What happens when technology threatens tradition?
When the greater good brings with it destruction and loss?
When one African tribe stands up to the international machinery of progress?
The Kunene River is the lifeblood of Kaokoland, a vast arid stretch of northwestern Namibia. Its waters bring life to the desert. The Himba have occupied this harshly beautiful landscape for thousands of years and are one of Africa's most successful remaining pastoralist peoples. In modern times, their culture has survived drought and war, but now an even more menacing threat looms: the unstoppable forces of progress.
With backing from donor nations, the Namibian government has slated this area for construction of an $800 million hydroelectric power project. Previously dependent on electricity imports, the proposed 450 megawatt dam would make Namibia energy self-sufficient. In the process, it would also flood 350 square kilometers of Himba ancestral lands, destroy sacred gravesites and wipe out vital grazing for their herds.
The Himba are often called 'the ochre people,' for the red earth with which they anoint themselves. They are literally connected to the land. They are also forever attached to those who came before. Thus, where ancestors are put into the earth, nothing must ever disturb.
One Himba chief takes it upon himself to fight the destruction of his land and people. With the odds stacked heavily against him, Chief Kapika mounts an unlikely resistance. The Himba may not have a word for "feasability study," but they are excellent negotiators.
Together with other tribal leaders, the irrepressible Kapika forms a coalition to stop the dam. He receives the Namibian president and foreign envoys at his homestead and even journeys to Europe to rally international support.
The Chief learns quickly how to beat the enemy at its own game and is soon making his own television appearances. Our camera captures the subtle humor of these improbable encounters between the modern and the traditional.
Amid the protests, the ancient and intricate Himba customs are upheld without fail in this thriving community… a community under siege.
Filmed over the past six years, Ochre & Water is the inspirational story of a culture standing up for its survival.
"For the Himba, the land is an absolute. If you take away his land, then there is no longer a Himba."
- Chief Hikumuine Kapika