Hardap - Rich in Nama History

Photo: Chloe Durr

Hardap - Rich in Nama History

03 August 2020 | Tourism

My coastal journey from “Cape to |Karas” has made me increasingly passionate about seeking added experiences to my adventures.

By Chloe Durr

While exploring the Namaqualand and traversing the Richtersveld I was introduced to the ancestral lineage of the Nama - the only true descendants of the Khoikhoi people of Southern Africa. They migrated across the Orange River in the time between the 1840’s and 1850’s, originally settling at Gibeon (Khaxa-tsûs) as from 1863. Culture clearly transcends colonial borders and I am intrigued to continue unpacking the history of Namibia’s people.

Day 1: !Goregu-ra-Abes and much more

Leaving Windhoek and setting off south on a beautifully tarred road, my mind wandered to the treasures that lay ahead waiting to be discovered by me in this arid land and its expansive planes that stretch to the hills and mountains on the horizon. Passing though the main towns, it seemed natural to slow down to give cognizance to the enfolding complexity of the cultural history and the heritage of Namibia’s Hardap Region.

Along the road you will encounter displays of “Karosse”, hung over the fences and offered for sale along the road near the Duineveld Tannery, 20 kilometers from Kalkrand. They range from circular shaped rugs, cushions, handbags and aprons, all made of Springbok hide. I stopped to chat to Anelé and Elma Cloete, who run a small family business in a makeshift tent next to the road. Shielded from the scorching heat, wearing a Voortrekker-style Kappies, symbolic for their Baster heritage, Elma proudly showed me into their factory. A handful of men and women were sitting, patch working pieces of tanned springbok hide, obtained from local farmers and the tannery, producing attractive mats and cushions to be sold to visitors. Assumed to be a traditional craft of the Baster Community - the “Volk” (as they like to refer to themselves) migrated from South Africa to Namibia as from 1869 to settle in Rehoboth in 1870 - I was reminded of the origins of the “Karosse”: a sleeveless cloak made from animal hide worn by the indigenous Khoikhoi and San people of Southern Africa.

Passing through Mariental (capital of the Hardap Region), I stopped at the Hardap Dam, which is the largest Dam in Namibia and supplies water to the whole of the region. The dam is impressive in size and somewhat pink in color on account of the mud brought along by inflows. Here you can enjoy birdwatching (particularly the Great White Pelican), swimming, fishing (permit required), and if you own a boat, this dam lends itself to water skiing. Part of Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), the resort and restaurant have only recently been refurbished.

Continuing along the B1, I eventually passed a powdery pink railway station before reaching the exit to Gibeon - the Nama capital of Namibia. The significance of Gibeon lies in its historic landmarks hidden in the valley, including the Gibeon Fountain, !Goregu-ra-Abes, discovered in 1961 by Captain Cupido (Kido) Witbooi (founder of the Witbooi Clan of the Nama, the Rhenish Mission Station, the remnants of the Lutheran Church, a reminder of the bygone colonial era, but more significant is the Gibeon Cemetery, where the legendary Nama Chief, Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi, was laid to rest alongside his people. Hendrik Witbooi is one of Namibia’s national heroes and is regarded as the first African leader to resist European Colonialism as from the late 19th Century. His recognizable fierce expression and signature white hat is commemorated with sculptures erected around Namibia and even printed on the Namibian currency notes.

Gibeon is set on a scrubby plane. You are welcomed by the sound of Sokkie music and Nama Stap/Riel dancing reverberating in this plane. As I wandered through the dusty streets, I struck up a conversation with Lucia and Susan Basson, who emerged from the Los-Lappie Church on their way home. The previously round, beehive-shaped, traditional rush-mat Nama dwelling, designed to suit the traditionally pastoral and nomadic lifestyle of the Nama - known as Oms-Haru also |Haru-Oms or Matjieshuis in Afrikaans -, has been replaced by modern materials. Their home is square in shape and more permanent in structure, with multiple rooms housing generations of their family. The natural materials of woven rush mats have been replaced with flattened colorful galvanized iron sheets in a “patchwork style”, reminiscent of the patchwork dresses (Lappiesrokke) typically worn by Nama women. Dry tree branches, painted and decorated with rusty tin mugs, marked the entryway to their home. Prickly !Nara melons (a Nama delicacy) lay in the scorching heat in the yard.

Music, poetry and storytelling are very important in the Nama culture and many traditions have been passed down orally for generations. And so I sat inside the “skerm”, a detached cooking area surrounded by a wrought iron windbreak, listening to the Basson family’s stories whilst watching Susan cook a goat stew in a three-legged potjie pot over an open fire. In order to keep Nama traditions alive and preserve its identity, there is an annual festival held in Keetmanshoop which showcases and celebrates Nama traditions. Traditional music, spoken-word poetry, off-beat “Nama Stap” dancing, storytelling as well as Nama cuisine and crafts are on offer during the festival. The four-day festival attracts mainly Nama speaking people from Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, but is also a great way for tourists to familiarize themselves with Nama culture.

High on the infectious spirit of the people, who reside in this friendly little town, I made my exit. Leaving Gibeon you might decide to break your journey and stay at one of the many lodges and campsites in the area or venture onwards to the Fish River Canyon and surrounds, or you might chose to explore the archaeological wonder of the Tirasberge as I did. Technically not part of the Hardap Region, the Tirasberge Mountains lie on the fringes of the Namib Desert and stand as the “Rose-Gold Gates to the Hardap Region” - four different landscapes, all ecologically beautiful and geologically unique clash here and make the 240 kilometer detour well worth the while.

