To mention the name ‘Namibia’ is to conjure images of spectacular landscapes – from the dramatic cold Atlantic coastline with its famous shipwrecks, to the dune fields of the southern Namib desert and the flat-topped red basalt mountains of ‘Damaraland’.
The landscapes of west Namibia seem to pulse with both silence and presence. When viewed from high above the surface of the land is alive with watercourses snaking through rippling expanses of hills, coloured in vibrant blues, purples and golds. In the image above, the |Giribes plains, named after the Dama / ≠Nūkhoen word for jackal, i.e. |girib, glow orange amidst the folds of raised ground whose deep incisions tell of the waters that rush forcefully through this arid landscape in the years when good rains fall.
Green bursts through red in Kunene, north-west Namibia, especially after rains. Image generated from aerial photographs, Directorate of Survey and Mapping, Windhoek.
|Giribes plains, north-west of Sesfontein. Composite image created by Sian Sullivan and Mike Hannis from aerial photographs, Directorate of Survey and Mapping, Windhoek.
Lawrence Green, author of the 1950s book Lords of the Last Frontier that popularised north-west Namibia for adventurers seeking a remote wilderness, writes that
“of all the deserts I have seen it is the Namib that draws me again and again.
This is a silent world, where men may well talk in whispers;
and only in a few places will you discover human footprints on the sand.”
The promise of space, silence and wildness continues to create west Namibia as a sought after tourism destination for visitors from afar. And yet, the wilderness they find here is also manufactured from the homes of generations of diverse peoples who have experienced layers of pressure and change that often has not been of their choosing.
Take the |Giribes plains, pictured above. This open landscape has been home to varying combinations of !Narenin and Purros Dama, as well as Khoe-speaking ||Ubun who once moved between the !nara fields of the western reaches of the Hoanib and !Uniab Rivers, and Himba and Herero pastoralists seeking grazing for their cattle. The landscape is populated with named places and the localities of special resources, like the bee hive to the north of the plains that Nathan ≠Ûina Taurob once led me (Sian) to. For some two decades ≠Ûina had been returning there to sam – to pull – the honey from this hive embedded deep in a honey cave in hills north-east of |Giribes.
 Green, L. 1952 Lords of the Last Frontier: The Story of South West Africa and its People of all Races. London: Stanley Paul and Co. Ltd., p. 17.
Nathan ≠Ûina Taurob, a ‘Purros Dama’ from north-west of Sesfontein, returns to his honey hive north-east of |Giribes plains. He drew honey from this hive every year for around twenty years.
Photo: Sian Sullivan, May 1995.
These diverse cultural histories entwined with the landscapes of west Namibia mean that a view such as the one below – of a seemingly ‘pristine’ landscape in the Palmwag tourism concession – can perhaps be a little misleading.
Wilderness and/or cultural landscape? View in Palmwag tourism concession. Photo: Sian Sullivan, October 2014.
The video montage below, of aerial images from the !Uniab river to |Giribes plains in west Namibia, has been made by Sian Sullivan through knitting together around 100 very high resolution 2008 aerial photographs purchased from the Directorate of Survey and Mapping in Windhoek Namibia. It is inspired by the visual beauty and potency of the west Namibian landscape when viewed from above.