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
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The Ovahimba Years – Les années Ovahimba

Work in Progress – Travaux en cours

Multimedia Exhibition – 2002 – Exposition multimédia


As education is about the transmission of knowledge, then The Ovahimba Years Project has over the past five years undertaken concrete efforts to search for and collect such knowledge. In various mediums (film, video, photographs, drawings, texts), this collection of data will provide extensive information about the lifestyle and belief system of the Ovahimba people for generations to come.

I welcome The Ovahimba Years: Work in Progress exhibition currently presented at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre (FNCC), for it provides Namibians from all walks of life, and others, with an opportunity to become better acquainted with some aspects of the cultural diversity and richness that our country has to offer. I would also like to see this information be made available to a larger public, specifically to school children and students, in the form of textbooks and complementary study materials. And it would be advisable to have this exhibition presented in other areas of Namibia, as well as in countries of the Southern African Region.

Hon. Buddy Wentworth
Deputy Minister,
Ministry of Higher Education,Training and Employment
Chairman of the FNCC

Foreword from the French Ambassador

The true meaning of international cooperation is to bring people together. The French cultural policy, within and outside of our country, aims to offer every voice the opportunity to express itself. Some cultures, as well as some natural species, are under threat. A cultural policy should exist, just like an environmental policy exists, capable of assuming harmonious development and preservation of that which constitutes the richness and the beauty of our world, that is to say its diversity.

There is no doubt that this wonderful exhibition about the Ovahimba people is in itself a witness of this need. It illustrates one of the aspects of the richness of the Namibian cultural heritage. Thank-you to Rina Sherman, who was born in South Africa, and became a French citizen because of her search for “liberty, equality, fraternity”, but whose interests and friendships know no frontiers. This exhibition may seem to be an achievement, but it is in fact merely the beginning of a series of works through which images, sounds and writings will reflect on a people's particular genius. It took more than four years of research, friendship and sharing in the everyday life of the Ovahimba, who became her family, for Rina to record her data. Allow me to express my satisfaction in seeing French cooperation associated with this ambitious project, the success of which I am sure will reach beyond the borders of Namibia.

Eugène Berg
Ambassador of France to Namibia
Windhoek, May 2002

From the Chairman of Gamsberg Macmillan Namibia

Sixty years ago a noted scribe on the Namibian scene of those days wrote that the Otjiherero-speaker has more than a thousand words to describe the different colours and markings on animals. I was amazed, some five years ago, that an erstwhile South African, later becoming a fully-fledged French citizen, Dr Rina Sherman, could venture into the Kaokoland, take residence there and initiate a study into the involved culture of the Ovahimba.

The results, photographic and written, have proved to be so exciting that we have decided to publish Dr Sherman's findings and eventually distribute these publications to schools in Namibia and make the product available in bookshops and libraries all over Southern Africa.

Herman van Wyk

The Importance of Cultural Heritage

Our cultural heritage must be preserved as it is very important to us, in the sense that it is:

A source of our identity, pride, recognition and admiration. It accumulates a personal repertoire of qualities and actions that become apparent in one's lifetime, such as experiences, actions, events, episodes etc. A reflection of personal, cultural, social, spiritual and artistic values and identities. An instrument enhancing education, by setting moral goals and enriching and/or supplementing contemporary knowledge and experiences.

A presentation of oral history and genealogical facts, by connecting periods, events and individuals.

A means of entertainment, through which the youth learn by being entertained.

Dr Jekura Kavari
Senior Lecturer,
University of Namibia

For Dr Rina Sherman, A Tribute

When I was asked to write the present lines, I experienced one of the many coincidences that have marked my entire personal life. I was recollecting my notes on Mali for a booklet I was supposed to have delivered a long time ago, but that is coming to life only now! The coincidence links my present work to Dr Rina Sherman's long-term project The Ovahimba Years, a multi-disciplinary research programme involving photography, film and video, oral tradition, art and artefacts. I would like to quote one of Dr Sherman's papers, “Pretext”, dated 21 April, 2001, in which she writes these introductory lines to her work in progress: “In the beginning, there were Jean Rouch and Germaine Dieterlen's trips to the Dogon people and to the banks of the Niger River….

