“The Etosha Pan has been called many things: the Great White Place, the Big Emptiness... but the Hai||om call it the Lake of a Mother’s Tears. A mother who has lost a child will feel such grief that she will cry enough tears to fill the pan,” a park ranger tells me. “This isn’t just part of our history; it is part of our souls.”
Moments like these, when personal stories of the people who once lived in Etosha come alive, are scarce and far in the past. Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s most remarkable game reserves, offering visitors the chance to view herds of game against the dazzling backdrop of a vast, shallow pan of silvery sand. The area south of the Great White Place, where tourist routes and lodges are situated, was once the homeland of the Hai||om, an indigenous San or Bushmen community recently recognized as the oldest humans on Earth.
For the Hai||om, the past is disappearing at a frantic pace. Days when the elders would to sit around the fire and tell stories are quickly disappearing. However, there is reason for hope on the horizon. Worried that their cultural history may die with them, the elders of the Hai||om community partnered with international researchers to establish the Xoms |Omis Project (Etosha Heritage Project). The aim of the project is to capture and document the Hai||om cultural heritage and deliver a unique body of cultural, historical and environmental knowledge.
The Hai||om have acquired an incredible knowledge about biodiversity; the use of various plants as food and medicine; and the behavior of game in the region. Much of this knowledge has been documented through the Xoms |Omis project and is now passed on to the younger generations through workshops and joint activities.
Born in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om is the first publication to pay homage to the forgotten cultural history of the National Park. Designed to accompany the reader on a journey through Etosha, the book reincorporates the culture and history of 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. “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.
A series of products based on Hai||om heritage and knowledge have also been developed, such as postcards and ‘Born in Etosha’ t-shirts, allowing visitors a chance to take part in the remarkable project.
For more information about the Xoms |Omis Project, or order your copy of Born in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om here.