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Africa is home to 2000 languages and around 3000 indigenous tribes. Tribes that have preserved their ancient traditions have been a source of long-time inspiration for photographers, including Christopher Rimmer.
Rimmer’s latest exhibition focuses on the remote tribes of South West Africa. The photos are incredibly striking, and provide a glimpse of a world that is unknown to most of us.
In this article we show a series of photos from Rimmer’s latest work, titled Confluence, Tradition & Modernity & the Last Tribes of the Kunene River.
Tribes of the Kunene River
The Kunene River flows for 1500 kilometres from the Southern Angolan highlands towards Namibia. It veers west to the Southern Atlantic Ocean and provides the international border between Angola and Namibia.
Several tribal groups live along the river and each is distinct. They have individual customs, dress, language and spiritual practices.
This is a very remote part of Africa. Isolation has helped these tribes retain their ancient practices. However, the region has seen an influx of foreign capital, notably due to oil and other natural resources.
Rimmer’s photography looks at how this money impacts a region that is traditionally home to semi-nomadic pastoralist tribes.
The Mwila people live in small villages of circular huts constructed from river clay mixed with straw and cow dung.
From the onset of menstruation, Mwila women begin to don necklaces made from tiny glass trade beads. These gradually increase in size and become vast collars by the time they reach old age.
Also on the Angolan side of Kunene River, the Macubal dress in a brightly coloured waxed fabric called shwe shwe.
The most celebrated of the region’s tribes are the Ovahimba, who are spread across Namibia and Angola.
Their bright orange skin tone is created by a balm of ground ochre mixed with butterfat, which they apply as a form of sunscreen.
Ovahimba villages are composed of a circle of timber framed mud and cow dung huts that enclose a circular corral known as a kraal. This provides protection after nightfall from predators like lions and leopards.
About the Photos
Christopher Rimmer is a British born, South African raised photographer. This latest series of photos recently debuted in New York.
He explains: “My desire was simply to document what remains of the old way of tribal life and also to represent the influence of modernity.”
“A representation of the traditional culture that existed in this area will be commodified and dished up as an ersatz cultural experience for tourists much in the same way as we have seen with the Maasai in Kenya”, he adds.
At Africa Freak we do not necessarily agree that experiences for tourists will change this remote region of South West Africa. Tourism in Angola is near non-existent and visits to Namibia rarely go this far north (see our Namibia safari guide for more). However, there will be huge social pressures and change is inevitable.
Rimmer is convinced that much of what he has documented in Confluence will not remain in any meaningful way within 20 to 30 years. We are very interested in following the story to find out what the future holds.
Christopher Rimmer’s Confluence – Tradition & Modernity & the Last Tribes of the Kunene River debuted at Art Expo in New York in April this year and is currently being shown by Angela Tandori Fine Art Gallery in Melbourne, Australia, before moving to Munich, Paris, Montreal and London with exhibition dates to be announced in due course.