It is probably not only a coincidence that the booklet I am writing now deals with Mali, the Dogon people and the banks of the Niger River.
The second paragraph of the same paper reads: “Our immediate elders were Rouch and Dieterlen. The latter worked closely with (Marcel) Griaule for many years…” Other coincidences – partly the fact that I met the late Germaine Dieterlen on several occasions in Paris many years ago – have recently taken me back to Marcel Griaule's work and my previous studies and notes on the “father” of French ethnology and how he intertwined various domains of scientific research. Griaule lead the mythical Dakar/Djibouti expedition (1931/1933) during which, whilst “discovering” the Dogon of Mali and conducting extensive investigations in Cameroon and Ethiopia, we can say that the modern school of French ethnology was born.

The new trend was based on team and inter-disciplinary work, with substantial use of audio-visual techniques, a method of which Griaule was a pioneer. His objective was to record and “contextualise” everything, so that it could be retrieved for comparative studies and scientific research. Griaule is long dead but his scientific approach to ethno-anthropological fieldwork continues to inspire researchers. Dr Rina Sherman has a direct scholarly descent from the forefather Griaule, her mentors being Jean Rouch and Germaine Dieterlen; the latter was a long-time assistant of the great French ethnologist.

Let us leave the past and the coincidences, the origins and the forefathers, and take a look at the present and the future. Recently, I had the opportunity to travel with Dr Sherman to Opuwo and Epupa Falls, right into the heart of her “realm” – the country of the Ovahimba. In Opuwo she had to convey a message to her “father”, Ukoruavi Tjambiru, Headman of Etanga, who many years ago adopted her into his family, giving her the “key” to Ovahimba traditions and culture. Walking with her in Opuwo, allowed me to witness an interchange of information – a sort of fast transaction of words and signals between acquaintances, a give-take choreography of data, underlining her knowledge of the local language, a fundamental tool for anthropological studies – which indicates the degree of familiarity and intimacy she has achieved with the people with whom she “belongs”!

At Epupa Falls I observed her filming some people, and later on, the landscape from a light aircraft, flying along the Kunene River and over Etanga, the village and homestead of her “family”, seen from the air for the first time. She was thrilled as an infant with a new toy! Of course, on these occasions she was, in keeping with the teachings of her forefathers, filming new perspectives of the Ovahimba world and “contextualising” them into yet another approach to her research.

Dr Sherman's most admirable achievement however was to have become the “daughter” of a headman – a reward that does not come without effort. It is a long and laborious task; you have to earn your “family galloons” with loyalty and love, discretion, courage and perseverance… This exploit enabled Dr Sherman to enter into a little known universe, the world of women. Even in the most conservative of societies, women represent the seamless link between past, present and future. Whilst men ruthlessly continue to decide upon the “destiny” of the world, women give birth, and hence “regenerate” the world, and also society and culture. Dr Sherman, with her unbiased and sympathetic approach, has been accepted in the rich and complex world of Ovahimba womanhood. This special relationship between the anthropologist and her Ovahimba family was validated “on site”, during a recent visit to Etanga and to the family of Headman Tjambiru, Sherman's “family”.

Her work of more than five years is now presented to us in the form of a work in progress exhibition, compiled of papers, photographs and films. And if in this fast-changing world, some ceremonies, legends and customs will be preserved for future generations, much of it must be attributed to Dr Sherman's unrestrained work with her Ovahimba relatives.
I believe that her bio-bibliography is rich with multi-disciplinary research and achievements, and speaks for her much better than these few lines.

