Category Archives: Conservation

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