Living Together

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Culture and Shared Traditions in Fransfontein, Namibia Published with the support of the Jutta Vogel Foundation Cologne, Germany. I, AS a reader and as an avid collector of records of our people of the earliest days always find it interesting to be granted yet another view into the lives of people very few inside Namibia and even fewer outside Namibia know about. This book resulted from the studies of Michael Schnegg and Julia Pauli, social anthropologists – both are PhD holders. From May 2003 to October 2004 Pauli and Schnegg conducted fieldwork in the Fransfontein area. Khoekhoegowab speakers, who in Fransfontein differentiate themselves into Damara and Nama, mainly inhabit the area, with more than 70% giving Damara as their ethnicity. The second largest group in terms of ethnicity are Hereros, followed by Nama and Ovambo. Yet, as genealogical data clearly show, there are numerous multi-ethnic marriages, partnerships and co-parenthoods. An ethnographic census, which was administered in May and June 2004, reveals that Fransfontein consists of 137 households and the communal surroundings of 25 hamlets and a total 161 households. To complement this knowledge, ethnographic data from five neighbouring commercial farms was also elicited, focusing on the so-called ‘locations’ of the workers, most of them of Damara or Ovambo origin. Another important feature the census shows is the high mobility of the population. On average, people live less than 10 years in the area. Further, Fransfontein, and to a lesser extent the hamlets, are very much stratified economically, ranging from households living in extreme poverty to well situated, even wealthy families. That is the background. The book itself tells of the histories of Charles/Uirab, Jorries Seibeb, Titus Kaumunika, Fiona Iilonga and Francois Dawids in this microcosm of modern-day Namibia. To those familiar with Namibian family names it will be obvious that the co-authors and the actual people of the book are from various cultural group from the areas that is today called Namibia. I’d like to call these multi-ethnic conglomerations a conundrum because by the end of the day none of the original ethnicities identified are clearly definable a whole; they amalgamated into a mixture of cultures. Now, that can have advantages such as becoming “one people”, but this process also has massive disadvantages. Some of these are clearly spelled out in the book. History, for instance, becomes forgotten. Once upon a time an Otjiherero-speaking person worth his or her salt, would be able to recite the family tree to “Noah and his Ark”. Not today. Today, many are happy to be able to recall three generation back. Another disadvantage is also the fact (mentioned in the book as well) that we are losing our oral traditions. Those stories your grandmother or great-grandmother or great-grandfather told you when you were young. These old folk tales are slowly consigned to that dump of forgotten history where everything is kept that was once valuable to us. The fact that the book – more a watered-down thesis – has had to be commissioned by non-Namibians is a further slap in my Namibian face. Does that mean we ourselves to not have the will and the purpose to preserve what once belonged to us? Are we really willing to exchange a rich indigenous culture for the pale imitation of a culture that is so prevalent in the West? Are we men or are we turning into cultureless mice? The publication is, nonetheless, very valuable Namibiana and should find a place on the bookshelf and in the heart of many patriotic Namibians. Read it now … it may be gone forever by tomorrow …