The Ovahimba Years – Les années Ovahimba / Rina Sherman
A Research Study in Namibia and Angola in Text, Film, Photography
Une étude de recherche en Namibie et Angola ; texte, film, photographie
Home  The Project  Introduction  Brief History  Publications  Films  Exhibitions  Photography  Rétrospective  Drawings  Otjiherero Lexicon 

Version Française      

The Ovahimba Years – Les années Ovahimba / Rina Sherman

Archival Collection

The fonds The Ovahimba Years contains the multimedia documentation and data collected over seven years by Rina Sherman on the Ovahimba and other Otjiherero speaking communities in the Kunene Region, in north-western Namibia and the provinces of Cunene and Namibe in south-western Angola.
The archival collection contains images (film and video), sound recordings, drawings and photographs as well as a bibliography, texts and notes, correspondence, as well as administrative and production papers, inventories and portfolios, covering the period from 1996 to the present.
Much of these elements covers daily and ritual life, and the history of the extended family of the late Chief of Etanga, heir to the throne held by the family for many generations.

Other elements are composed of information on the lives of family, friends and members of the surrounding community and other Ovahimbacommunities and related populations (Ovakuvale, Ovadhimba, Ovahakaona, Ovatwa, Ovacaroca, etc.) of Namibia and Angola.
The documentation highlights the important role played by ritual dance and spirit calling ceremonies (trance).
Several documents cover trials in customary law and important community meetings.
The entire collection of video recordings and is listed in a style sheet with cross references, providing indications of content, medium, related media (photos, text, drawings), date and place, language, and published materials, etc.
The other elements are partially listed, others are being classified.

Film & Video

The filmed elements, about 350 hours  of video (Hi8, DV SD – Mini DV duplicated in SD and some in SD) and film (about 10 hours in 16mm – not transferred to video) cover Rina Sherman's sojourn of seven years and include topics on daily and ritual life: building houses, burial ceremonies, dressing codes of men and women, customary law, community meetings, spirits calling ceremonies (trance), numerous dance ceremonies, consultations of traditional healers, interviews on various topics, haruspications, etc.


A collection of photographs (color negative, B / W negative, original reversible color) was realized during the seven year sojourn of Rina Sherman in Namibia and Angola.
About 200 films in 135mm, mostly in color negatives contain images of everyday and ritual life, especially dance and other rites of passage, like the ceremony of the name, healing and circumcision.
Some of the sets include presentations of dress codes and decorations, individual portraits of elders, children and members of several different communities. Each set is based on the same subjects as those of the film and video images: house building, the development of children and people photographed over a period of seven years.
All the originals have been scanned, in high resolution. The addition of meta-data remains to be done.

There is a set of silver prints framed in black and white and color of various sizes, presented as part of a multimedia exhibition, Ovahimba Years: Work in Progress held at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Center in Windhoek in 2002.

A set of photographs from the collection was published in the 2009 first edition of the book Ma vie avec les Ovahimba, now out of print, a second revised edition was published in 2020.

A set of portraits Ovahimba Gaze: A Given Time was exhibited in the Sala Lippi in Perugia in November 2010.

A set of black and white silver prints was presented in 2015 at the French National Library at the exhibition Les années Ovahimba / Rina Sherman.

Various other selections of photographs are online: Ovahimba Portraits, Houses – Namibia, Angola and Musical Instruments.

Sound Recordings

Sound recordings of some thirty hours of direct sound as a witness to daily and ritual life. The recordings reproduce interviews with traditional leaders, elders, various community members of Etanga and other communities in Angola. The topics are autobiographical and historical (oral tradition). The recordings include songs, music and other expressions. Most recordings were recorded on DAT, and those that were recorded in analog were copied to DAT, some have been digitized.


A collection of some fifty drawings in color (crayons, color or pen) depicts scenes of everyday and ritual Ovahimba life, and were realized within the context of the research project by one of the project assistants and member of the community.

