10 July 2018

Namibia: Art Gives Namibian Rural Nomads a New Lifeline

AMID the worsening effects of climate change and a threatened pastoral-nomadic lifestyle, the Himba people of Namibia have resorted to commercialised art as an occupation.

In the middle of the city bustle, Wahikitha Muheke (33) was sorting her products at an outdoor stall in Windhoek's central business district.

Muheke, from the Kunene region in the north-western parts of the country, moved to Windhoek some years ago to give business a try.

Gifted with skills to make necklaces and crafts, Muheke, along with other artists, sells hand-made crafts to locals and tourists.

Drought and the advent of modernisation have pushed nomads like herself to shift from livestock rearing to art to sustain themselves.

"Growing up in a village, livestock and art are part of my culture. Faced with socio-economic challenges, I decided to come to the city, commercialise my skills, and sell hand-made art products," she explained.

Business prospects and earnings, however, vary from day to day.

"My prices for these products range from N$10 to N$500, and on a good day, I make up to N$750," she said.

Muheke invests the money she earns back into her business to build it.

"This involves sourcing raw materials and tools to make new products, including cultural items, strings and glue. But above all, precision, time invested and attention to detail are what make the products and this business," she said. This, she added, is complemented by kindness towards customers, an attribute she upholds as it is central to the essence of human interaction.

She is not alone.

Maria Mbinge (36), a mother of four, said migrating to Windhoek was about more than just the economics of art.

Wearing traditional Himba attire made out of animal hide, with her breast uncovered and moisturised with a reddish lotion made out of cream and red ochre, Mbinge targets tourists and locals to her stall with a dress code that is a rare sight in a modern city.

"Through the hand-made crafts, I also have the chance to preserve my culture, use it as a platform for cultural exchange and interaction," she noted.

Coupled with her dress code, a unique experience, said Mbinge, is central to the sustainability of her venture.

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta said diversified and integrated tourism is becoming common among travellers, and it is thus important for the tourism sector to meet the demands of tourists and visitors who are also seeking new perspectives.

Wearing traditional attire is also a marketing tool, said Mbinge.

"The traditional attire also attracts customers. In that way, I draw them to us. They are curious, and thus I maximise on my tradition before modernisation robs me of it. Regarding clientele experience, I offer them more than just hand-made crafts," she added.

Even though the trade is prospective, traders face some challenges, specifically business space in Windhoek.

"Although the spot we are operating from is still within the city centre, it works to our disadvantage as it is out of the 'view of clients'," Muheke moaned.

Art vendor Mbinge, who has been selling hand-made crafts for over five years, has urged the authorities to consider allocating them more diversified options from where they can operate.

According to Mbinge, some parts of Windhoek's central business district gets a huge influx of people. If they operated from there, their products would be more visible to a diverse clientele.

"It would be good if we could be moved to places with a high concentration of tourists who are our main clients, such as the Hosea Kutako International Airport, and busy shopping malls," she said.

Muheke is of the same view.

"I wish to I could sell my products at the airport. We do not receive our targeted number of clients from where we are operating now," she added.

In spite of the challenges, the women said they are working hard to create a niche for their trade.

"We ensure that we produce quality products. We also fuse modern and traditional ways of display. We have to stay in business," Mbinge said.

According to Muheke, earnings from the art sales are extended to family relatives in the village.

"My family back in the village depend on the funds I generate, and to help sustain what is remaining of our nomad livelihoods and meet socio-economic needs," said Mbinge.

- Nampa-Xinhua


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