Tag Archives: Culture

Camp Kwondo

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We had a short drive today, further into the Caprivi Strip.   We stopped early at Camp Kwondo, our accommodation on the Kwondo River.  Our rooms were tents – sort of – thatched roof, wooden floor and canvas walls.  Good thing for the mosquito netting – I didn’t hear any mosquitoes but the only thing between me and a scorpion at the foot of my bed in the morning was the net.

 

There were lovely seating arrangements on decks at the edge of the water and we had time to relax and watch and listen to the abundant bird life.

 

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Hadada Ibis

 

 

 

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Paradise Flycatcher

 

 

 

 

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Red-eyed Bulbul

 

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A pair of Ruppell’s Robins

 

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A Golden-tailed Woodpecker

 

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This afternoon we visited a “living museum” so common in Namibia.   The visit answered a lot of my questions about the way of life here.  First we went into a compound and learned how the Bantu people used to live in pre-colonial times.  Their food staple was millet and it was ground to a fine flour.

 

 

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Clay formed by the termites in their hills was used to line the storage container for the millet.

 

 

 

An ingenious device was used to mimic the hippo’s sounds.  The hippo would be eaten at ceremonies such as weddings:

Traditional music and dances with a shaman were performed:

The second part of the visit was to the modern village.  This village has about 300 inhabitants and each compound has a fenced courtyard with the huts of a single clan – children, their parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents, with each family or couple having their own sleeping quarters.   There are segregated bathroom areas with shower hookups.  Kitchens are partially open air for ventilation and food is cooked over a fire in a communal kitchen.   The government provides a water hand pump for each compound.  School is mandatory and there is a school in each village. In this village, the children walk 2.5 kilometres each way to go to school.  There was one vehicle in the compound.

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Income is earned in a variety of ways – many chop trees on their land and sell firewood for about $1 a bundle.

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We were slated for a boat ride here but as we walked back to the lodge after our tour, lightning streaked the sky and the clap of nearby thunder accompanied us so the ride was cancelled.  Instead we had a rare chance to relax and enjoy the surroundings. We watched flocks of egrets fly up the river at the end of their day.  

 

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The cancelled boat ride had a silver lining.  We were so happy to learn that both Chobe to the east and Mahongo to the west received rain.  It is hoped that eventually the building cumulus clouds will reach Etosha.

 

Best,

Jan

 

 

ǀUi-ǁAis to Twyfelfontein

Twyfelfontein Lodge

After driving half a day yesterday on unpaved roads with the final 40 or so  kilometres along the bumpiest road I have ever been on (my puffy-coat-in-a-bag made the perfect lumbar pillow), we were stunned to arrive at the gorgeous lodge.  After seeing almost no-one on the roads, here was a full parking lot.  The entrance was a beautiful winding walkway to the lodge in a gorgeous setting.

Today we had the full day to explore this area and we set out for the ancient San rock paintings.  The big sky has its own beauty and we passed this farmstead typical in the local countryside.

The San people inhabited this place because of the spring and the need for water, and named the place, “ǀUi-ǁAis,” meaning “waterhole.”

This place was uninhabited by Europeans until a severe drought after the end of WWII.  David Levin studied the feasibility of farming in 1947. He rediscovered the spring but struggled to extract enough water to sustain his family and his herd. Slowly becoming obsessed with doubts about the capacity of the spring an Afrikaans-speaking friend began calling him David Twyfelfontein (David Doubts-the-spring) in jest. When Levin bought the land and registered his farm in 1948 he gave it the name Twyfelfontein.  While commonly being translated as doubtful spring, a more accurate translation for the word twyfelis therefore “questionable” or “uncertain”.  History suggests that the San people knew very well the value of the spring and how to extract the water.

There are more than 2,000 rock engravings and paintings of animals and people here at this amazing UNESCO world heritage site.  The paintings are made with red ochre which has been used as a painting substance around the world and suggests the San bush people who created them were involved in trade with the outside world.