A sub-collection of drawings, with descriptions, represents the various types of cattle and taboos associated with each, and is doubled with photographs of these same types. Ovahimba do not count their cattle, but by memorizing a global image of their herds according to their physical appearance (horns, color, markings, etc.). Not digitized.

Texts & Unpublished Notes

A collection of notes taken on the spot and unpublished texts on various topics including research notes on the Otjiherero language.


During her stay and during the continuation of her research on her return ot France, Rina Sherman has maintained an extensive correspondence with various people, friends and colleagues, as faxes, letters and notes sent by email.

Administrative & Production Papers

A collection of progress reports sent from the field contains documents on the progress of various aspects of the project, and also documents on field staff (labor contracts, labor reporting, disciplinary meetings and project administration).


Cross-referenced inventories of collected data (video, sound, drawings, photographs, texts, notes, etc..), Research equipment and facilities of the camp in Etanga.

Project Presentation

Presentation of the proposed research, conservation and film projects,funding applications, financing plans, quotes, etc.

Bibliographic Elements

During the some twelve years research on the Ovahimba and related peoples (fieldwork and upon here return), Rina Sherman has constituted a substantial collection of articles (copies), references to books and articles concerning Ovahimba studies and related topics.

Authored Works

Authored works published in the Collection The Ovahimba Years, films, books, articles, photographs, etc. are repertoried on the Internet site

Related Topics

Rock Art – Tchitundu Hulu (Angola)

During her two extended stays in Angola in 2003, Rina Sherman documented in video and photography most of the paintings and engravings of the pre-Bantu Chitundu Hulu site, located in the National Park of Iona, Namibe Province, Angola.
This site is a candidate for classification as cultural and natural heritage site with UNESCO.

Art Mbali funeral steles Namibe

During this same extended period of study in Angola in 2003, Rina Sherman documented in video and photographs all the Mbali tombstones still present in the cemeteries of the town of Namibe and surrounding areas, following a hand drawn map listing all the cemeteries in the region with Mbali tombstones. She also filmed interviews with some of the last survivors of the Mbali culture, on the history of the Mbali, an acculturated people of the Portuguese colonial era, and a contemporary Mbali funeral in Namibe.

Some key aspects of cultural heritage Ovahimba

The Ovahimba observe the cult of the Supreme Being, Ndjambi or more recently known as Omukuru (Mukuru). To communicate with the Supreme Being and the Ancestors, owners of family domains are supposed to keep the sacred ritual altar (okoruwo) lit at all times. The sacred shrine is considered a vital link with the afterlife; it symbolizes life and fertility.

For these pastors, cattle farmers, practicing transhumance, private ownership of cattle does not exist; in their dual heritage system, some cattle are sacred and are transmitted through the maternal line.

Ovahimba observe complex ritual and spiritual practices, including praise, allusive poetic forms creating a bond between the living and the ancestors, history and sacred places (tombs and monuments). Praise, integrated in various ceremonies and rituals such as singing and dancing are performed continuously and form a link between daily life and ceremonial practices.

A Brief History

Tthe Otjiherero language speaking peoples are said to be originated from Okarundu kaMbeti, a hill north of Ruacana, a village on the Kunene River.
Generations ago, their ancestors moved along the river and settled in the hills on both sides of the valley. The memory of these ancestors is still alive through the practice of praise songs. The locations of some of their graves are known to some elders. This society was and still is to a degree dominated by the ovahona (rich and powerful men). Some elders can trace their genealogy to one of the legendary ovahona the past.

In the late 19th century, the neighboring Nama peoples undertook successive raids on the Ovahimba, forcing many of them to flee to Angola. At the time, the Portuguese administration had not yet established positions in these areas but exchange with the colonial economy was intense. Refugees worked on plantations, became guides for professional hunters or enlisted in the colonial army to fight against the indigenous rebellions. Some Ovahimba groups remained in the Kunene Region (Kaokoland) and have entrenched themselves in the mountains where they became gatherers (Ovatjimba).

