All posts by Stefan Quinth

Real Adventures

Himba girl with goat
Young Himba girl with her favourite goat

One of the popular Christmas gifts for 2016 was VR-gear, a mask or headset that you wear to experience worlds or places that may or may not exist. We live in an era where many people avoid venturing out to experience true adventures in places that actually exist. How did that happen? Have we become so bored with our protected and comfortable lives that we need to seek adventure in a fantasy world where we needn’t sweat, freeze or experience anything real? What kind of effect will this virtual reality have on our ability to empathize with actual experiences and genuine emotions?

While working in different countries I’ve come across cultures and people living without the conveniences we take for granted. Aborigines in Australia, Veddas on Sri Lanka, the Maasai in Tanzania, and the Inuit in Alaska all share one thing in common – they live close to nature and have often chosen to live without the gadgets we deem necessary to make our lives simpler, more comfortable and “adventurous”.

In Namibia, in southwestern Africa, I was fascinated by the young Himba children who, at only 6 years of age, work as goatherds. School in Namibia is not mandatory and many of the Himba children living in remote areas have no opportunity to attend classes, others are not allowed to because they are needed to herd the family’s goats. It is their task until they are 12 – 13 years old.

After sunrise, when they have eaten their corn porridge, the children gather the 100-200 goats and drive them out into the wilderness. Sometimes they have to wander far in search of food and water for their herd. For protection from snakes and predators, like leopards and sometimes lions, they carry a big stick, which they soon become very proficient at handling. These children have no need for expensive gadgets to experience virtual excitement; their lives are quite adventurous already. In the evening, when they return to the village, it’s time to milk the goats. Goat milk is an important part of the Himbas rather limited diet, which otherwise consists primarily of corn meal porridge.

While shooting the footage for our film, ”Himba – the Red People” now premiering in Sweden, we spent many weeks in a Himba village without toilets, electricity, water or shelter from the penetrating sun. We slept, worked and ate on the ground, which was covered in layers of dung from hundreds of cattle and goats. Revolting at first, we soon became accustomed to it. Christofer Wärnlöf, anthropologist and researcher, who worked with us on this film, says that animal dung is considered a valuable asset rather than a problem. Christofer speaks from experience since he lived with the Himbas for years while studying their culture. They are no more bothered by cow dung than we are of leaves falling from the trees. It is also an essential building material. All of the huts in the village are constructed with branches and a mixture of cow dung, sand and water. During drought, when the cattle are driven away from the village, the huts deteriorate from lack of materials for repairs.

The Himba people have an almost inexplicable joy that can be difficult to understand. We would find their living conditions intolerable and their lives monotonous. And what about those little kids, wandering in the desert with their goats – isn’t that dangerous? Well…I asked the elders in the village, but no one could recall any fatalities. After getting a taste of the stick the goatherds handle so prodigiously, any predator would probably think twice before getting too close. Hot, dusty, tedious – but at any given moment they might stop what they’re doing and dance! No music, no instruments – just clapping their hands to a rhythm.

The sights, the sounds, the smells, and the people – it was real; it was adventurous! Not something you can find in a box. I have friends and colleagues who have challenged themselves with incredible feats like bicycling across continents, climbing mountains or sailing around the world – hot, dusty, and tedious. They all say they had the time of their lives! So no, I don’t think last years #1 Christmas present is anything for me.

Destination Himbaland

Himba village in northwest Namibia
Himba village in northwest Namibia

Having travelled just about as far as it is possible to drive through the Namibian wilderness, over dry, sandy riverbeds and through endless bush, we finally reach Ombutisouri and the little “ongandan” (village) where the Tjambiru family lives. They are Himbas, a culture with traditions dating back many generations. There are an estimated 30,000 Himbas living scattered across this immense desert area of northwest Namibia and into southern Angola.

The Himba are nomads, moving with their cattle to wherever there is water. They are related to the Herrero with whom they share a language. Goats scatter as I walk through the narrow opening in the dense wall of thorn bushes, which encompasses the small village. There is a multitude of chickens, dogs, goats, cows and enormous oxen. Sleeping on the roof of one of the huts I spy a couple of common housecats.

In the middle of the village is another smaller circular enclosure constructed with thick branches stuck down into the ground. This is where the family keeps their most valuable animals and where they bring the cows to be milked. I count seven huts built with mopane branches and covered in a mixture of cow dung, clay and sand.

The younger members of the family come forward to greet me; we have known each other for several years. Moneemoha, their father and chief of the village, and his wife, Mbooua, sit on the other side of the village and wait for me. Although we don’t speak the same language, I can tell by their expressions and gestures that I am welcome.