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Genetic evidence suggests the San people are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, peoples in the world, going back perhaps 70,000 years. They have genetic traces that no one else in the world has, that put them at the root of the human tree – we are related to them, but they are not as closely related to us. They have unique markers that we don’t have.  The petroglyphs have been dated back to this age as well.

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As part of the UNESCO world heritage site designation, UNESCO has authenticated the engravings and paintings.  They state that:  “all the rock engravings and rock paintings within the core area are without doubt the authentic work of San hunter-gatherers who lived in the region long before the influx of Damara herders and European colonists. The setting of the Twyfelfontein rock art is also authentic and complete other than one small engraved panel which was removed to the National Museum in Windhoek in the early part of the 20th century, no panels have been moved or re-arranged.”

I’ve seen quite a few engravings in BC and I recently attended a seminar about ancient BC rock paintings by Canadian Indigenous people using red ochre.  My sister and I also got up before sunrise to see rock paintings at Zion Canyon in Utah.  But I’d never seen a site like this before.

We took a 45-minute guided clamber over the rocks to see some of the engravings.  They appear to have a range of purposes.  This one is thought to be a map of active water sources in the area.

Another was likely used to train young hunters of the various animal footprints, including those of humans.

Others depict animals not from this area at all, suggesting either very wide nomadic range or contact with other peoples, such as the image of a crocodile and one of a penguin.

And many clearly depicting the various animals in the region:

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Possibly the most famous engraving is that of “White Lady,” which we did not see due to a lion roaming in that area.  Her lower half appears white with masculine features and clothing while her top half is black and is clearly a woman.  There are several interpretations of her, but I couldn’t help wondering if, like Pharaoh Hatshepsut of ancient Egypt, she was a tribe leader who had to disguise her female gender to gain respect.   She certainly looks like a powerful huntress.

Petrified Forest

The Petrified Forest is a group of at least 50 fossilized Cordaites trees between 240 and 300 million years old, making our ancient rainforest on the Canadian west coast of 1,500 year old trees, seem young.  Scientists have determined  these trunks haven’t grown in today’s Namibia but were washed down a river in ancient times when one of the many Ice Ages ended on the Gondwana continent.  Due to enormous pressure and over a period of millions of years, even the finest structures of the wood have been dissolved by silicic acid and replaced by quartz, resulting in perfectly conserved and completely petrified trunks.

These were pine trees – and you can clearly see the knots.  The petrified wood looks just like a normal tree but feels, weighs and sounds like rock.

Twee-blaar-kanniedood – “two-leave-can’t-die”

We finally saw the Welwitschia mirabilis, the plant unbelievably comprised of just two leaves, arranged so they can store water.  Like many of the desert plants of this arid region, the Welwitschia is thought to obtain most of its moisture from very fine mist blowing off the cold Atlantic Ocean. This allows the plants to survive but they grow very slowly.   Considered a living fossil, the plant is actually a tree that has been dwarfed and lives up to 1,500 years.  We saw some considerably younger, but older plants do exist.  Like the holly tree, the Welwitschia requires the cross-pollination of a female plant with a male.

This was not where our day ended, oh, no.  It was only warming up!

Desert Elephant Safari

Status:  Protected

We had the rest of the afternoon free and some of us took advantage of the time to take one of the tours offered by the Lodge.  We mounted our 12-seater 4×4 and headed off into the sand in the hopes of seeing some of the uniquely adapted elephants.  They are rare – there are only two groups of elephants, here and in Mali, North Africa.  They can survive several days without water and are capable of walking up to 70 km per day for water.  I’ve always associated elephants with water so I was curious to see these amazing animals that can live in a desert.

DDBFA240-5223-4CE8-A3C6-A059EFB3C8D1We would not have another chance to see them, so we climbed aboard our vehicle with our guide and drove for about an hour and a half crossing dry river beds and passing from the red desert we’ve become used to seeing, into the almost black, surreal landscape of Damalaland.

This is the land where the Damala speak the most beautiful language I had ever heard, with clicks and three other sounds depending upon where the tongue clicks in the mouth.  The sounds represent our x, q, etc.  We heard a number of the staff speaking to each other in the musical language.

