(Michael Schnegg & Julia Pauli)

We met Otto /Uirab, one of the authors of this book, and his wife Manda after church service on one of our first weekends in Fransfontein, Namibia, in mid 2003. They both approached us and wanted to know what we were doing in their community. We told them that we were German anthropologists and came to study the culture and history of the people in Fransfontein and its surroundings. Otto gave us two pieces of information: firstly, that he had facsimiles of a book about the history of the Swartboois we should take a look at and secondly, that he had been conducting interviews himself with the elders of the community about their family histories. We asked him how he became interested in history. He evaded the question. Only much later he told us the story of his parents, his late father who was Damara and his mother who is a Swartbooi Nama, and how he got interested in family histories. He describes part of these motivations in chapter 1 and in his personal statement at the end of this book.

A few months after our first encounter with Otto and Manda, we drove with Jorries Seibeb, another author of this volume, through the commercial farmlands that surround Fansfontein. He turned to us and began imagining how a livestock farmer must feel if his animals have as much grazing as those we saw on the land along the roadside. He described the pain he experiences when he goes to his kraal and sees his thin goats and sheep. He envisioned becoming a teacher and investing his salary in a privately owned farm, like those he knew from European settlers in the area around Fransfontein.

At first glance these two ethnographic vignettes seem to be unrelated. However, both touch upon two salient aspects of everyday life in Fransfontein: ethnicity and land scarcity. The occupation of land through colonial powers and settlers led to land scarcity and the growth of multiethnic communities in central Namibia. Those consequences may easily be seen in family histories that show how people intermarry and/or have common descendents. Through intermarriages and living together in a common place the inhabitants started sharing norms, values and cultural practices. The aim of this book is to document that people share much more than separates them in their daily lives. We pursue this in an experimental and innovative way, combining the voices of inhabitants of Fransfontein and of us as outside observers.

Indigenous Ethnography

Within anthropology, there exists a long tradition of writing from the local population’s point of view. Famous Southern African examples are Marjorie Shostak’s 1981 book on the life of Nisa, a !Kung woman from Botswana, and Richard Werbner’s detailed social biography of a Zimbabwean family published in 1991. In general, one might say that to understand and analyse different perspectives is one of the great strengths of anthropology.
Going a step further, increasing numbers of anthropologists around the world have started to write, publish and edit together with local authors. It is beyond the scope of our introduction to give a more comprehensive account of this line of ethnographic writing. For our purpose, a few selected examples are sufficient to better understand the background of the Fransfontein project and book. One early and famous example of joint authorship of a local author and an anthropologist is the book of US-American anthropologist H. Russel Bernard and Jesús Salinas Pedraza, a bilingual Ñähñu schoolteacher from the Mezquital Valley in Central Mexico (1989). The book provides an in-depth account of the fauna, flora and religion of the Ñähñu culture of Central Mexico. Similar to Southern Africa, much indigenous Mexican knowledge is transmitted through oral traditions only and has not been written down. With their book, Bernard and Salinas Pedraza did not only want to collect a rich body of Ñähñu cultural knowledge but also intended to make it more widely available. Another example of joint work of local, indigenous authors and anthropological authors is Edward F. Fischer’s and R. McKenna Brown’s edited volume on Maya cultural activism in Guatemala (1996). In this volume, Mayan scholars wrote several chapters on different aspects of Mayan culture and rights. Other chapters were written by US-American and German anthropologists, historians and linguists.
For Namibia, German anthropologist Michael Bollig has collected and translated Himba oral traditions together with Tjakazapi Janson Mbunguha (1997). In his introduction Michael Bollig provides a brief overview of other Namibian historical project based on the participation of different local populations. Rudolf G. Britz, a school inspector and teacher from Rehoboth, has written a book on the Rehobother history until 1990 together with German anthropologist Hartmut Lang and German art historian Cornelia Limpricht (1999). When we started to work on the Fransfontein project these books were very important sources of inspiration.
Before we will outline the development and structure of our book in more detail, in the following chapter we will briefly describe the history of Fransfontein and its surroundings. The multiethnic living of today is a consequence of these past political and economic processes.

