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  • Chris Low

Storytelling at Sorris Sorris

'Louise ||Areses tells where the folk figure Haiseb came from'. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sorris Sorris, March 2016.

Louise ||Areses tells where the folk figure Haiseb came from. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sorris Sorris, March 2016.

In 2016 I was collecting KhoeSan trickster folktales among people living around Dâures or Brandberg mountain, north-west Namibia. Although the process of tracking down these tales was familiar to me, as I was undertaking this research I was not happy. This was partly because not many people seemed to know such tales and locating and reaching people was proving time consuming. But I was also unhappy because my methodology did not feel right. I was ending up doing the sort of research I wanted to move away from – going into communities, finding ‘specialists’, recording them and, although doing my best to try and make my work meaningful, in truth not feeling as if I had really contributed locally as much as I could.

Things changed when I was introduced to Hanna |Awaras, an ex-school teacher in Sorris Sorris who is involved in local politics and heritage. With these thoughts of not really working as I would like lurking in the back of my mind, I started describing to Hanna the sorts of stories I was interested in. And then it came – an emphatic, enthusiastic response which was exactly what I had been waiting for – “no Chris, this is a good thing you do but let us get the people together. Give us some warning and we can bring the people together and go and stay off far from here and light a fire and tell our stories.”

Andy Botelle of Mamokobo Film and Research – a partner organisation for Future Pasts – and myself then went into action to organise a story telling session with Hanna and her community. When the event arrived in March 2016 we were also fortunate to be joined by Brazilian photographer and installation artist, Sylvia Diez (see image above).

The films Andy has produced from this visit give some indication of how we spent three days with the Damara gathering Hanna assembled. It was not an easy event to organise at a distance, but I feel confidant that the community were as happy with the outcome as we were.

Rather than the more focussed and smaller scale event I had imagined, Hanna’s community saw this as an opportunity to set up and practice a heritage experience that, once established, could be maintained as a means of passing on their heritage to their children and sharing their culture with tourists. They even built a special permanent shelter for the purpose.

The five films pull out key themes covered over the three days, although some of the themes are not quite as focussed or detailed as we might have liked. The community had put much practice into their demonstrations and had scheduled the days tightly. Although there were times when we would have loved to obtain more footage, we did not ask to do so out of respect for their hard work and presentation planning. A further filming difficulty lay in the tremendous vocal enthusiasm of Hanna that, although a delight to hear, played havoc with the sound recording. Well done Andy and his team for accommodating that one!

Three films from Sorris Sorris - 1. 'Landscape'.

This first film shows Hanna leading us off to find evidence of Haiseb - a well-known Khoe and San trickster-ancestor-hero - in the local landscape. It was extraordinary how patient and generous Hanna’s team were in showing us Haiseb footprints and dancing circles in temperatures of around 45°. This look at Haiseb signs was then followed by a visit to a long abandoned Damara cultural village. Hanna’s dedication to maintaining her heritage is evident in the beautiful way she sets up a call and response with the children around the folk figure name ‘Haiseb’.

Three films from Sorris Sorris - 2. 'Plants'.

The second film captures a demonstration of traditional resource use, ranging from consumable berries to grass seed beer, sâi perfume, medicine plants and a goat skin. An early shot in the film includes a beautiful demonstration of how to separate food from other matter by tossing it in an oblong wooden ‘≠gôub’. The closing sequence includes a traditional song and dance carried out by an elderly gentleman.

Three films from Sorris Sorris - 3. 'Celebration and healing'.

Film three includes the children of the assembled adults performing Nama style dancing. It was the first time they had performed these dances beyond their community. The second section of the film is a re-enactment of a healing dance or arus. This was tricky to film both because of the dark and because of Hanna’s very strong voice.

'Video blog' of films from Sorris Sorris, March 2016.

Film four is a compilation with a little extra footage. Film five is a ‘thank you’ from myself and the flies of Sorris Sorris – and there were way more flies than you can tell from the film! The only other time I have had such an intimate relationship with flies was eating a honey sandwich on the back of a low-loader I had hitched a ride on from Alice Springs to Darwin. While we were filming an elder made the lovely comment that the young people must learn to ‘let go’ and acknowledge the flies rather than get aggravated and constantly try and swat them away. This, he observed, only aggravated them.

We are making DVDs of these films to distribute freely to the people of Sorris Sorris among others in the region as part of a wider strategy of working with Damara/≠Nūkhoen heritage.

Saying farewell and thank you - 'kai aios'.

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