The 2021 Passage Application - Himba

Cultural Immersion

As a participant in the 2021 Passage Expedition to Namibia, you will take part in a unique opportunity. On this expedition we will be assessing sacred sites related to womanhood, pregnancy, birthing, and/or postpartum for inclusion in future itineraries. Accessing these sacred sites will involve long-distance foot travel that may include steep, rugged terrain, inclement weather, heat and sun exposure, and potential encounters with hazardous plants and animals.

At the Himba villages we will be hosted by women, however men from the villages may accompany us on daily activities and excursions as well. During our visit we will gather with the midwives, mothers and children to gather wild herbs, food, water, firewood and medicines and join them in their daily rituals. Our time together with the Himba women will allow us to share stories and learn about their beliefs and traditions related to fertility, birthing and womanhood. Throughout the expedition there will be ample opportunities to develop lasting connections with the women we meet.

It is important that applicants are aware of the challenges and hazards of this adventure and what it entails, but we hope it will install a sense of excitement rather than foreboding. The geography and environment of the area where the Himba live is rugged and to fully take advantage of the exclusive, incredible opportunity we’ve been afforded, participants need to be prepared to push their physical, emotional and intellectual boundaries.

While with the Himba, we will observe, learn about and participate (optional) in a variety of practices and rituals. Listed below are some of the rituals we will have the opportunity to witness and may participate in:

Himba Adornment Ritual:

The Himba arrange their hair in very special ways. Girls have two primary braids that face forward. When Himba girls reach adulthood the braids are swept back and transformed into the familiar long, red plaits that are covered with a mixture of butterfat and ochre known as Otjize. Himba women also rub this mixture into their skin. Otjize serves to protect and clean the skin, and is an attractive adornment giving the Himba their distinctive ochre colour.

Himba perfume ritual:

Himba women and girls also like to perfume themselves. As part of this morning ritual, they collect aromatic tree roots, which they mix with herbs. The plant materials are crushed together with a hot stone, and then burned to create a heavy perfumed smoke. Siting very close to the fire, Himba women cover themselves with a blanket to absorb the perfumed scent into their hair and skin.

We will observe the women and learn how to make aromatic combinations.

Himba midwifery practice:

Himba midwives make use of different herbal medicines and preparations which they gather by trekking through the semi desert landscape and hills surrounding their villages.

We will join them on their treks to identify and collect medicinal plants for the use of fertility, pregnancy, birth and postpartum stages and will observe and learn how to make formulas and what they are used for.

Ceremony, singing, and dance:

Ceremony that includes singing and dancing are a big part of Himba life. We will participate in and observe traditional Himba dance and singing.

Into Womanhood:

Upon reaching puberty a Himba girl leaves the village until she has been ritually brought into her new social standing as a woman. Supported by a group of women, she is taken to a special enclosure where she is spiritually protected during her first menstruation. She is given many gifts during this. Once she has been presented to the spirits, her change in status is official, and a traditional leather crown is mounted upon her head as a symbol that she is marriageable.

Expedition Itinerary

Day 1-3:

Arrival in Namibia.

Participants can expect a 10-hour bus trip from Windhoek, and another few hours in a car to the regional capital Opuwo. On our way we will stop at a cheetah sanctuary and spend half day.

During this time the team will have the opportunity to acclimatize and build connections with one another.

Day 3- 14:

We will stay with the Himba along the Kunene River near Epupa Falls.

Participants can expect some or all of the following:

  • Participating in home visits to pregnant women and mothers and babies, observing treatments, asking questions and offering support when sought.
  • Check-in, discussion and sharing of observations, thoughts, and insights with the team.
  • Reflective time for journal writing and compiling notes.
  • Walking/trekking to visit fertility, birthing and other sacred sites for women.
  • Time to share stories and develop lasting connections with the villagers and other members of the team.
  • Conducting conversations with indigenous women, young girls, traditional midwives.
  • Learning traditional midwifery practices through observation and listening.
  • Bushwalking to collect medicinal plants and observing how medicine is created with them.Recording the traditional knowledge, practices and stories through writing and audio recording.
  • Observing and possibly participating in birth rituals or other rites of passage and ceremonies.
Overall team objectives will include:
  • Building respectful relationships through listening, and having an open, curious, non-judgmental attitude toward others.
  • Creating the foundation for the development of collaborative educational programs that will satisfy the needs of women and girls in the community.
  • Identifying common health concerns during birth, pregnancy and postpartum.
  • Identifying the hopes, needs, concerns, dreams, and challenges of village women and girls.
  • Holistic midwifery knowledge sharing that is complimentary and supports healthy outcomes of mothers and babies
  • Learning about the pregnancy process, birth rituals, rites of passage rituals (hopefully observe and participate) for the purpose of travel immersion experiences.
  • Recording oral histories and genealogies, birth sites, medicinal plant use, and other cultural sites of importance through a database of land maps associated with indigenous use on the land
  • Contributing to the empowerment of women and mothers to know and advocate for their health and birth rights
  • Contributing to greater awareness around women’s and mother’s health and birth rites at the government and policy making levels.
  • Contributing to the acknowledgement and recognition of the role of the midwife in larger contexts, ensuring the role continues and is passed down to future generations.

Day 14-16:

Travel back from the village to the city of arrival.

The 2021 Passage Expedition to Namibia is still in development and is subject to changes in itinerary, length, dates, and accommodation details. However, due to the high level of interest and limited spaces available on this expedition, we are accepting applications now. For the protection of the communities we will be collaborating with, expedition particulars such as location and community will be revealed in the future.

Please stay tuned through our newsletter, website and social media feed for more details and up to date information about this and future expeditions to the Himba in Namibia.

EXPLORE

NURTURE

REVITALIZE

The 2021 Passage Expedition will serve as an incredible first step for Adventure Midwives. Our intention is to take the module we co-create with the communities in Papua New Guinea and reproduce it in other communities across the world, such as the Amazon, Africa and Siberia, according to each communities needs. Our aim is to have collaborative initiatives in midwifery and cultural land mapping that will help to support the following outcomes:

  • Holistic midwifery knowledge sharing that is complimentary and supports healthy outcomes of mothers and babies
  • Recording oral histories and genealogies, birth sites, medicinal plant use, and other cultural sites of importance through a database of land maps associated with indigenous use on the land
  • The acknowledgement and recognition of the role of the midwife in larger contexts, ensuring the role continues and is passed down to future generations
  • Protection of indigenous women’s birthing rights and access to culturally sensitive care that respects language, culture and customs while minimizing risks of institutionalized violence in the face of contact with outside authority and medical systems.
  • Empowerment of women and mothers to know and advocate for their health and birth rights, while contributing to greater awareness around these rites at the government and policy making levels.

Step 1 of 3

  • The expedition will commence in 2021, and will be 16 days in length. It will consist of a team of eight including an expedition leader, a local guide/interpreter, a team coordinator and a film-maker. The expedition will take us through challenging terrain to meet with the communities who live closely linked to their natural environment and according to their traditional beliefs, which can be likened to animism. After arriving at a community and meeting with leaders and midwives we will begin the process of talking, listening, sharing and learning how to work together so to create long term relationships and programs that serve the unique needs of the women and mothers in the community. We will camp in each of the three villages and be taken to birthing ritual sites and other sacred sites of importance for women, while having an opportunity to speak with and learn from midwives, mothers, girls and men in the community. Never before has this kind of research been conducted in these communities, and the opportunity represents a great step forward for research into women’s health and midwifery practice.

    Before applying, we urge you to consider the following.

    • Does your work experience match with and fulfill the expedition title and requirements?
    • What do you personally hope to gain from this expedition in terms of your personal development and career aspirations?
    • What are your credentials to be a true Adventurous Midwife Explorer?
    • Do you enjoy working with others as part of a team to solve problems and accomplish objectives?
    • Are you confident in your physical abilities in facing the physical challenges required of this expedition such as (but not limited to) hiking/trekking in tropical rainforest, bush camping and bush hygiene and sanitary facilities, unexpected weather conditions, exposure to different foods, plants, animals and insects, etc.
    Please read our introduction, guidelines and eligibility criteria on the following few pages before you complete this application form. If you have any difficulties with applying for this award online please contact us at: [email protected]
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