The prolonged drought has made the plain even more arid and bereft of life. The sun, inclement and relentless, continues to slowly bake the earth until it lies on the horizon, discouraging any attempt to germinate life. The only thing that emerges from this barren land is dust, like a silent lament raised with the help of the wind.
The life cycles of nature that determined the transhumance periods and that have always been interpreted by nomadic people for generations are now unrecognizable. The knowledge that has been patiently passed down from parents to children from an early age and that has enabled them and the livestock they depend on to survive in this arid part of the globe for hundreds of years is no longer valid. It seems this centuries-old knowledge has also been blown by the wind, and nature has turned against them and decided that this is no longer a place for man to live.
Unable to find water and pasture, all they can do is drive their scrawny cattle, tired of wandering for miles, to places where man himself dumps disposable pieces of his life. The meadows lush with life that celebrated the arrival of spring have been replaced by a huge open-air dump. Now, an amalgam of debris and plastic extends as far as the horizon, the remains of a world that is increasingly consumerist and indifferent to the weariness of nature. Ironically, it seems to be nature itself, battered and exhausted, that forces man and his animals to feed on these leftovers, their last hope for survival.
It is a surreal scenario where the laws of nature have been subverted and which have caused the cattle to graze on garbage instead of on green meadows. As if accepting some fate and obeying a call to death, the animals walk orderly on the paths they have already trodden endlessly on the dump in search of food, as if they were vultures from a post-apocalyptic world.
It was not only the animals that became scavengers. After countless days and months of struggling against drought and heat, the shepherd himself has also become a scavenger. He has long ago given up trying to interpret the signs of nature that always told him when and where to drive his cattle to find fresh pastures. Increasingly distant from his native village, he quickly succumbed to the temptation to adorn himself with the remains of civilization he found in the dump and abandoned the traditional cloths and sandals made of tire typical from the Mucubais, the tribe in southern Angola to which he belongs.
The Mucubais (Cuvale) descend from the Helelo, Herero or Ovahelelo people, who left the Great Lakes region around the 16th century. They are semi-nomadic like the Masai, dependent on livestock and agriculture, and are known for their sheer endurance and courage. They can walk more than 50 km a day in search of water and grazing land and do not hesitate to face predators such as lions and leopards, when these animals threaten the safety of their livestock. Oxen are the real basis of livelihood and the source of wealth for this important ethnic group. The richer and more important a Mucubal is the larger the number of his cattle.
In an almost pathetic performance, the shepherd scavenges through the piles of debris covered by a tangle of old cloths and wearing a boot and an old shoe. He has lost all his cultural identity as if he were a pariah. He too is an unreal character in this surreal landscape, an unrecognizable world created by man himself and where he himself seems to have no place.
Centuries of empirical wisdom that allowed this tribe to survive in the harshest conditions has now faded away, like the ashes into which the ephemeral pieces of civilization that burn in the dump fires have been transformed. In this desolate world, where colors and traditions have been erased by the silence that foreshadows death, it seems that not even the sorrowful lament of nature that cries for the voracity of man, implacable in its destructive fury, can be heard.
For how much longer can we continue to recognize this planet as our home?