In the year 2005 Dutch viewers could see a program from a commercial Dutch broadcaster, SBS6. This program was titled “Groeten uit de rimboe” (“Greetings from the jungle”). In it a Dutch family is taken on a surprise-tour to Namibia to spend some time with the Himba (the writer uses the name Ovahimba; it is bit like the discussion on the use of Swahili or KiSwahili). Later on the Himba are invited to spend some time with the Dutch family. The viewer sees the way the Dutch tries to connect with Himba-people, without the help of a translator. And the other way around.

The writer Marijn Kraak researched this program for her anthropological studies at a Dutch University. She watched the program, she tried to get into contact with the producers (the company SBS6 did not want contact), she travelled to Namibia, talked with the Himba presented in the  program, talked with other Namibians connected to the program, researched Namibian newspapers and she engaged with other anthropologists. 

Kraak looks at the use and portrayal of ‘primitive’, ‘authentic’, ‘reality’ and sees the way the Himba are portrayed in a long line of western portrayal of Africa. From a western perspective the Himba are seen as primitive (and all things ‘non-primitive’ are excluded from the final product shown on television). Western tourists visit Himba villages to reconnect with their own perceived past (excluding the idea that their own past is very different from the past of the Himba), bypassing the notion that the situation of the Himba is of the present, the same present in which the tourists live. 

The Himba are portrayed, by Namibians and by people from Europe, as an important group, seen as representative of Namibia.  In this way it is overlooked that the Himba do form a very small minority and are not representative of Namibian society and culture (compare it to the way the Masai are portrayed). But from a commercial point of view (read: tourism) this portrayal is very important.

While reading this book I wondered who was using whom, for their own benefit. Is it the Dutch broadcasting company that is looking forward to many viewers, and sees the program as a commercial venture. Or are the Himba using the broadcasting company in making money out of this venture (and many other ventures)? 

This book has made me think again about the many views on the vast and varied continent Africa. Is it one vast jungle? Is it one vast gamepark? Is it a vast area of suffering? Who uses all these kinds of labels? Who is benefitting from all these labels? To me there is a vast variety. In all kinds of ways people use this variety, some for their own benefit, some for the benefit of others. 

There is no single story or label!

Marijn Kraak – Groeten uit de rimboe? Een onderzoek naar de realitysoaps Groeten uit de rimboe en Groeten terug – 2010

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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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