Category Archives: Childhood memory

Interviewing in the Creuse

By Lindsey Dodd / / @DrLindseyD

In May and June 2017, a number of local newspapers in central France carried a story about my research, under the headline ‘Thousands of children evacuated to the Creuse away from the bombs between 1942 and 1945.’ The articles, illustrated with photographs from the Archives municipales de Boulogne-Billancourt showing excited children leaving on trains from Paris, commented ‘a British historian is looking for the former ‘little refugees’ and members of families who welcomed them’.

The response was nothing like an avalanche, and indeed, I had not expected one, but slowly emails started arriving, a few phone calls and a letter.

Research base for 10 days: Guéret, Creuse

At first I was struck by the number of people who were simply pleased to get in touch to tell me of a family member – now deceased – who had gone through this experience. They were not people to interview, not having much more than scraps of information, but they thought it worth contacting me nevertheless. Then I received a few written accounts, some photographs and several email exchanges. But I was also contacted by several of the petits réfugiés themselves, now sprightly octogenarians looking forward to sharing their experiences with me when I visited the Creuse in 2017. My appeal also reached individuals resident in Paris and elsewhere – a newspaper spotted by a friend or neighbour, passed on and passed on again, resulting in several interviewees whom I would meet on other visits to Paris.

Having the possibility only of ten days in the Creuse in July, the opportunities were limited to who was available and when. Over the course of that trip, I visited the Archives départementales de la Creuse twice to examine the fiches d’évacuation (evacuation forms) of various evacuee children. I also interviewed fifteen people, comprising child evacuees, children from host families, other local children who got to know the evacuees, child refugees (not part of the evacuation convoys, but who fled to this region for safety and better living conditions), as well as a couple of close family members of a deceased former evacuee. Along with four interviews collected in Paris (two child evacuees, a Jewish child refugee and a teacher who accompanied the evacuees),  and another interview I have been given, I now have a small corpus of twenty interviews dealing with child displacement from the Paris region (mostly) to the Creuse (mostly). More than one of the interviewees had written memoirs or even semi-fictionalised accounts of their experiences; many had photographs and other documentation which they shared with me.

Dodd on the road near Bourganeuf

Apart from the enormous generosity of all of those who agreed to meet with me and talk about such personal expereinces, the trip, under the beautiful Limousin sun, inspired the following reflections: Continue reading Interviewing in the Creuse

‘Our hearts were happy here’ – recollecting acts of dwelling and acts of clearance through oral histories in west Namibia

Desert-adapted Black rhino, Diceros bicornis (photo: Sian Sullivan, 251115)

By Sian Sullivan

It was when doing field research for my PhD in the mid-1990s that I first learned of local histories embedded in the broader landscape around the settlement of Sesfontein / !Nani|aus, north-west Namibia. This is an area known today for its spectacular landscapes and desert-adapted black rhino and elephant. It is a sought after tourism destination now catered for by luxury eco-lodges linked to locally-run conservancies. But I have come to learn that the landscapes described as ‘wilderness’ in tourism brochures advertising the area are also full of the traces of former dwelling places and the graves of known ancestors. And that people alive today were amongst those who lived at these places and who remember what they were like in times past.

Map showing the boundaries of current tourism concessions with surrounding communal area conservancies and state protected areas in southern Kunene Region, west Namibia (created by Jeff Muntifering, 050316).

I started recording oral histories in the area in 1999. I borrowed an old cassette recorder from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London where I was then working, and recorded some 885 minutes of oral history interviews with Damara / ≠Nūkhoen[1] individuals known to me through my PhD research. These individuals lived throughout the former Namibian ‘homeland’ of ‘Damaraland’: in Sesfontein / !Nani|aus; on redistributed former Afrikaans settler farms near the Aba-||Huab river; and in settlements along the !U≠gāb river.

Map showing the boundary of the former ‘homeland’ of ‘Damaraland’ establised in 1970 on the recommendations of the Odendaal Commission in 1964, in relation to Namibia’s post-independence administrative regions (inset).

‘I was born in Sixori in Hurubes’
The first of these interviews, on 15th April 1999, was with the grandmother of Suro Ganuses, a ≠Nūkhoen woman from Sesfontein who in 1994 had become my companion and translator whilst carrying out ethnographic field research for my PhD. Suro’s grandmother, Philippine |Hairo ||Nowaxas, pictured here in 1999 outside her home in Sesfontein, opened her narrative by saying,

Philippine |Hairo ||Nowaxas in Sesfontein / !Nani|aus (photo: Sian Sullivan, 150499)
I was born at Sixori in Hurubes.
She goes on to say,
We moved around and moved around. My father was really from this place [!Nani|aus] and my mother was from Hurubes, really she’s from Hurubes; she’s ||Khao-a Damara.
And she begins to list various places saying,
This is Sixori, this is Tsaugugam, this is Oronguari, this is the home of Xoms, here is the field [!garob]. I move to and sleep at the places where the rain falls, because the food is there.
I have now studied multiple maps from the German colonial rule of Namibia that started formally in 1884, until the present time. None of these named places and land areas appear on any printed map I have seen of the area. It is as if these personal histories and experiences simply do not exist in formal representations of the territory. But they are known and spoken about locally. They linger in the memories of now elderly people dwelling in settlements to which they became constrained after they were cleared from this dry and mountainous corner of west Namibia.

Continue reading ‘Our hearts were happy here’ – recollecting acts of dwelling and acts of clearance through oral histories in west Namibia