In 1907, the German administration declared Kaokoland a nature reserve, thus preventing the settlement of white farmers. By 1910, communities of pastors-gatherers returned to the plains, where they developed the trade with the Ovambo kingdoms settled in the East. Between 1910 and 1920, several Ovahimba families returned to the region and settled near the graves of their ancestors.

The victory of the Allies (South Africa) over Germany in 1915 also encouraged their return. After the First World War, the South African authorities, newly mandated, claissified the region a tribal reserve, forcing settler families to move their herds to the south. This strengthening of borders was to create a separation between the tribal reserves and the commercial livestock area to prevent the spread of disease. This measure forbade all trade with the Ovahimba and cut them off entirely from the outside world.

In 1927, the Ovahimba were the dominant group in Kaokoland. Based on the ovahona system, the South African government appointed chiefs to create a system of indirect control. In an inspection report on the Nature Reserve of Kaokoveld, dated October 10, 1949, an Omuhimba chief is quoted: "We are in trouble. We cry. "We are imprisoned. "We do not know why we are trapped. "We are in a prison. "We have no place to live ... "In the past, the Ovahimba moved freely in southern Angola and northwestern Namibia according to their grazing needs, crossing the "Kunene River border between the two countries.

Since the early eighties, Kaokoveld has experienced an unprecedented influx of tourists, which has naturally generated changes in eating habits and aspirations of residents, reinforcing a taste for Western food, such as sugar, coffee, as well as addictive substances such as tobacco and alcohol.

After the independence of Namibia in 1990, followed by the first free elections in South Africa, in 1994, began a new era in Southern Africa. "During the colonial period, the successive administrations did not only control the material resources of the region, they also sought to dominate the minds of indigenous peoples. "The origin of racial segregation is based on assigning an often arbitrary identity in terms of racial or ethnic affiliations. "These identities have formed the basis of a political system and a spatial order. "In this context, the word "tradition" meant that skin color and cultural specific provision had been allocated to an individual for life.

Over the past two decades, a dam project at the Epupa Falls on the Kunene River, with the aim of avoiding future power shortages in Namibia, has generated considerable controversy. "The construction of this dam will cause flooding of the natural site of Epupa Falls and the surrounding areas, causing the disappearance of Ovahimba pastures, their sacred lands and their ancestral graves.
Ovahimba continue to celebrate the memory of their ancestors buried in these graves thanks to precise descriptions contained in the songs of praise or in the narration of legends. "The songs of praise claim territorial ownership by the individual buried where he used to live. In social memory, the space is physically smaller than the overall historical context.

The traditional lifestyle of Ovahimba is likely to change, even if the economy Kaokoveld, based on livestock, will be maintained for the times ahead. Currently, the number of livestock has been restored to what it was before the recent drought years. In this pastoral society, the cult of cattle is the dominant cultural discourse. The Ovahimba say that if someone does not have cattle, and a family member dies, he will not be able to sacrifice an animal in honor of the deceased. The Ovahimba grow corn, but they say: "You can not drive the corn," as opposed to their lifestyle of driving cattle.

The notion of Ovahimba identity is at least in part the result of the colonial system of racial segregation. Before independence in 1990, the writing of history was controlled and censored by the South African government. Despite this, throughout the colonial period, Namibians continued to transmit the memory of their ancestors in the form of oral legends, songs of praise and sung autobiographies. "The "myth of Kaoko" continued to deliver information about these peoples, in many fields, including anthropology. Despite a tendency to represent the material culture of these peoples in strictly aesthetic terms, especially that of the Ovahimba with its spectacular exotic dimension.

