Map from Köhler, O. 1959 A study of Omaruru District South West Africa. Ethnological Publications. 43. Government Printer, Pretoria. On the right, Images of Okombahe village ca. 1950 (top) and 1960 (bottom) from the National Archives of Namibia, copies held in Rick Rohde collection.
The historical events and processes outlined for west Namibia contribute to the contemporary character of west Namibian places. Places tend to be complex sites of dwelling, memory and activity and the key centres of settlement in west Namibia are no exception. Layers of historical events are compressed in such centres, inscribed on the landscape through built structures and worn down tracks and pathways.
Here we focus in on one location, the small dusty village of Okombahe on the Omaruru River in between the Erongo and Brandberg/Dâures mountains – the centre of the former Okombahe native reserve. Okombahe village became officially established as a Rhenish mission in 1870 but is situated in an area full of former ǂNūkhoen dwelling places (as indicated by all the names on the map above). Later, in an attempt to escape drought, diseases and territorial restrictions imposed by German settlers, Damara and Nama pastoralists sought refuge at the mission, where they converted to Christianity and began to cultivate gardens on the banks of the Omaruru River. Today, the village of Okombahe is considered a cultural centre for ǂNūkhoen (Dama) people and is home to the annual Damara King’s Festival.
Within the boundaries of the former Okombahe Reserve, the old ǂNūkhoen (Dama) place of Sores-sores – so-called for the heat of the sun (‘sores’) that bears down on this open plain in the shadow of the Brandberg/Dâures mountain – later became an Afrikaans settler farm. Later still it became the headquarters of a new conservancy called Sorris Sorris. Here Hanna |Awaras proposed to Chris Low a storytelling event with elders and children that could be recorded both as research and for the local community. The idea was to bring people together and hold an enjoyable social event where Dama / ǂNūkhoen of all ages could share their stories and wider culture as they pleased. As Hanna said to Chris Low – We would like people to know about us.
In March 2016 Chris Low, Andy Botelle (Mamokobo Video and Research) and photographer Sylvia Diez recorded a Damara cultural event at Sorris Sorris, north west Namibia. The event was the initiative of Sorris Sorris elder Hanna /Awaras, assisted by professional community guide John Taniseb. The programme at Sorris Sorris included storytelling around the fire, singing and dancing, and the preparation and display of traditional foods and drinks. A high point saw the gathering venturing off to find the footsteps of Haiseb – a folk figure / culture hero of the Damara and other ‘KhoeSan’ peoples – and the circles in which he danced.
Hanna |Awaras, event organiser for a Future Pasts storytelling event, telling tales of the ancestor-trickster-hero Haiseb as we trace his footprints over the rocks. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sorris Sorris, March 2016.
It is revealing of the wider social and cultural currents at work across Namibia that Damara elders are now keen to run cultural groups for themselves and for tourists. In Sorris Sorris in 2016 they were just setting one up, and the Future Pasts storytelling event became an opportunity to practice their performance. This took place in and around a new structure visible in the image below, built as a site for tourists to come and stay and enjoy a programme of cultural activities.
The Nama Step dance, Damara style. Performed by Toatite Gawanab, Audrey ||Araseb, !Gâi !gtâ !Gaoseb, Hâtago |Hûses,
Mû ǂan |Hûses, Mandie ||Gases, Tikhoe |Hûses. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sorris Sorris, March 2016.
Damara elder leaving the Sorris Sorris culture gathering. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sorris Sorris, March 2016.
Louise ||Areses tells where the folk figure Haiseb came from. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sorris Sorris, March 2016.
Taking a break in the programme. Event organisers by the car: Hanna |Awaras and John Taniseb (to the right), with elders Louise ||Areses (sitting on bumper), Christine Kambari (left of car boot). Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sorris Sorris, March 2016.
Break time for the extended family. Elder, Laurensia Hûses (foreground right). Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sorris Sorris, March 2016.
A young boy, Okombahe. Photo: Angela Impey.
The donkey meat business at the Pietersen household, Okombahe, 2016. Photo: Rick Rohde.
Memory Goses and her daughter at her mother’s house (Asi Goses), 2016. Photo: Rick Rohde.
The grandmothers who attend the twice-weekly soup kitchen at the Lutheran Church in Okombahe demonstrate a game-song that they used to sing as children. Photo: Angela Impey.
Trudi, Maria Pietersen’s niece from Walvis Bay, visiting her grandmother in Okombahe 2014. Photo: Rick Rohde.
Ouma Tilla Goses dressed in a Damara outfit fashioned in emblematic Damara blue, green and white, which she has sewn herself. Ouma Tilla is renowned in Okombahe for her highly productive vegetable garden. Photo: Angela Impey.
Ou Maria Pietersen, Maria’s aunt at home in Okombahe 2014. Photo: Rick Rohde.
Christine Maletzki’s son and girlfriend at home in 'DRC', Swakopmund, 2015. Photo: Rick Rohde.
Ouma Dupi-Dupi (named after a children’s game with stones) and Oupa Hage (meaning, ‘he came despite difficulties’, referring to his breech birth) with their granddaughter at their home in Okombahe. Children often lodge with their grandparents in Okombahe as it is one of the few settlements in the Erongo region of Namibia with good schools. Photo: Angela Impey.
Maria Pietersen’s granddaughter and the child of the home help for Maria’s mother Ouma Ida, 2015. Photo: Rick Rohde.
Maria Pietersen at Roxette’s, (her oldest daughter) graveside, 2016. Photo: Rick Rohde.
Willem and Willemina Hoeseb and their grandson. Now retired, Oupa Willem spent most of his life working at a nearby uranium mine; on weekends, he ran his own goat farm. He is particularly knowledgeable about Damara history. Ouma Willemina is a community worker, and is involved in the running of a soup kitchen for the elderly at the local Lutheran church. Photo: Angela Impey.