Early Settlement History in Fransfontein

Fig 1: Map of Central and Nothern Namibia
(Click to enlarge)
According to oral traditions the Swartbooi Nama (//Khau-/goan) arrived in the area of Fransfontein around 1880. As herders of south and central Namibia the Swartboois were among the first people in Namibia who came into contact with the Church Mission. The London Missionary Society built its first stations in Warmbad and Bethanien, north of the Oranje River (Bühler 2003). Missionary Hahn, who arrived in 1842 with Kleinschmidt for the German Rheinische Mission, estimated the size of the Swartboois at about 1.500 (Hahn cited in Lau 1987: 8). During the 1840s many Swartboois became sedentary and settled under the leadership of Willem Swartbooi (!Huiseb #Haobemab) in Rehoboth (/Anhes). The migration route from Rehoboth to Fransfontein is laid out in more detail in chapter 1. Rehoboth and the other central places mentioned in this book are shown in Figure 1.

Since the Swartboois decided to settle in Fransfontein, they made a petition to the Rheinische Mission in which they asked for a ‘teacher’. The Mission’s headquarter in Wuppertal (Germany) approved the request and missionary Riechmann arrived in Fransfontein on December 4th 1891 (Riechmann 1899: 7). Fransfontein as it exists today with its church, its houses, its garden, its fountain and the surrounding livestock posts emerged from this early alliance between the Swartboois Nama and the Lutheran Church.

One of the most outspoken advocates on the Damara history is Michael Duiseb, a teacher from Khorixas. He knows that Fransfontein’s true name was ”Anipira a he”, meaning ‘the place where the birds drink’ . When the birds sat in the trees it was not safe to go and fetch water at the fountain. Lions and cheetahs, the two most common predators, endangered the thirsty. This narration links the usage of the fountain with indigenous hunter/gatherers and pastoralists. The first German missionary, Heinrich Riechmann, equally connects an indigenous group to this place. According to Riechmann people he calls ”Bergdamara” (Damara of the hills) lived in the area around Fransfontein. The term ”Bergdamara” is one of the manifold names that have been used to describe the people who call themselves Damara today. In his chronicle, published eight years after the events, Riechmann describes how the earlier inhabitants of the larger Fransfontein area were resettled to Tsumamas, a fountain about 25 km east of Fransfontein. Like Fransfontein Tsumamas had and still has good soils for gardening and plenty of water (Riechmann 1899: 14 ff.).

Creeping occupation

Fig 2: Creeping occupation of land
(Click to enlarge)
According to oralIn 1905 Fransfontein was declared a reserve for Nama and Damara people (Odendaal 1964). At about the same time German settlers started to occupy the best farmlands between Fransfontein and Outjo. Many of those early settlers were former soldiers of the Deutsche Schutztruppe. Good soils and a large number of permanent fountains made farmland in the area between Outjo and Fransfontein a popular choice for the early colonizers.

Figure 2 shows the creeping occupation of land through the first three decades of the 20th century. The data were taken from farm maps that have been updated about every 10 years. They give no precise information as to how fast the land was settled after surveying but they do allow a first approximation of the process of land occupation. Significant parts of the farmland in the triangle between Outjo, Kamanjab, and Fransfontein were occupied during this period. It is not entirely clear when the land was really occupied and cultivated but presumably the new owners moved to their plots quite quickly after they had bought them.

Most people who had lived on those land were left with three alternatives: (1) to retreat to freehold land in the North and West, (2) to start a living as workers under the new landowners or (3) to move to Fransfontein or other reserves and cities. A first inspection of the church records that list the place where people where baptized for the first decades of the 20th century indicates that many people continued to settle in the same place and started to work for the new landowners. Live histories from the people in Fransfontein support this interpretation of the archival material. At the same time migration became a common response to the creeping occupation of land.

The immigration of Bantu-speaking communities in the 1930s

Not only between Fransfontein and Outjo was the land continuously occupied by European settlers. The same process forced a group of people who are described as Ovambo and accompanied by Ovaherero and others in the colonial records to leave Otjeru, a settlement between Outjo and Omaruru granted to them under German colonial rule (Miescher 2006). After vain attempts to stay in their place of residence they were finally informed in 1938 that they had to leave. According to oral traditions their captain, Lazarus Amporo, sent a message to Petrus Swartboois, the head of the Fransfontein Reserve Bord and leader of the Swartboois, asking to grant his people refuge in Fransfontein. In his message Amporo, who must have had contact with Petrus Swartboois before, asked for permission to settle in the area. The Captain was in favour of the idea but pointed out that the reserve would be too small for all of them. Petrus Swartboois made a petition to the colonial administration to significantly extend the boundaries of the Reserve.

