Wiping the Tears takes us to the Ovahimba community of Etanga, a small village located in north-western Namibia. The film plunges us into the impassioned story between a woman, Vuaanderua, her husband, Kandanda Tjongora, and her friend, Kamboo Mukuru, and the trial that opposes them, the consequences of which could be dramatic for them, for their respective families as well as for the members of their community. Central to this question are the cattle, source of wealth in this cattle farming culture.
Through their endearing and sometimes troubling testimonies, the three protagonists deliver with intense emotion their own version of the tragic events that have changed their lives. Then, during the successive customary law trial hearings, they reveal the passionate relationship lived as a threesome for several months.
These hearings allow the elders attending the trial to recall the customs of marriage law, women’s rights and the sharing of cattle. And the other younger men openly mock the cuckolded husband, the friend who lost his entire herd for the love of a woman or the wife who will finally have risked losing both husband and friend.
Through this story at once tragic, poignant and funny, some of the key notions of Ovahimba culture are revealed.
Note by the Filmmaker
Wiping the Tears, presents considerable educational value as a film in the sense that films presenting a case study of a customary law court case in action, rather than treating the subject of customary law as such are rather rare. In this sense, it is in line with Raymond Depardon's film 10e Chambre, instants d'audiences.
In terms of documentary and ethnographic film, Wiping the Tears, breaks new ground:
Firstly, the film does not offer an interpretation of the events; other than two short informative voice overs, there is no commentary. Secondly, the film is edited in the form of a courtroom drama presenting in turn testimonies of the concerned parties: the protagonists, leaders, elders and youth, which presents a break from conventional forms of documentary /ethnographic films.
Thirdly, for the viewer, who would normally recognize the hierarchy of court procedures in various geographical situations, such is not apparent in this film; the viewer is invited the discover Ovahimba customary law procedures as they unfold during the course of the film.
I made the film in this way, since I found that this unique footage conveys the preoccupations of the people concerned in a direct manner, from their won point of view by themselves, providing information on customary law, marriage law, heritage law and social organization in general. My choice was explicitly to use no cinematographic artice but to remain as close as possible to the accused in the "box". My use of the reverse shot technique avoids voyeurism while discreetly showing the full range of emotions of the protagonists, anger, passion, humor, mockery, showing everyday justice within the Ovahimba community.