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Entries about costume

To Damaraland

Namibia Days Seven and Eight


View Namibia road trip 2004 on ToonSarah's travel map.

We left Swakopmund after another of Sam’s great breakfasts (best Swiss muesli ever!) and drove north along the coast. At Henties Bay our route led inland, but we detoured a little further up the coast to get a quick look at the Cape Cross seal colony. The Cape Fur Seals that breed here are actually a species of Sea Lion. There are between 80,000 to 100,000 seals at Cape Cross! We only had time for a short stop but it was well worth the detour. Unfortunately though I don't have any digital photos of the seals (maybe my digital camera didn't have a good enough zoom?) and any slides I took are missing along with the rest from this trip. But this link will give you an idea of how crowded the beach is there: http://www.namibiahc.org.uk/perch/resources/pdf/cape-cross-brochure.pdf

Herero women

We drove back to Henties Bay and turned inland, regretting a bit that we hadn’t found time in our itinerary to continue further to the Skeleton Coast. But there was plenty to see on the route we had chosen and lots of fantastic sights ahead of us. Our drive took us through a region inhabited by the Herero people, and we saw a number of roadside stalls selling crafts, fruit and vegetables. We stopped by a couple and asked permission to take photos which was readily granted. As we didn’t want to buy any of their wares (the most popular item is a doll dressed in the traditional Herero costume), we offered a small tip instead, which was accepted with a smile.

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Herero women

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Herero souvenir stalls

Although this is not the case in every region where the Herero live, in this part of central Namibia their dress was heavily influenced by Western culture during the colonial period and today the women’s dresses still approximate the styles of clothing worn by their German colonisers. It may seem strange that they continue to follow a custom once forced upon them, and long after those enforcing it have dropped these styles, but nowadays it is part of their traditions, and they wear them with pride.

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Herero women
(taken by Chris)

But while the general shape of the dress harks back to colonial times, with a full floor-length skirt and puffed sleeves, the fabrics are definitely African in both their colours and prints. And the most distinctive feature of their costume is solely their own tradition – a horizontal horned headdress, known as the otjikaiva. The Herero are cattle farmers who measure their wealth in cattle, and this headdress is worn out of respect for the cows.

Twyfelfontein

Twyfelfontein means ‘doubtful fountain’, so-called because the natural spring in this valley proved too unreliable for the farmers who settled here in the mid 20th century. To the indigenous Damara this place is Uri-Ais, ‘jumping fountain’.

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Path to the rock art at Twyfelfontein

Today the valley is famous for its many rock paintings (petrographs) and rock engravings (petroglyphs). Most of the engravings and probably all the paintings were made by Stone-age hunter-gatherers, some as much as 6,000 years ago. Later the San people (also known as Bushmen) occupied the valley and added more petroglyphs.

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Rock art at Twyfelfontein

Most of the images are either of animals or are hunting scenes, with the hunters using bows and arrows. The animals depicted include many you would expect to see here – rhinos, antelopes, zebras, giraffes, lions etc. But rather more surprising is the presence of a seal, given that the sea is around 100 kilometres away. Those ancient hunter-gatherers must have got around!

Other images are of geometric shapes, and these are the ones added by the Bushmen. They may relate to their herder groups or to shamanist rituals. Some of the animal images too are thought to be related to such rituals, as they seem to depict the transformation of humans into animals.

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Rock art at Twyfelfontein

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The valley was declared a national monument in 1952 to prevent the theft of the petroglyphs and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. The site can only be visited with a local guide. Ours pointed out some of the best images, although we didn’t get to see the seal or any of the most famous shamanistic man-animals, which I only read about later. He also told us a bit about the history of the area and what the pictures tell us about the people who used to live there.

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Rock art at Twyfelfontein

Twyfelfontein Country Lodge

Our base for tonight was Twyfelfontein Country Lodge, very near the rock art site. Larger than the places we had stayed so far on the trip, it seemed to be popular with tour groups so as a couple travelling independently, we felt a little out of place. The dinner was served buffet style and was rather bland, in a partially open-air restaurant which was rather chilly, as was the bar – especially as we were the only people in the latter when we went for a post-dinner drink. Perhaps the tour groups were making their own amusements somewhere else?

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Twyfelfontein Lodge


On the plus side it had a small but very pleasant (if chilly) pool and by day-light the restaurant had great views over the surrounding countryside which we were able to enjoy the next morning from our breakfast table.

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Breakfast views

The Petrified Forest

Not far from Twyfelfontein is the Petrified Forest, our first stop after leaving the lodge. The name is a bit misleading as it is not exactly a forest which turned to stone, but rather a collection of enormous fossilized tree trunks about 280 million years old. It is thought that the trees were swept downstream by a large flood at the end of one of the Ice Ages and were covered by the alluvial sands also carried in the flood water. Without air the trees didn’t rot and decay, but instead, over millions of years, underwent silicification, whereby each cell is dissolved by silicic acid and replaced by quartz (silicic acid in its crystalline state). The surrounding sands meanwhile turned into sandstone, which has gradually been eroded away, exposing the trees.

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Petrified tree trunks

The tree trunks are scattered over a large area; some are pretty small, but others are huge – two of them are 45 metres long and 6 metres in circumference. They are estimated to be about 280 million years old. Altogether about 50 individual trees can be seen, some half buried on the rock or soil, others lying on the surface. There are also many small stones which, on close inspection, turn out to be petrified wood too.

This is also a good place to see the amazing Welwitschia Mirabilis plants. These are as amazing as the name suggests. An adult Welwitschia consists of two leaves, a stem base and roots. That is all! Its two permanent leaves are unique in the plant kingdom. They are the original leaves from when the plant was a seedling, and they just continue to grow and are never shed. They are leathery, broad, and lie on the ground becoming torn to ribbons and tattered with age. And boy do these plants age! Their estimated lifespan is 400 to 1500 years, while some of the larger specimens are thought to be 2000 years old. So these aren't the prettiest plants you'll see, but they are interesting and worth capturing on camera.

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Welwitschia and petrified tree trunk

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To our surprise there was no admission charge to visit the Petrified Forest (possibly that has changed since our visit), but as at Twyfelfontein hiring a guide was compulsory and of course you must tip them – they rely on these tips as their income. However, as we discovered, they can be quite creative in maximising that income:

Our guide told us about his life looking after elderly relatives on a farm a couple of miles away. He pointed out the farm and the rough walk he had to take to and from the house several times a day. As we walked and talked, he carved a Malakani nut. We’d been offered these elsewhere, and resisted, but this one was very well done, with a number of animals and my name, so we agreed to buy it in addition to giving him a good tip. When we returned to the car-park he took us aside to pay for the nut, away from the view of the official souvenir stall. And the spot he chose to complete the transaction was ...

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Chris with the guide, watching him carve the nut

... beside his own very good car. So much for the long daily walks in the hot sun! But it made a good story, and as I said, it was a beautifully carved nut, which still hangs in my kitchen to remind me of Namibia.

Our accommodation for the next two nights, Huab Lodge, lies almost directly north of Twyfelfontein and the Petrified Forest, but to reach it on roads suitable for our 2WD we had to take a more circuitous route, arriving mid-afternoon. But with so much to see and do at Huab, that is best left for my next entry ...

Posted by ToonSarah 08:26 Archived in Namibia Tagged art people desert culture history hotel plants africa namibia geology costume seals customs Comments (17)

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