It was my good friend Christofer Wärnlöf from Vedum, Sweden who first told me about this place. He is an anthropologist and one of the leading authorities in the Himba culture. Christofer has a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Gothenburg University and wrote his thesis on the Himba culture.

In the early 1990’s Christofer moved to the Namibian wilderness to conduct the research for his thesis. With two pre-school children at home, it was a great sacrifice for him and his family and it took much longer than anticipated. Christofer lived with the Himba for two years before he felt that his research was complete and he could return to Sweden. Although his thesis is long since finished, Christofer has returned at least once a year to visit his friends in northern Namiba and to continue his research. No other researcher has done such extensive field studies of the Himba culture as Christofer.

Working with the documentary film about Christofer and the Himba people has been an enormously exciting project that has given me insight into one of the world’s most unique cultures. What I find to be most valuable for me personally working with a number of cultures is that I have gained an understanding that we are, indeed, very different. I am convinced that if we were all the same, the world would be a very boring place.

The film, “Himba- the Red People”, premieres in Sweden on February 3, 2017. The English version will be released later this year. For more information see cameraQ.com

The Road to Himbaland

Two Himba women
Himba women

In the 40 years that I have been working and traveling around the world I have come across people living in all kinds conditions. A safe and comfortable life is not guaranteed no matter where in the world you live. Many people desire every comfort available, while some choose to live a different life. The Himba people of northwest Namibia are a culture where many members choose to live far from the modern conveniences most of us take for granted.

If you drive 740 km north from Windhoek, you’ll come to the Himba capital city, Opuwo. At first glance it’s a rather insignificant, dusty and dirty town, but when you notice the people on the street, it’s a cultural kaleidoscope. Men in suits; women in large, colorful dresses; teenagers in jeans and T-shirts; and women with reddish skin dressed in short leather skirts and with their ample breasts exposed for all the world to see. That’s when you know you’re in Himbaland!

The first time I was grocery shopping in Opuwo I stood in line at the checkout stand behind a man in a suit and a barefoot, bare breasted, red Himba woman. No one – not the girl at the cash register, not the businessman or anyone else – batted an eye or raised an eyebrow. It was just a common occurrence in this uncommon town.

There are many things to experience in Opuwo but after stocking up at the grocery store I drove west along a gravel road about 110 km to Etanga. From there I continued a couple more hours through the wilderness where the roads are barely distinguishable, until I come to the small onganda where some of our friends live. We have been working with these people since 2013, filming their daily lives. That film premieres in Sweden on February 3-6, 2017.

Next week I’ll write more about the fascinating Himba people and about Dr. Christofer Wärnlöf who lived with them for several years and has studied the Himba culture for over 25 years.

World’s Greatest Job

Stefan Quinth standing on top of a mountain overlooking Frazer Lake, Kodiak, Alaska
Stefan Quinth, Kodiak, Alaska, 2006

My name is Stefan Quinth and I am a wildlife/documentary filmmaker. I’ve actually never been anything else. Well, except for the time I worked as a freelance journalist from 8th grade through high school. I wrote for local newspapers and sometimes had as many as four or five articles a day. I loved to tell stories and found it quite fulfilling to write about things I felt were important. But then, all of a sudden, a new media opened up to me–television.

I was 17 when I made my first film and sold it to Swedish Television. I mailed the film on a Tuesday and the very next morning the telephone rang. A woman on the other end asked very politely if they could please buy my film. No television company has every purchased a film from us that quickly since then ­– it was definitely a record, possibly a world record – but it convinced me that film is a great way to tell stories.

Working with film, music, or any other art form is exciting and when your artwork, in my case a film, is premiered and the audience reacts with laughter or tears at the right moment, it makes it all worth the effort. Few people realize just how much work goes into producing a film. I was packing up my equipment after showing a film somewhere in southern Sweden when an older woman approached me and complimented me on the film. I always enjoy interacting with my audience. The woman stood there for a moment more, eyeing me quizzically, before she asked, “But do you have a real job?”

I suppose it’s a valid question–even though I have produced hundreds of films for television, numerous educational films about geography and cultures, and many other films for various organizations. Can you really have this much fun and still call it a work? When I visit schools or universities to show films and talk about wildlife, nature or cultures, students will approach me and say, “You must have the greatest job in the world!” I would have to agree. Being a wildlife/documentary filmmaker is probably the greatest job you could have.

In future blogs I’ll tell you stories about a wonderful world, a world worth fighting for.