What about the future of the Ovahimba? The Ovahimba have maintained their traditions for centuries, they live high up in arid and mountainous regions, but they have reached a crossroads between their ancestral culture and the rapid arrival of urbanism.
If it is not possible to separate the cultural heritage of Ovahimba from the current historical and social context, it is however important to gather and preserve the legends, stories and myths that make up their system of thought. These are valuable evidence of their material culture now changing because of the inevitable (but not always adverse) development process and the acceleration of the process of Westernization.

Whatever choices they will make or whateverchoices will be imposed by progress and development, their culture will undergo major changes in coming years.

Note on Otjiherero

Otjiherero, also known as or ochiherero is a Bantu language spoken by the Ovahimba, Ovaherero, Ovakuvale, Oadhimba and other related peoples, living in large parts of Namibia and Angola, and also in Botswana and in Angola. The number of speakers totals about 200 000 people.

The language has been transcribed into written language on the basis of the Latin alphabet in the late nineteenth century through the translation of the Bible into Otjihereroby the missionary Viehe Gottlieb (7539-1901). Father Peter Heinrich Brincker (7536 – 1904), who had extensive knowledge of the language, translated the theological writings and songs.

Otjiherero is taught in elementary school as a first language and as a secondary language, and is offered as a main subject at the University of Namibia.

Different orthographies exist, corresponding to different periods, or as omuatje or omwatje.
People foreign to Ovahimba culture often refer to them as Himba (Herero, Kuvale, etc.), losing the name prefix that indicates the class name and the singular or the plural.

There are two versions of the Otjiherero language: the "R" version spoken by the Ovahimba, Ovatwa, Ovaherero, etc. and "L" version spoken by Ovakuvale of the Namibe Region in Angola.


From 1997 to 2004, Rina Sherman lived with the Headman of Etanga's family at their domain located on the hill of oHere in the northwest of the Kunene region in Namibia.
During her stay, she documented the lives themembers, relatives and friends of this family. Over a period of seven years, she created a large database on daily and ritual life by using different media: text, sound, drawings, video and photography.

In 2003, Rina Sherman extended her research into the southwestern provinces of Cunene and Namibe in Angola where she continued her work on the lives of Otjiherero-speaking peoples: the Ovahakaona, Ovadhimba, Ovagambwe, Ovakuvale, Ovatwa...

While in Namibe, Cunene province in Angola, she created a very extensive photographic documentation and video Mbali funeral art and the pre-Bantu rock art site Tchitundu Hulu.

Rina Sherman raised funds for and coordinated the construction of a Community Resource Centre in Etanga, completed in 2004.

Rina Sherman is currently processing the data collected during this period, through texts, a series of films, a catalog of photographs and sound recordings and writing up years of notes taken in the field.

Genesis of the Project

1995. A Villa Médicis hors-les-murs scholarship allowed Rina Sherman to undertake a study in the film archives of Southern Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia). This study revealed an incomplete archive of information concerning the representation of certain peoples, particularly in the area of still images and film. A period of research in the National Archives of Namibia demonstrated a lack of information on the cultural heritage of the Ovahimba and thefragility of some existing elements, particularly of old photographic negatives and films available only in formats that can not be maintained VHS, etc.).

Rina Sherman is commissioner of Jean Rouch's Southern African University Tour(University of Durban-Westville, Durban, Cape Town, Witwatersrand and Namibia).
Second visit to Namibia. Awareness that culture Ovahimba is undergoing rapid transformation due to some aspects of development: urban planning, religion, tourism are prominent examples, and that neither the current state of their culture nor its transformation are being researched in depth .

In 1997. Paris. Conceptualization and formulation of a research a long-term multi-disciplinary study of the cultural heritage of the Ovahimba people.
In April, Rina Sherman undertakes on a first reconnaissance trip to Ovahimba country; the results are conclusive: the possibility to undertake a long-term research program is real. At the end of the year, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs awarded her a LAVOISIER scholarship of a year to do research on site.

