21 November 2012

Namibia: Etosha Hai//Om?s Future in Balance

AS a children's book on the Hai//om in Etosha was launched last week, the future of the Hai//om people in the park remain unclear.

This is the opinion of the author of 'Born in Etosha – Living and Learning in the Wild', Ute Dieckmann, who said that the San group was not consulted in the planning and decision-making process regarding the tourism concession agreement signed with the government.

“Government is aware that it cannot forcefully remove the Hai//om out of Etosha as was done in 1954. However, it gets increasingly difficult for younger Hai//om who were born in Etosha to get permanent employment within the park and thus to stay on their ancestral land,” said Dieckmann at the launch of the book last week.

In a moving and emotional tribute to Kadisen //Khumub, who was one of the core team of Hai//om elders who provided indigenous knowledge of the San group who lived in Etosha, Dieckmann said //Khumub's dream was to preserve his dying culture and traditions for future generations by at the very least establishing a Hai//om lodge at !Gobaub, a famous waterhole in the south of the park.

But this dream has not yet been realised and is “weakened”, although members of the Xoms /Omis – or Etosha Heritage – Project are still pursuing it to preserve, protect, and promote the cultural and environmental heritage of the park and its surroundings.

Dieckmann said //Khumub would always wonder why there cannot be affirmative action for the Hai//om from Etosha to work there as a place where they belong.

During the former apartheid regime, //Khumub had said, the Hai//om got employment in the park because it was accepted that they belonged there.

The Hai//om are still the only people who are allowed to bury their dead in the park, but Dieckmann said under the current management of Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), “things are changing and mostly outsiders are getting jobs in Etosha.

Another concern is that only the Hai//om on resettlement farms were granted the concession, which Dieckmann said could be viewed as “blackmailing the Hai//om to move out and losing their traditional home and their culture”.

The fear is that Government wants to “confine” the great cultural heritage of the Hai//om in the Etosha to a small area around !Gobaub and to “erase” the Hai//om history and connections to the land of Etosha from the rest of the park.

“In the name of Kadisen, I ask why can't Namibia benefit from the rich cultural heritage in Etosha? Why can't the human dimension of Etosha supplement the image of Etosha as a place of the animals? Why can't jobs be created within Etosha for the Hai//om to perform cultural activities, and to illustrate their former sustainable use of resources to tourists as done in many other parks around the world?” asked Dieckmann.

The book, she said, was a small contribution to realise the dream of the Hai//om in the park.

In writing the book, Dieckmann collaborated with five elders, of which //Khumub was one. Other members of this group, who have since died, were Hans Haneb, Jacob !Uibeb, and Willem Dauxab. The only remaining member of the group is Jan Tsumib, who attended the book launch.

“We will not give up until we get what belongs to us,” Tsumib said.

The book covers the history of the Hai//om in the park, and explains their use of natural resources for sustenance and healing, as well as the rich culture of the Hai//om.

The book was produced by the Xoms /Oms Project with the assistance of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC).

It will be distributed to schools in and around Etosha to give Hai//om children written documentation of their cultural history.

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