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Etosha's Former Residents Honoured in New Publication

24 Sept 2009: The Etosha National Park – one of the world’s largest national parks and Namibia’s premier tourist attraction – receives more than 100,000 visitors every year. The abundant wildlife within the park, including Namibia’s largest population of lion, elephant and rhino, presents the best opportunity to see African wildlife in Namibia.

However, visitors often overlook the fact that various social groups used to live within the borders of the 22,270 square kilometer park. The area south of the famous pan, where most tourist roads and camps are situated, was primarily dominated by Khoesan-speaking people, who hunted and gathered around the pan.

Born in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om is the first publication to pay homage to the forgotten history of the Hai||om who lived in the area and whose lives the proclamation of Etosha National Park completely transformed. Through images, personal reminiscences, character sketches and depictions of some of the more important waterholes, Born in Etosha provides an insightful tribute to these former residents.

“There are many stories of other former inhabitants of the area adjoining the Etosha pan waiting to be told. Maybe this book can be seen as a starting point, and act as a spur to further investigation,” says Dr Ute Dieckmann, author of the publication.

Born in Etosha is designed to accompany the reader on a journey through Etosha, reincorporating the culture and history of the area into the natural landscape. The history of selected waterholes and other culturally relevant locations accessible to visitors on the main tourist routes serve to portray the life of the Hai||om who once lived there and to highlight the history of the park.

“Through this book, one realizes that Etosha is not just a vast and pristine wildlife refuge, it is also a culturally rich area with a fascinating history of its former human inhabitants,” says Norman Tjombe, director of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC).

The publication of Born in Etosha is part of an initiative from a group of international researchers and a group of Hai||om elders who were determined to ensure that their cultural history did not die with them. As the process gained momentum, it became formalized into the Xoms  |Omis Project, now managed through the LAC.

“This publication ensures that people will know our story and helps to protect our history and culture,” says Kadisen ||Khumub, the co-chair of the Xoms |Omis Project. 

Born in Etosha is funded by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany and Namdeb. The Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED), the Finnish Embassy, Comic Relief (England), the German Research Council (DFG) and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) provided financial support for the Xoms |Omis Project in the past.

Available for interview are:
Dr. Ute Dieckmann
Author, Born in Etosha
Email: udieckmann@lac.org.na

During the 19th and for a part of the 20th century, the Hai||om lived in a region that stretched from Owamboland, through present-day Etosha, to Grootfontein, Tsumeb and Otavi and south to Outjo and Otjiwarongo.

When Etosha was established as a park in 1907, the German colonial administration tolerated – and indeed welcomed – the presence of the Hai||om, much of whose traditional territory outside the park had been colonized by white settlers. At any given time between a few hundred and a thousand Hai||om lived in the park, with numbers varying according to the prevailing economic and environmental conditions.

The Hai||om remained in the Etosha National Park for almost a half century until 1954 when they were evicted from their ancestral home. As a result, they joint the legions of landless farm-labourers, from one generation to the next, eking out a living on the farms on Etosha’s borders.

Since 2004, the Hai||om have had a recognized Traditional Authority, an important development as it facilitates communication and negotiation between the community and state institutions.

In 2008, one farm and a portion of another clost to the border of Etosha were bought by the government for resettlement purposes. It is intended to accommodate 200 Hai||om households there. The government furthermore plans to by some more farms for the Hai||om, all of them adjacent to Etosha National Park.

The documentation of Hai||om cultural heritage in Etosha National Park began in 1999 as a small collaborative project involving researchers from the University of Cologne, Germany, the University of Cambridge, England and a group of Hai||om elders. As the process gained momentum, it became formalized into the Xoms |Omis Project (Etosha Heritage Project), now managed through the Legal Assistance Centre in Windhoek. Through the support of international donors, the Xoms|Omis Project has aimed is to provide documentation of Hai||om cultural heritage and to deliver a unique body of cultural, historical and environmental knowledge. It is envisioned that this project will build capacity among the Hai||om people and provide a sustainable means of income generation.

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