For former Brave Gladiators, as Namibia’s senior women football team is known, skipper Mamie Kasaona, the answer to whether it is possible to remain a true Himba girl living in the capital Windhoek and travelling the world with the Gladiators is clear: “Wherever, I will never forget my tribe.” Below is a revived interview of Kasaona with futbolenfemeninoguatemala.blogspot.com.
Kasaona, now retired and has taken over as the head coach of the Gladiators, is from the Himba tribe, Namibia’s most iconic and traditional people. The Himba, who live primarily in the north-west of the country, are nomadic and, unlike many of the Namibian tribes, remain attached to traditional tribal life.
They live on the fringes of the Namibian society, largely Christian and increasingly modern, and have not changed either with the colonial regime (under Germany and South Africa) or with the rapid globalization after independence in 1990. Despite debates about their integration, most reject “western” education and economics and communities live as they have for hundreds of years.
A former defender, Mamie is tall and strong and has over the years inspired the Gladiators in international assignments and even won the league championship with the Okahandja Beauties, a team from Windhoek. But behind her rise in the game is a unique story, even in a nation as culturally diverse as Namibia.
Can you tell me a little about where you grew up?
I am from Sesfontein, 150 km from Opuwo (administrative centre of the Kunene region). I grew up with my mother. We were 8, 5 brothers and 3 sisters, so I used to stay with my sister, but my mother has always been by my side. Our house was built with trees. You cut down the trees and use them, it’s not like those straw buildings, it’s different ... And we don’t use bricks like here in Windhoek!
Was it normal for your friends and family to go to school?
I went to school 25 km away from my village and continued my secondary studies in Opuwo, but it is not normal for Himba, especially girls. People in my community consider farming, taking care of goats and livestock much more important than school. You get married early, you have a lot of children and you focus on things at home. Besides that, girls are not allowed to lift their leg; you must not lift it. You have to walk straight and all that. There is a kind of restriction on everything related to jumping. It’s not allowed.
When did you start playing soccer?
When I was young, I was surrounded by boys so soccer was the only game. However, the community was totally against me playing. Only my mother’s support kept me strong.
What material were you playing with at the beginning?
We had no playing field; We went where we saw a space and we used socks and rolled plastic as balls. We also didn’t have shoes and we played barefoot. You can see that my toes are black, especially my left. I have no nails on two toes! You might want to hit the ball made from socks and plastic bags, but you didn’t always know what was behind it. When you returned home you already had an open wound. It’s the kind of challenge I used to face.
When did you start playing with a real soccer ball and boots?
Only when I met coach Jacque Shipanga, first coach of the Gladiators. Getting used to playing in boots and on grass was very difficult because we were used to the rough terrain we had at home. On the ground, it is not necessary to make so much effort to run because you feel free. But when you start playing on grass and you have to wear boots... for me, it was like ... wow! It was exhausting. I had to get used to it.
What were your expectations regarding marriage, coming from the Himba community where marriages are often arranged at an early age?
Everyone goes to the funerals of their uncle, or their grandfather, etc. And that’s where you meet your cousin and then you’re supposed to marry him, regardless of their age. You may be 16 years old and marry a 35 or 40-year-old man, age does not matter! As long as he is your uncle’s son, you must marry. You can never deny yourself. But I was smart. At my uncle’s funeral, I was 14 years old and the girls of that age were already getting married. I knew what would happen to me and that’s why I didn’t go to that funeral. I wasn’t there and that’s why I couldn’t get married.
How did you first meet coach Jacque Shipanga? I met her in 2006, at an NFA (Namibian Football Association) women’s awareness campaign. It was in Khorixas (a small town in the Kunene region) and they went there because they were looking for players. I was 16 years old and I was lucky that they noticed me and then invited me to trials in Windhoek.
And did you move to Windhoek after the trials?
Yes. Just to play soccer. The coach and the women’s soccer section of the NFA helped me get a place at the Windhoek College of Education. I had no idea! They said that is what you should do. A friend I had met through the national team said I could stay at her place. I told the coach, but she said she would provide everything for me.
How has football changed your life? How has it changed you?
It has changed my life completely. Suddenly I became a public figure. I had to take care of myself. I must know what to eat, how to speak in public, how to dress, and every move I made. I also had to know where and when to be, and all that. So it totally changed me.
What is your message to girls who want to play soccer, especially the Himba girls?
I always wanted to be an example of a Himba girl who plays soccer and doesn’t do it badly at all. And I always wanted to show everybody what I have learned and what person I have become, to show you that I have been there and that football is more than just a game but a big life changer.