Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Namibia: people, birds, plants

I've just spent almost three weeks in Namibia, a south-west African country which is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world. 

Here are a few photos of the people, birds and animals that we saw while there.  The population of Namibia comprises 12 major ethnic groups. Half the people come from the Owambo tribe (50%), with other ethnic groups making up a relatively small percentage of the population: Kavango (9%), Herero/Himba (7%), Damara (7%), Capri­vian (4%), Nama (5%), Afrikaner and German (6%), Baster (6.5%), San (1%) and Tswana (0.5%).

One of Namibia's most well-known tribal groups are the Himba, a culturally rich group of nomadic pastoralists who have retained their striking appearance and dress. 

The Himba number approximately 50,000 people, and are closely related to the Herero, yet continue to live much as they have for generations on end.

Himba infant with shaved head; the small crop will later be braided to a plait

Himba women are famous for smearing themselves with otjize paste, a cosmetic mixture of ochre, butterfat and bush herbs, which dyes their skin a burnt-orange colour and cleanses their skin over long periods (necessary due to water scarcity), as well as protecting them from the hot, dry climate and against mosquito insect bites.

We visited a Himba village near Kamanjab.

Smoke from incense, made by burning aromatic herbs and resins, is used as an antimicrobial body cleansing agent, deodorant and fragrant.

In the Kalahari in Eastern Namibia we went on a morning walk with some San bushmen. Although these particular bushmen, like many of their tribesmen and unlike the Himba, no longer live traditionally, knowledge is still being passed on from generation to generation. The San are the original inhabitants of Southern Africa and their presence stretches back as much as 20,000 years. 

The word San is a collective term referring to the traditional groups of hunter-gatherers that occupy sub-Saharan Africa; anthropologists have dubbed the San our ‘genetic Adam’, stating that all living humans can ultimately trace back their lineage to this population group.

We found out how to deal with a scorpion bite, how to catch a porcupine or ostrich, how to recognise certain animal tracks and many other things. Their language is characterised by six click elements; you can hear a sample of it I recorded here.

Namibia’s desert landscape is quite harsh and inhospitable but nevertheless support 706 species of birds, including birds of prey, coastal wildfowl and a range of migratory birds.

Southern masked weaver, near Windhoek

Northern black korhaan? in Etosha National Park

African grey hornbill in Etosha National Park

Male comb duck in Etosha National Park

Ostriches roam all over Namibia 

African hoopoe in Etosha National Park

Namaqua sandgrouse, a ground-dwelling bird found in arid regions

unidentified bird

Pelican at Walvis Bay

Flamingoes at Walvis Bay

Flamingoes at Walvis Bay

unidentified bird

more pelicans, Walvis Bay

Southern pale chanting goshawk

Namibia is the driest country south of the Sahara, and plants have had to adapt to the harsh environment.

unidentified plant

Among Namibia’s many botanical curiosities, is the extraordinary Welwitschia mirabilis, which exists only on the gravel plains of the northern Namib Desert. Despite their dishevelled appearance, welwitschias actually have only two long and leathery leaves, which grow from opposite sides of the corklike stem. Over the years, these leaves are darkened in the sun and torn by the wind into tattered strips, causing the plant to resemble a giant wilted lettuce. Pores in the leaves trap moisture, and longer leaves actually water the plant’s own roots by channelling droplets onto the surrounding sand. Welwitschias have a slow growth rate, and it’s believed that the largest ones, whose tangled masses of leaf strips can measure up to 2m across, may have been growing for up to 2000 years! However, most midsized plants are less than 1000 years old. The plants don’t even flower until they’ve been growing for at least 20 years. This longevity is probably only possible because they contain some compounds that are unpalatable to grazing animals.

Welwitschia, only found in Namibia

Flowering cactus

Last but not least is this photo of a quiver tree, a tall branching species of aloe indigenous to Southern Africa and found in Southern Namibia. It gets its name from the San bushmen's practice of hollowing out the tubular branches to form quivers for their arrows.

quiver tree

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