Are the ovaHimba losing their identity?
With their appearance and unique way of life the ovaHimba people are a huge attraction for tourist, photographers and filmmakers, but authenticity comes at a price. As the ovaHimba become economically dependent on their representation, they now have to live up to their image, while simultaneously tying to preserve a culture in transition. In the midst of this industry of images, “Authenticized” observes the groups on every side of the lense, in framing, posing, paying and performing.
Since Namibia’s independence in 1990 and the ensuing improved accessibility to the area, the Kunene region has become a prime site for international tourism. In recent years the ovaHimba have been appearing frequently on television shows in documentaries broadcast all over the world.
Tourism and television are now so ubiquitous in the region that for may ovaHimba it has become a source of income. Money is earned from tourists and television crews who visit the compounds and an increasing number of ovaHimba have started to work as tour guides, interpreters, location scouts or production assistants. Even camp sites, lodges and luxury resorts for tourists are providing so called Himba tours.
At the same time, the presence of such large numbers of tourists, photographers and filmmakers means a violation of the very same authenticity those tourist and media professionals come looking for. Precisely those aspects of modern life that tourists wish temporarily to escape from, like smartphones, alcohol abuse and profit making, are entering the daily lives of the ovaHimba.
As they have become to a large extent economically dependent on their own representations, the ovaHimba now face the difficulty of living up to the image that is expected of them, while seeing their traditional ways of life heavily affected by the arrival of foreign visitors and media. As a consequence, the ovaHimba have to cultivate their own authenticity.
Fundamental to this industry is the paradox that can be found in many places all over the world, that for the ovaHimba authenticating their own culture now means cultivating their own authenticity.