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We arrived at a small village with a water hole where we hoped to see the elephants.There was no sign of an animal but there were tracks and some fresh-looking scat. 

We carried on through a Baobob grove with their roots poking out haphazardly.

It wasn’t long before we saw in the distance a large grey shadow.  Success!  We found 3 elephants and were given lots of time to take photos and observe their behaviour.   

The desert elephant has longer legs than other elephants and a broader foot.

They feed off off of the fruits of the acacia tree, stretching their trunks up to smell for fresh fruit before violently shaking the fruit loose from the tree.   It was an awesome sight.

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We drove on parallel to a dry river bed.  Suddenly, a head popped up in the bushes and I was instantly swept back to my favourite childhood program, The Friendliest Giant.  A giraffe, not a puppet!  Here!

 

 

 

Our driver left his tracks and we moved into the trees to get a better look.  As we watched, more and more of these striking creatures appeared.  These would have been passing through – they are nomadic.  We watched them for awhile before they moved on.     

It was time to head back to the Lodge for dinner, but on our way back we spotted a large herd of ostriches and some baboons.

We stopped for refreshments watching the sun go down behind the hills and the incredible African light seemed to follow us home.

Best,

Jan

 

 

 

Windhoek (pronunciation: ˈvəntɦuk)

   SUUM CUIQUE (“To every man his own”)
Windhoek’s motto

Namibia is a vast country with a relatively small population of about 2.5 million.  Its capital, Windhoek, will be our portal and launch pad.

This cosmopolitan city of 322,000, has six groups of indigenous people as well as remaining Germans and Afrikaaners.  German is widely spoken – there is a German-language daily newspaper, and English is the official language of the Namibian government.  Afrikaans is also widely spoken.  The original buildings from the German occupation are now museums and government buildings.  There is German cuisine and a beer named after the city brewed in strict compliance with the Reinheitsegebot, the German Purity Law of 1516.

The lovely pre-colonial African people are:

  1. The San, whose genetic history has been traced to 70,000 years ago, and who shocked us in the 1980 films with the possibility of a simple beautiful life and the insanity of commercialism in the gentle “The Gods Must be Crazy” series.  They still largely live a traditional nomadic life.   In a few days, we’ll see their fabulous rock art which also dates back 70,000 years.

 

2.  The Ovambo, who fought for an independent Namibia.   The founding President of Namibia was Ovambo and the SWAPO ruling party today is made up mostly of Ovambo people.4E67F3EB-CB10-413C-B215-343B09A96890

3. 772B19CA-FBA6-4391-9DE9-0230D926B1BFThe Nama, who also wear incredible bright clothes.  The Nama twice rose up in armed rebellion against German colonial rule, and suffered near extermination in what followed the second skirmish.

 

79FC5C07-08B1-49BD-A796-193B5D9B42434. The Damara, who have the beautiful clicking language.  Today they are pastoralists, and skilled copper-smiths. The first prime minister of Namibia and his immediate successor were both Damara.

5.  The Himba, with their powerful architectural hairstyles, who are a northern Namibia people related to the Herero.

 

 

6.  And of course the Herero whose brilliant subversive clothing we have already seen.

Met by our lovely guide, Tuhafeni,  we climbed into our amazing safari bus/truck and took a tour of the small city, stopping at the German Lutheran church, in which services are still conducted in the German language.

The city has 300 annual sunny days and the beautiful jacarandas grace every street.  There is even a white jacaranda tree.  Legend has it that a version of this tree with white blossoms was first cultivated in Windhoek, so in a sense it is indigenous. According to the National Botanical Research Institute, the white jacaranda is a fluke, a single-gene mutation that was developed, and is basically an albino version of the purple jacaranda.

Across the street was the War Museum about the Namibian fight for independence.  The people fought from 1969 until 1990 when they finally gained independence.  This modern tower was built in 2014 by North Korea (possibly in exchange for uranium?  – one of the leading exports of this country) with its three external elevators.  Like so many African paradoxes, the charming original fort which had been the museum before held all of the artifacts – this oversized, flashy, modern building doesn’t have room for everything, so many artifacts are now in storage.  There had been a statue here for the original German colonial leader but there was outcry by the country’s young and that statue has been replaced by a statue of the first president of the independent Namibia, Dr. Sam Nujoma.