Massimo Baistrocchi
Ambassador of Italy to Namibia
Windhoek, May 2002

Rina Sherman on The Ovahimba Years

The Ovahimba Years is a long-term multi-disciplinary research programme of which the principal aim to create a living trace of Ovahimba cultural heritage. In thehe project aspects of Ovahimba history, lifestyle, belief systems and ways of thought are documented through film, video, photography, sound, drawings and text recordings.During the five past years, The Ovahimba Years Project has been working with the community of Etanga, a village situated in the north-western part of the Kunene Region, some hundred kilometres north west of Opuwo.

For the first three years, the Project was based at a permanent camp at oHere, a hilltop in the outskirts of Etanga and home to Headman Ukoruavi Tjambiru and his family. The Project base was relocated to Windhoek in 2001 in order to begin the processing of data collected in the field. Since that time regular trips have been undertaken to Etanga to continue research in the field. From the outset, The Ovahimba Years team members have developed close ties with the communities of Etanga and its outlying districts. We have been involved in several community projects, the latest of which the development of The Etanga Community Resource Centre Project. Funding is almost in place and continues to attract support.The final format of the Project will be The Ovahimba Years Collection, envisaged as a series of films, books, texts, sound recordings, a collection of drawings and a photographic catalogue. Once the research is completed, copies of our data will be made available to the Community of Etanga, the National Archives of Namibia as well as to research institutions and museums in France and elsewhere.

The Ovahimba Years Work in Progress
exhibition presented by the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre on the invitation of the French Embassy in Windhoek, is the first major public presentation of some the results of more than five years of multi-disciplinary field research on the cultural heritage of the community of Etanga. The exhibition is multi-facetted in its presentation, in order to reflect the various data collection media used during our field research. The guiding principle of the exhibition is a series of soundscapes, comprising of songs, ceremonies, conversations and sounds from everyday life. Punctuated by photographic displays, selected cultural objects and video projection, this sound trajectory encapsulates a slice of life from our times and experiences with the Ovahimba in Etanga.

The reach of our field research work is directly related to the successful establishment of long-term relationships during the course of five years with the community of Etanga, in particular with the Headman Ukoruavi Tjambiru and the members of his extended family. Whilst recording our various forms of data, we attempt to capture direct time, as opposed to deferred time. The images and sounds presented in this work in progress exhibition are essentially situated inside the captured moments and events. As such each image and sound represents a memory, the narrative of which relates to and reflects upon that of the other images and sounds. Hence, the various elements of the exhibition form a composed narrative of The Ovahimba Years. Beyond the importance of research and the obvious cultural heritage interest of an undertaking such as The Ovahimba Years Project, we are aware of the fact that it is a rare privilege to have shared and to continue to share intimately in the lives of the Tjambiru family and friends of Etanga.

We would like to thank all our funders, sponsors and friends, and especially the various Ministries of the French Government and the Ford Foundation, for their generous and enthusiastic participation in The Ovahimba Years *. In Ovahimba culture it is said that a visitor should receive that for which he has come. It is also said that a visitor should not be asked when he is leaving. On the eve of my recent departure from Etanga, my father, Headman Ukoruavi Tjambiru had his youngest daughter, Kakaindona, say the following to me: “Kandavi, omuatje wa Fransa, oForomana does not want you to leave, he wants you to stay here at the house and to continue to take pictures.”** The unexpected visitor that I was upon my arrival in Etanga in 1998 has been given what I came for and so much more than the following words could convey: The Tjambiru of Etanga gave me a funny, complex, generous, demanding, intelligent, possessive, and most loving family. I salute the House of oHere!

Rina Sherman
Director – The Ovahimba Years

* For complete list of funders and sponsors, see here.
** Kandavi refers to either a fairy-like figure moving rapidly in the twigs or simply twigs moving rapidly in the breeze. “Omuatje wa Fransa”, means: child from France. “oForomana” means headman and is derived from the Afrikaans word, “voorman”, which means team or group leader.

Design of print version: Louisa Sherman

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