Monday, March 9, 2009

Some of the tribes in Khorixas

For quite a number of days I’ve been wanting to describe the groups of people we treat in Khorixas, and when sweating in bed, trying to fall asleep, I’ve thought a good deal about it.

I have to admit to considerable ignorance about Africa. I thought that talking about “tribes” was a politically incorrect way of referring to people here. It is certainly incorrect in the sense of tribes, sitting around the tom-toms and so on. But there are tribes here, and can be distinguished by language, dress and to a certain extent features. There are 11 groups of languages in Namibia, but lots more dialects than that I’m assured! In Khorixas you would do well to know 5. : Herero, Damara, Oshivambo, English and Africaans. (And I thought I was fancy knowing 3) Our Nigerian colleague described the importance of tribes: when you are out of Nigeria, everyone is just Nigerian, but if you return to your country, all of a sudden tribal relationships become extremely important.

Damara is a click language (there are 4 groups of clicking languages in Southern Africa). And our dialect is Damara/Nama. If I ever get organised I’ll get a teacher, but I’m picking up words. “Please” and “Thankyou” have no clicks, nor does “cough” or “epilepsy”. “Breathe” does. Typically the Damara have orangey coloured skin, with freckles, almond eyes (shape, not colour), high cheek bones. They are one of the San (used to be known as bushmen) tribes. Despite the mythology that goes with the San, I’ve not been witness to anything mythic yet. I love to listen to the nurses and patients talk, and wonder how my information about things gets translated (is there a word for antibiotic? Peptic ulcer?)

The Herero are traditionally herders: cows and goats. They measure their wealth in cows. 100 years ago they adopted Victorian/German attire and so wear long dresses with petticoats, aprons over the top. You could think of Anne of Green Gables, (even puffed sleeves!). Often it’s made of a patchwork material. And on their heads! I have no idea how it’s made; a sort of twisting of material creating horns on either side of the top of the head. It’s a bit fierce.

Both of these populations are minorities in Namibia, but quite common in Khorixas. The Oshivambo, on the other hand are a majority tribe. They come mostly from the north, and are the tribe that really spearheaded Swapo (the "rebellion" that made Namibia an independent country, and now has a majority rule)

I’ve just watered my herb garden, my seeds have just germinated, and I’m typing under the lovely double mosquito net Doreen gave us. It really could be worse.


  1. Dearest Mark and Alice - I've finally worked my way to here. How marvelous to get your news.

    I'm well, batching it while Susan is in Norway. Managed to ice climb last week, however, now have to take it easy as a tendon in my groin is still sore! To anxious to get well.

    Much love , Hugh

  2. TMI, Papicito!

    Glad to see you are getting your bearings.