We drove down the bustling main street, passing two outlets of a store called, “Beaver Canoe Toronto Canada.”  I don’t think we’ll have time to stop in and check it out in person, but looking online, it is a Roots company.  Three guys met at summer camp in Algonquin park.  Michael Budman and Don Green went on to found roots while Mitch Springer went on to build his own canoe and revolutionize canoeing.  The Roots guys enable Springer to mass-produce his canoes in their leather factory in Toronto, and have since named a line of their clothing and other products Beaver Canoe.   There are stores all over southern Africa and the Beaver Canoe line is sold through department stores and other retailers.

Then Tehafeni took us through a massive shantytown where he lives with his wife, 14-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.  There is a 40% unemployment rate and 50% of the entire population of Windhoek, some 160,000 people, live in these corrugated homes with a long walk to the standpipes for water.  There were a lot of young men hanging around who obviously can’t get work, and a surprising number of hair salons and barber shops.

We found another Canadian connection in Tuhefani.  He guides for Wild Dog Safari Tours Namibia which was founded by a Canadian man.  He married a British woman.  He died, and his wife has carried on the business.  Tuhefani was one of the company’s first employees and he has been with them for 21 years.  Anytime anyone in his family is ill, the company pays for private health care; the company is also paying for his children’s education.

We won’t be spending too much time here, we are off tomorrow to cross the country to the Namib Desert and the third largest national park in Africa.  I hope the rest of my posts will be mostly about animals, animals, animals!  (And I hope the wifi will be fast enough to upload photos.)

In the meantime, my research about Windhoek took me to more illuminating details about this country, just 30 years young.

Namibia at the U.N.

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On September 25, 2019, H.E. Dr. Hage Geingob, President of Namibia, addressed the General Assembly of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly.  I’m including a few excerpts of his speech because they seem to say a lot about Namibia.

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“Namibia is making inroads in eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities in income and wealth. Our Government allocates a high percentage of resources to the social sectors, including universal access to education and a highly subsidized healthcare system, with the aim to reverse the effects of the skewed economy. These investments have attained a measure of success. Within a period of 22 years, poverty in Namibia has declined from a 70 percent baseline, down to 18 percent by 2016, lifting more than 400,000 members of our population out of poverty since independence.

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“According to the June 2017 World Bank Report, Namibia’s gradual decline in poverty is attributable to a targeted policy framework that includes ‘a well-developed programme of cash transfers to vulnerable segments of the population’. The administration of social safety nets has been a cornerstone in our multi-pronged fight against poverty. Namibia remains among the most unequal societies in the world, attesting to the deeply embedded structural nature of our problem. The status quo is not sustainable and Namibia is taking steps to build a more inclusive society.

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“Currently, Namibia is under a state of emergency due to a severe, widespread and prolonged period of drought, with adverse effect on the livelihoods of our people. This vulnerability poses a major obstacle in achieving Agenda 2030.  With this in mind, Namibia reiterates her commitment to the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), should guide our commitment to tackling the global environmental challenges.  We have a responsibility to establish a world that should transcend racism, tribalism and nationalism … a world where women and the youth should no longer suffer exclusion. The future hinges on their participation. And we must ensure that they are no longer on the fringes of decision making but at the forefront of galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion.”

Turkish Aid

The Republic of Turkey popped up, too.  The Turkish International Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) has launched a rural development program for one of Namibia’s most important ethnic groups, the San people.  TIKA said that as part of a rural development program, stationery and school equipment, clothing, and other aid materials have been delivered to the San people who live in Tsumkwe, located in northeastern Namibia’s Otjozondjupa region.  The agency will also work with local municipalities to teach farming techniques to the San.

I’m looking forward to the beginning of my WILD trip to Africa in the morning!

Best,

Jan