07-Mar-2004 -- It is our job to collect narratives about places, amongst other things, which is why we immediately took the opportunity to visit three Confluences on our recent field research trip to Namibia. After visiting 18S 16E (that was not a planned trip and we discovered later on that others had been there just a few weeks earlier), we successfully visited the Confluence 19S 18E.
The journey was part of a research project (funded by the Volkswagen Foundation) aimed at the multi-media documentation of threatened languages. The language that we - an anthropologist and two linguists - deal with is that of the ≠Akhoe Hai//om (the symbols are indicating clicks in this Khoisan language) who have lived in this area since pre-colonial times. This is the narrative of how we collected the narrative of Kurukhoeb, a ≠Akhoe Hai//om speaker with whom we have worked since 1990 (for more details on the group see my book "Living on Mangetti"). In due time a detailed transcribed record of the way in which he and fellow ≠Akhoe Hai//om use their mother tongue in perceiving the landscape and in other matters of everyday life will be available in an online archive.
In theory it should have been an easy Confluence to visit because it is not far from a major town in northern Namibia (Tsumeb) and it is within a district that has been developed as farmland since German colonization began at the end of the 19th century. There are good maps of the area, which indicate that the Confluence is on a farm called "The Pennies" (in fact it is on the Farm "Oulap" which has been created by cutting off the northern half of "The Pennies"). But although this landscape shows clearly how it has been created by changing groups of occupants, it takes time to get hold of the various people that have a relation to this land and we had to change plans several times.
Since the Confluence is almost on the way between the settlement where we do most of our research and the town of Tsumeb, the idea was to take along one or two of the ≠Akhoe Hai//om people who needed a lift to town and to visit the Confluence on the way back. ≠Akhoe Hai//om are categorized as "San" or "Bushmen" in Namibia and rarely have transport but often have the need to go to town. For instance, Tsab, the first person we asked, had been in exile in nearby Angola during Namibia's independence war and should have got a state pension a long time ago. For bureaucratic reasons he never got it because his papers were said to be incomplete, the date on his birth certificate is wrong etc. Like many other old-age "San" he has been struggling with the Ministry of Home Affairs for the last three years to get his papers right. On this day he wanted to give it another go but the office of the Ministry was known to be closed so that he did not come along to town.
Kurukhoeb, a close relative of Tsab, was happy to come along instead, although he found the idea to visit a place simply on the grounds that it corresponded to two intersecting lines on a map rather strange. He had not been on this particular farm before because in the commercial farmland of Namibia the rules against "trespassing" are very strict – especially for the landless that cannot simply walk across these farms. While in the early days of colonization you would run a serious risk of being shot when walking around as a "wild Bushman", the danger now was to be charged with slaughtering farm animals, which occurs frequently in this area (again my book "Living on Mangetti" has details on this). But travelling with us, white people, was safe in particular since we assured Kurukhoeb that we had called the farmer, Mr Oberholtzer, beforehand to get permission to visit his farm. We turned off the main road from Tsintsabis to Tsumeb into a road with the number D3039. This is a gravel road with farms to both sides, all fenced in. These are really ranches, not farms because the land is being used for grazing purposes. The road therefore has a number of cattle crossings and some gates have to be opened. In some places cattle is grazing next to the road and blocking the road. At a farm sign "Plaas winkel" (Farm shop, the lingua franca in this rural area of Namibia is still Afrikaans, a language derived largely from the Dutch immigrants to the Cape), we turned onto a small farm road. The people living next to the road reassured us that we are on the right track. Luckily they were speaking Damara, a language near enough to Hai//om for us to understand. They are employed on the farm to cut trees and bushes for the production of charcoal, another source of income from this land, which has been covered increasingly with bushes as a consequence of intensive grazing (see photos). And the picture we got for most of the route within the farm is exactly that: Bushy land with cattle grazing on the open spaces and with straight corridors cut into the land with only "stompies", trunks of small trees, sticking out. First we passed the old farmhouse of Pennies, the owner is now a black Namibian who is absent from the farm most of the time because he is earning an income through other means but farming. There were a large number of livestock and we saw some workers' huts as we passed the place towards the other half of the farm, now called Oulap (a name referring to the old currency of the Cape colony, corresponding to Penny). The landscape did not change.
We had been told by the owner, a white Namibian, that the Confluence was right next to the new house that was build on Oulap about 15 years ago when the farm was divided, right next to the braai-plek (the spot where they have barbecues outside). But as we got closer to the spot, the GPS told us a different story. Shortly before the farmhouse got into sight, the GPS led us into the opposite direction. We took that direction on a little-used farm road, which changed its direction frequently and did not get us closer than 250 metres to the Confluence. We tried to turn into one of the corridors that have been cut, but the tree stumps that can hardly be seen between the grass could have pierced our tyres so that we had to leave the car and walk on. It turned out to be a race with the sun, which was about to set, and we were faced with thick bush in the direction of the Confluence. Luckily another fence line extended roughly in the direction that we wanted, so that we got within about 55 metres of the Confluence. There we stopped to take photos because the sun was setting fast now. After a hot day with bright light the sunset is in fact a very comfortable time of the day. We asked Kurukhoeb what he thinks of this place and captured his narrative on video. He knew most of the trees around by name but they were not fruit bearing trees, apart from a single Makalani palm some distance away. There were termite mounds which also offer seasonal food when the termites swarm, at least for skilled hunter-gatherers like the ≠Akhoe Hai//om.
While we discussed what the Hai//om of the past might have found here, apart from wild game of which there was plenty before the pastoralists arrived but of which nothing was to be seen now, Kurukhoeb remarked that he heard dogs coming our way. We could not hear anything but kept walking deeper into the bush to find the exact spot of the Confluence (as far as it can be established by means of our GPS). Several minutes later we, too, could hear the dogs, or rather we heard the car that brought them. Obviously the farm owner had been following us fearing that we were out to try to kill of the game or the livestock in the area and steal it. Kurukhoeb was right. After greeting the farmer and his two workers who looked very serious, the situation was eased as our visit had been announced beforehand. Next time we should report at the farmhouse first, which we did not do because the sun was setting and we were trying to get to the Confluence to take photos before it turned dark. The two workers identified themselves as Damara. The Bushmen who used to work at this place had been chased off after too many incidents of livestock slaughtering. They still come back to slaughter, though. Only the other day a goat was slain in the bush but the farmer managed to track down the "poachers" with the help of a former policeman.
Later we took Kurukhoeb back to his home, a small plot on a resettlement farm where there is nothing to poach and sometimes even nothing to eat. The ≠Akhoe Hai//om of Namibia have been dispossessed of all their land (see WIMSA webpage) without compensation. We will come back in summer, to revisit the Confluence during the dry season when it will look different, with little grass and a lot of dust. But we will also visit more of the places that matter to Kurukhoeb but which do not feature on any map of Namibia, not even as the intersection of two lines on a grid.
Continued at 18S 18E.