The Ovahimba Years is a long-term multidisciplinary research and community development programme.
Project development was first initiated in Paris in 1997. The following year, it was extended to Windhoek, and subsequently to Opuwo. By the middle of 1998, we commenced our first research studies in Etanga, a small settlement north west of Opuwo. Since then, we have been active in research and community development in Etanga and its outlying districts, and in other areas, such as Okanguati, Ehomba, and Kaoko-Otavi.
During our initial tenure in the field, we concentrated on our studies at various levels of the Ovahimba cultural heritage in order to acquire a comprehensive view of the local context and environment. Progressively, our focus shifted from pure research to applied anthropology in which research and development complement each other in a holistic approach. Our years of research have proved to be an essential process for the planning of community development projects. Without substantial ground knowledge of the community, the implementation of projects would lack the contextual integration necessary to make them sustainable.
Over and above our full time commitment to the study of Ovahimba cultural heritage, during the period from 1998 to 2000, we became involved with community development work at various levels, and not only in Etanga.
• We assisted the Etanga community in repairing and improving the water installation at the only borehole in Etanga, which at the time served the Clinic, School, Veterinary Office, and later the Agricultural Extension Office, Police Station and the inner-village community.
• We undertook several joint actions in collaboration with Nolidep (Northern Livestock Development Programme) in Opuwo:
• we filmed and participated in several fodder walks in the Orumukandi and Owozonduuombe areas.
• we participated in the partial rehabilitation and reorganisation of the Etanga Rest Camp.
• on request of the anti-alcohol campaign groups in Opuwo and in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, we produced and directed free of charge the film « Kurakurisa Ouruvi / Shake Your Brains », a film based on alcohol abuse in the Kunene Region. The filming was done in Etanga, Opuwo, Okanguati, and Ehomba. The film, which allowed people from the region to express themselves in terms of the devastating effects on alcohol on their families and communities, was subsequently used in anti-alcohol awareness campaigns in schools and communities.
In 2000, we started working with youth leaders on the creation of the Veripaka Youth Club of Etanga. The Youth Club was formed to group and organise the youth, to provide guidance and training to them, and to initiate community development projects in conjunction with the leaders and elders of the community.
In 2001 and 2002, we were instrumental in obtaining funding and donations for various segments of the community:
• The Spanish Cooperation donated substantial equipment and stationary to the Etanga Primary School Office for two consecutive years.
• The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany donated solar panels worth 74.260,00N$ to the Veripaka Youth Club for use in their community work.
• The British High Commission agreed to assist with equipment and furnishing worth about 100.000,00N$ once the Centre is constructed. The application is currently underway.
• The Michelle McLean Children’s Trust donated blankets, sleeping bags, and other utility goods to the Etanga Primary School.
• The Embassy if the Kingdom of the Netherlands donated computer screens to the Etanga Centre.
During this same period, we started raising funds for the Community Resource Centre project, initiated by the Veripaka Youth Club on behalf of the local leaders and community members. The principal aim of the Centre is to alleviate poverty by means of youth and adult guidance and training and the initiation of sustainable income generating activities.
In 2002, NAMSOV (Pty) Ltd agreed to invest 1.000.000,00N$ in the Centre and early this year, the French Fund for Social Development contributed a further 300.000,00N$. The Centre is currently being designed by Kerry McNamara Architects, and construction will commence shortly.
Our principal concern at present is with the future implementation of the Centre. This will involve overseeing the establishing of a Centre management committee and further fund raising for equipment and furnishings. We have contacted various specialised organisations in order to ensure the presence of one or more voluntaries during the initial period of project implementation.
Copies of our research results (films and rushes on VHS cassettes, copies of the photographs and sound recordings) will be made available to the Centre as a permanent exhibition, and could be used as a community based resource for income generating activities. Once the Centre is being managed and functioning in a sustainable manner as a community based organisation, the research team and the community will both have come the full circle in terms of participating in research and applying that research in community development projects.
In 2002, we initiated the creation of a Triangular Research Pole (TRP) between the Department of African Languages at the University of Namibia (UNAM), the Laboratory of Visual and Sound Anthropologies of the Contemporary World of the University of Paris7 and The Ovahimba Years Project, with initial financial assistance by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The principal aim of the Triangular Research Pole is to promote research in Namibia and academic exchange between France and Namibia.
In July 2002, the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre hosted an exhibition « The Ovahimba Years Work in Progress ». The exhibition presented a slice of Ovahimba life in the form of performances by a youth group of Etanga, sounds capes of everyday and ritual sounds, photographs, drawings, video images, films, and a lecture series. Further exhibitions are under consideration in South Africa, France, and the UK. Such exhibitions will be accompanied by Ovahimba performances, scholarly lectures, and film screenings. An educational dimension, in the form of exchanges between Ovahimba and foreign cattle farmers, will be organised for each of the exhibition countries.
We are in the process of archiving our collection of data collected in the field over the years. Each text, photograph, drawing, sound, and video recording is catalogued and cross-referenced on computer. Video and sound recordings are duplicated and transcribed, photographs are scanned and stored on CD, and texts are edited and translated.
During the course of this year, the Etanga Community Resource Centre will be built and initial implementation will begin and continue into next year. Implementation of the Centre involves seeking support for equipment and initial training, soliciting voluntary and training organisations, in constant liaison with members of the community of Etanga.
The Ovahimba Years project is now into its seventh year of research and community development in Etanga. The years of research provided us with insights and knowledge of the community that have been valuable in the application of development projects. In turn, the observations that we have made in development projects, have contributed to our research studies. We are participating in a process whereby the community is taking their own development in hand, and in doing so, is creating the premises to preserve their identity whilst participating more fully in the larger world context.