As if on cue, golden hour set fire to the rich red granite rock faces and barren desert-scape of the Namtib area. Little ant mounds, reminiscent of the shape of traditional Nama dwellings scattered the plane and tufts of golden yellow grass glistened in the light. We set up camp under the shade of a pink peppercorn tree, nestled in the red granite boulders of Tiras Guest Farm.

Day 2: Tiras and surrounds

Infused with the aroma of sweet, spicy peppercorns I set off at sunrise on a private nature drive with Anita Koch, owner of Tiras Guest Farm. Anita is a minefield of information and leaves no stone unturned in unpacking the history, geology and biodiversity of her 12 000 hectare farm, including farming with cattle in this arid region. Interesting rock formations and perfectly spherical boulders perched precariously atop craggy rock faces surrounded the expansive vlei. Anita taught me how to play music on iron boulders, showed me artefacts, stone tools and relics found on the farm, and took me to the site where evidence of San Bushmen from 300 or more years can be found. Tiras Guest Farm offers you an unpretentious, authentically Namibian experience by way of camping in the private valley of the Kleintirasberge or staying at the Tiras Guest House (the original farmhouse).

Guided by the color changing sands of the C13 I arrived at Helmeringhausen to fuel up and enjoy a cup of coffee at the Helmeringhausen Hotel before departing to unveil the mirage of Duwisib Castle. You may prefer the alternative route, by following the D707, which winds through the Tiras Mountains and is regarded as one of the most beautiful routes in Namibia.

A military style, pseudo-medieval looking castle is the last thing you would expect to find in the middle of the Namib Desert. Duwisib stands like a sore thumb in the barren landscape, but holds eccentricities that make travels in Namibia so fascinating. German Baron, Captain Hans Heinrich, who was stationed here with his wealthy American bride, Jayta Humphreys, in then German South West Africa during the German-Nama-Wars in the early 1900’s, built Duwisib Castle with the dream to breed stallions in the desert.

The logistically challenging and labor-intensive build was completed in just two years, an amazing feat when you consider the intricate craftsmanship that details the castle inside and out. Stonemasons and artisans were hired from around the world to bring this “gift of love” to life. Locally sourced red sandstone makes up the exterior walls of the castle, while ornately carved wooden furnishings, imported from Germany, shipped to Lüderitz Harbor and transported 300 km by ox wagon through the Namib Desert, fill the 22 rooms. The “African Dream” came to a tragic end at the start of WW1, when Captain Hans Heinrich was killed at the Battle of Somme, and Baroness Jayta Humphreys returned to America.

Today the castle is a National Monument and a Living Museum that houses an impressive collection of 18th- and 19th-century antiques, historical portraits, family photographs, and beautifully frescoed wallpaper that transports you to an era of opulence during the Namibian diamond rush. The recently renovated rooms in the courtyard of Duwisib Castle offer guests the opportunity to experience a comfortable night in History, or alternatively camp on the castle grounds.

If time is on your side, I would head to the Namib Rand Family Hideout (73km east of Duwisib Castle) - an eco-friendly farmhouse on one of the largest privately-owned reserves in the world, and the only International Dark Sky Reserve in Africa.

Day 3: “For Fox Sake Slow Down”

Sesriem and Sossusvlei have previously been extensively covered in editions of the Tourismus Namibia magazine, so I opted to head straight on to my next destination inside the pristine Gondwana Namib Park. Immersed sensitively into the natural environment, The Desert Grace shines as an Eco-lodge built from desert sand and clay found in the area. Interlinking pathways made of concrete and crushed bottles create a galaxy on the ground when lit up at night, reflecting the canopy of stars overhead. The wave-like structure of the lodge mirrors the adjacent “Namib Sand Sea”, each room looks like a ship sailing on the sands of time. Entering this resort, the understated facade of the lodge is misleading as the attention to detail in this establishment is nothing short of amazing. Subtle touches of pink are the signature of The Desert Grace, inspired by the tapestry of pink hues reflected on the dunes at sundown.

Shielded from the scorching sun by a dusty pink umbrella I was shown to my room, and I spent the rest of the afternoon wallowing in my private plunge pool (part of each room). In the late afternoon, I set off with ranger David de Klerk on a sunset dune drive in the Gondwana Namib Park. We visited a petrified dune, stopped to admire wildlife, lost count of the fairy circles and after an exhilarating roller coaster ride, we arrived for sundowners at a pink table on the crest of a dune, where we raised a glass of pink G&T to the last rays of the sun. Slowly the color of the landscape began to transform, revealing the pink inspiration of The Desert Grace. A road sign reminding visitors to “for fox sake slow down” began to make sense - taking the time to slow down and absorb the surroundings is worth every penny.

After a delicious meal, including the tastiest homemade ice cream and a nightcap at the spectacular “One Night in Namibia” Bar, I headed to bed to dream in this Pink Heaven.

Day 4
A sea of blooming lillies
Unsurprisingly, given the rough gravel roads, my departure was delayed by a flat tyre. Thankfully, I was spared the task of changing the tyre, as I was allowed to enjoy the breakfast buffet with tantalizing pancakes, while a ranger kindly replaced the tyre. After a detour to Solitaire for fuel, and obviously a slice of apple pie from the legendary McGregor’s Bakery, I drove back in a south-easterly direction towards Maltahöhe, drawn by the mystical allure of the Sandhof Lilies.

Once a year, and only after good summer rainfall above 30cm, the clay pan of Sandhof Farm erupts into a field of pink and white lilies as far as the eye can see. The lilies bloom for up to seven days, transforming from hues of pink to white before withering away into the desert once more.

With rose-tinted glasses, a lily-scented dust trail, and Nama stories turning in my brain, I drove the gravel C21 road back to Kalkrand, and then on to Windhoek, all the way smiling because I had found the treasures hidden in the spaces and in the places between the hills on the horizon!

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