In 1998. Windhoek. Formulation of the research program including a dimension of community development in partnership with community members. Rina Sherman moved to Opuwo for several months and began trips to remote areas to identify a community with which to base the project. The head of Etanga agrees to welcome her in his region (Etanga and its outlying areas). Rina Sherman settled in the family of the family Tjambiru Etanga. A base camp was built and the study of the daily life of Ovahimba began.

In 1999. Etanga. Filming, photographing, making audio recordings and written documentation. Rina Sherman learned to speak Otjiherero, the language of the Ovahimba. Training in research techniques for project assistants. First participation in community development: supported for the installation of water Etanga with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of the Namibia Association of Norway, the Ford Foundation and several private sponsors.

In 2000. Etanga. Continued collection of multidisciplinary data, training of assistants. Transcripts of text and video images. Regular excursions into rural areas North and South: Otjinungwa, Omatjivingo, Embuende, Otjitanda, Owozonduuombe, Wakapawe, Ekoto, Kaoko Otavi-etc. Participation in the development of the rest camp in partnership with Etanga Nolidep (Northern Livestock Development Project). Searching of funds for community development. Funding from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ford Foundation and several private sponsors.

In 2001. Rina Sherman decided to settle the project base in Windhoek, both to ensure proper storage of data collected in the field and to be near Etanga. Spanish Cooperation and other donors provided assistance to the school in Etanga with educational materials and basic equipment. Rina Sherman undertook numerous trips to Etanga, collecting data and beginning to process and catalog those previously collected. The project "The Ovahimba Years" agrees to participate on a voluntary basis to develop a community resource center in Etanga. The German Embassy, the British High Commission and the French Service for Cooperation and Cultural agree to grant assistance for this project. Financial assistance from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ford Foundation, Caltex, Standard Bank and several private sponsors.

Continuation of data processing: a first inventory of materials collected, writing, editing, cataloging, creation of a photographic collection. From June 75 to 28, exhibit "Ovahimba Years: Work in Progress" at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre in Windhoek. First major presentation of the results after five years of research, the exhibition is presented as a series of soundscapes, punctuated by exhibitions of photographs, drawings, cultural objects, texts and, in parallel, A group of young people from Etanga participate in the exhibition as spokespersons for their culture and holds Ovahimba dance performances. A film is made on this exhibition. Rina Sherman returns several times to Etanga, another trip is scheduled before the end of the year. Spanish Cooperation commits to helping the new primary school in Etanga with equipment and materials. EU grant funding for the construction of the Community Resource Centre Etanga. The NAMSOV fishing Company undertakes to finance construction of the Community Resource Centre in Etanga. Participation of French volunteers in the data processing and the preparation of "The Ovahimba Years" Collection. Preparation of the first publication of texts and a series of essays entitled "Tales from the Ongumbati". Financial assistance from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ford Foundation, Caltex, Standard Bank and several private sponsors continues.

Further processing of data: inventory of materials collected, writing, editing, cataloging, photographic collection. New research in the field. Continuation of community development projects: the construction of the Community Resource Centre Etanga. Preparation of the initial implementation of the training and management center for community members of Etanga. Initial Preparation: resettlement project in Paris in September 2003 for the final data processing from the Collection "The Ovahimba Years", a series of films, texts, drawings, photographic catalog, etc. then research for new exhibits at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London and the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, including the presence of the Youth Group of Etanga. Creating a research agreement between the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the systems of thought in Black Africa-CNRS research laboratory EPHE, University of Namibia and "The Ovahimba Years." Proposal for a Thematic Evening for Arte based on the idea of a sojourn in Etanga.

2004 to 2012. Data processing, the establishment of a complete inventory of recorded material. Publication and distribution of the collection "The Ovahimba Years" (a collection of films, texts, drawings, and a photographic catalog).

2075 Retrospective of The Ovahimba Years film collection at the Quai Branly museum in Paris.

Legal Information   Design Rina ShermanRina Sherman