Northern Namibia produces food abundantly for their families, communities close by, and also the Namibian community at large; their food can be found in the local markets of most major towns, as well as the capital city. On a trip to her homestead, Clio Pauly found, tasted and enjoyed a traditional Permaculture and Gift Economy society.
I was recently humbled by a beautiful visit to our homestead in IIkokola, a traditional village in northern Namibia. In the last stretch of our 700km journey, we occupied ourselves by reading the names of the shebeens (local pubs), such as “U must have Character Bar”, “Osama Bin Laden is here No2”, or “Don’t drink and drive Bar”.
We arrived before sunset and the palm tree surrounded oshanas (pans), were filled with white water lilies, while healthy well fed goats, sheep, donkeys and cattle here have right of way .
The air smelled crisp, and as the gate swung open, I was amazed by a field of food. Here monoculture has little meaning, as Pumpkins, Watermelons, Eefukwa (groundnuts), Omboga (spinach), Omakunde (bushbeans), Mahangu, and purple small flowers intermingle all over on display. Towards the far end of the cultured land, the untamed nature begins; or, as permaculture calls it, Zone 5. Fruit trees such as the Marula, Eembe (berry), Papaya and Baobab, bring us sweetness and shade, while chickens, dogs, and a cat, all serve their purpose and are the closest kept animals. As the fourth generation on this homestead, we are still blessed with fertile soils without chemical or genetical intervention .
Just over a year ago, this area was suffering from drought to such an extent that the Government declared it a state of emergency, and food relief programs were implemented. Three years ago, flooding caused havoc. This year, there seems to be an idyllic moment of peace. The majestic tree across the road, that signifies the David Mbwalala Kindergarten, emanates the stillness. I heard the children laughing inside the house as the smoke from the kitchen reminded us of a warm dinner coming soon. Dinner was savored in the dining room under an open sky, with millions of stars shining upon us. In traditional homesteads, only the sleeping and some storage spaces have got roofs: the rest of the house is uncovered. The walls are often decorated with cherry tomatoes, Kalabash plants and, here and there, herbs that make great tea.
We had Mahangu porridge accompanied by “marathon” chicken, and spinach with tomatoes. Mahangu along with Ongudo are Sorghum crops, and are the most important part of the Uukwaludhi food culture. It is eaten all year round, and also enjoyed as a breakfast health shake known as Oshikundu. The marathon refers to the energetic chase of the chicken that children indulge in, knowing that if they catch it, they get a prize. Spinach is only available fresh once a year during harvesting time. Thereafter, it is dried and stored and can easily be transferred into a tasty dish after having been soaked in water; Spinach is culturally always cooked before someone in the family travels, as a symbol of good luck.
It was truly “finger licking good”, as it was drizzled with Odjove Oil. Our plates were made from biodegradable palm tree leaves, and we drank a light homemade alcoholic drink, called Omagongo, in a crafted wooden cup. Both Odjove and Omagongo are made from the Marula fruit; that became internationally famous through the Amarula Liqueur produced in South Africa.
The thought of South Africa made me reflect on how fortunate we were to have a home grown staple food such as Mahangu (Sorghum), instead of the GMO Maize widely available, not only in South Africa, but also in Namibia. Most township inhabitants rely on traditional rural farmers, because food in supermarkets is very expensive and imported. This is why people make use of local markets instead.
This economic inequality fortunately promotes trade and selling of local healthy, ‘slow’ foods. Northern Namibia produces food abundantly for their families and community close by, and also for the Namibian community at large, as their foods can be found in local markets of most major towns, as well as the capital city.
Seed Banks are re-stocked every year and seeds are mainly preserved in ash, at the right temperature. This ensures a crop for the following year. Value addition is still a point that can improve and assist with economic stability. Health and safety inspection and certifications would also allow traditional Namibian foods to be more prominent in supermarkets. Water harvesting is another point that needs attention, as this could surely make us less vulnerable to droughts and floods.
We were woken before sunrise to the rhythmical pounding of Sorghum. The working day here usually starts at 4am, and ends around 10am. Far away from our usual working day, we got ready to visit the family in the surrounding area. Our car was packed with gifts such as blankets, wine, cold drinks, etc, as we left home, and, interestingly enough, we returned with a fully packed car of gifts.
The first home welcomed us with a foot massage of special oils and powders mixed together in the shell of a tortoise. We admired the abundant food fields, made pictures, and all rejoiced in our gifts. When we arrived at a home we presented our gifts; when we departed a home we were offered gifts. We had 3 live chickens, and a happy variety of different fruits and vegetables. We came back to our homestead fulfilled physically, spiritually and emotionally. In the back of my mind rang the words ‘Gift Economy’, and I smiled for having experienced this ancient culture so natural and modern.
On our way back to the city, I am happy and sad for many reasons, one being that the everyday way of life in our traditional villages is not acknowledged for the gem that it really is. The food is not ‘western’ enough; the rooms not air conditioned; the manual labor on the land is too hard… and the youth all want to move away. Another being that the traditional village does exist, (and thousands like it). With a change of mindset, and some innovative clean technology, they are indeed leading examples of how our future food sovereignty can be achieved.