion called the Herero genocide, some Hereros had to go into exile in the neighboring country of Angola. In Angola, these Herero people were begging, and the Angolan people gave them the name “Himba”, because in one of the Angolan languages the word Himba means “to beg”. Upon the Himbas returning to Namibia, the Hereros had already converted to the German way of dress and western civilization; the Himbas remained as they were before leaving Namibia. That is why today you’ll see them speak the same language but dress differently and have different lifestyles.
Himba people practice their traditions as they were before colonialism. This was interesting because they lived amongst people who were practicing western civilization. Everything from their clothing styles, to their food choice, and even the way they viewed time was included in their way of life. I had always heard about Africans and how we historically viewed time, and of course I know about CPT Colored people’s time, and African time; but to see people really live without a source of time and be so structured was amazing. Historically, Africans viewed time as something that was not to be rushed, we encouraged the fact that everyone will meet at the appointed time and things will happen in their own time. The funny thing is, people end up meeting at or around the same time anyway! (I’ve personally had this experience in my own life when I left my phone at home for a week)
With all that being said, Himba people are the richest group in Namibia because they still value cattle and use it as a source of income. They also share the wealth amongst themselves and pass on something down to their children and the fm next generations. They also make money by making the most beautiful handmade jewelry, I sat and watched the women use a zipper to make the most beautiful bracelet. They An outsider may say they have on very few clothes so they must be poor, when actually everything they wear means something significant to their society. Forexample, a hairstyle, an article of clothing, the way the clothing is worn, how many beads they have on their waist, just to name a few, can all determine who they are and what they mean to society. Everything from being married, to widowed, to determining if one is ready for marriage can be seen just by what the person has on and how they wear it. The women wear red Ocre on their hair and body to protect them from the sun, it is made from the fat of cow milk and thick red clay-like soil from the earth. Most Himba men walk around with a stick, generally used to herd cattle but it is also a symbol of manhood.
Being socialized one way in the world can often give you a lens to see society through, but it’s important to challenge that lens to say, although this group is not like me, their contribution to the world is just as important, not weird, but different, and different in a good way. The Himba people taught me to challenge my own lens; I thought that my African experience in Nigeria was enough or close to knowing what I need to know about the ways of African people. For one, it gets COLD in Namibia, like they have a winter! Although I generally have a positive look on Africa, I realized that even within similar African customs, there’s still so much diversity.
Please feel free to ask me more questions about my experience and hear accounts from Namibians themselves. I would encourage you to google them, but being that they are still so traditional some of the accounts on google have a biased view or provide misinformation that stems from misunderstanding. However, research them and try to go there one day!
I was told before starting my journey as a Namibian teacher that “the learners in Namibia have a hard time thinking critically”. i challenged that statement when I heard it. I asked the person, “well did you try and help them with that when you were teaching in Namibia?” From then I knew what and how I was going to teach these learners. The lessons I have been giving them have allowed them to definitely think critically, and guess what? They did! My learners have no problem thinking critically, and as a matter of fact, they catch on very quickly. There might be one or two that need me to explain or show something again but once I do, they’re on it. I have had them work in groups to create business flyers for their own made-up businesses, i have had them interview each other, and was surprised at the depth of the questions they asked; I’ve had them write their Autobiographies, I’ve had them do powerpoints. And to my surprise, they all told me that they never knew or learned these things before I came to Namibia to teach them, but somehow, the work they do in my class shows that they are capable of anything. Imagine, I teach grades 8-12, these are some people who have told me they never touched a computer, but If I show someone all the work they’ve done, they wouldn’t believe that some of that work was done by someone who has never touched a computer. There is something about traveling outside of the U.S. that makes one challenge everything they’ve ever been told or believed. It makes you realize that your way of life is such a small portion of the many ways of life there are in this world. It makes you start thinking more critically about the decisions you make, and allows you to become more accepting, but less tolerant of nonsense. Life is what you make it.
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