The colonial archives tell a slightly different story. According to the written records the extension of the Fransfontein Reserve that was granted at about the same time but not to accommodate the ”Ovambo” settlers but to make space for Nama from Grootfontein and Walvis Bay. The friendly welcoming of Amporo is reflected by his appointment as a member of the Reserve Board in which he represented the newcomers. Through the migration of the Bantu-speaking people under Amporo’s leadership Fransfontein further extended its status as a multiethnic community. The Bantu speaking arrivals mostly settled on posts south of Fransfontein, as oral histories and an inspection of the gravestones reveal.

The !Ganeb Migration

Petrus Swartbooi is remembered as an integrative leader by many Swartboois. Under his long captainship the Reserve grew to become a truly multiethnic community. One of the families that arrived and settled during this time was the family of Petrus !Ganeb, which considers itself as Damara. The newly settled post was named !Ganeb Pos (today also called Tsaurob, meaning ‘the small water hole’) and borders Fransfontein to the North. It is not entirely clear when they arrived in the area, most likely in the beginning of the 1940s. Schmidt, who collected oral histories and fairy tales among the Damara in the 1980s, published an account of a girl that had lived on !Ganeb Pos at that time.

Ethnic Heterogeneity

At the end of these different immigration processes – often forced through the colonial occupation of land – Fransfontein had become a multiethnic community in the 1940s. Another extension of this process can be located in the late 1960s and 1970s with the implementation of the so called ‘Odendaal plan’. The plan is named after F.H. Odendaal who served as chairman of the “Commission of Enquiry into South West African Affairs”. In 1964 the commission came to the conclusion that it would be in the best interest of different ethnic groups if they would reside in so called ‘homelands’ where they could develop independently. The Plan was a milestone in Apartheid politics. Fransfontein became part of the so called Bantustan ‘Damaraland’ and many Damara people from different parts of the country were resettled or migrated to the area.

Today about 700 adult people live in Fransfontein and the cattle posts that surround it. The comparable small number of people was supposedly the major factor that increased the likelihood of interethnic marriages and sexual relationships. A census conducted with 329 households in Fransfontein and its hinterlands revealed that 52.6 % of the children (N = 398) have parents who perceive themselves as belonging to different ethnic groups (Pauli 2005). The aim of this book is to describe these linkages and their consequences for everyday live.

History of the Project

In the first paragraphs we have mentioned how the idea for this collaboration came into being: through a common interest to study the past of the community through family histories. After Otto /Uirab had shown us the information he had already collected and transcribed in notebooks we discussed whether he would be interested to enter the information into the computer and to build a graphical representation of the family tree. He was enthusiastic and we started to teach Francois Dawids, who was already working with us entering survey data, to use a commercial genealogy software (Family Tree Maker) to manage the information.
In late 2004 we were invited to present some of this work at the international conference “A Homecoming of Rock Art” in Windhoek in April 2005, organized by our colleague from the German ACACIA project Dr. Tilman Lenssen-Erz. We accepted the invitation and asked our long term assistant Jorries Seibeb whether he would be interested to join the team. Their presentation on “Family histories and migration in Fransfontein” became one of the highlights of the conference. People liked especially that they focussed on similarities rather than differences between people with different ethnic backgrounds. Encouraged by this attention we started to seek additional funding to explore more specifically the cultural consequences of living together in terms of sharing norms and cultural practises.

Support from Jutta Vogel Foundation

This funding was granted by Jutta Vogel Foundation, whose most important objective is the preservation of cultures in the deserts of Africa. With the support from the foundation we were able to extend the team of local researchers by two more members: Titus Kaumunika and Fiona Ilonga. Fiona Ilonga is a descendent of the Bantu speaking people that came to Fransfontein in the 1930s described above, and Titus was born and raised in a largely Herero speaking community close to Windhoek. Their participation extended the view on the subject significantly.

Outline of the Books

The first section of the book “The Present in the Past: Fransfontein Family Histories” explores the histories and the migration patterns of two families. In the first chapter “The Question Is: Who Am I” Otto /Uirab hints at some of the most important stages of the long and complex migration of the Swartboois Nama whose descendent he is. Likewise, Jorries Seibeb describes in the chapter “A Close Knit Group” the history of his family that had to move equally frequently due to changing ecological and political circumstances. The second section of the book deals with “Everyday Living” and shared cultural practices in the daily lives of the people. The first two chapters deal with the sharing of food. Otto /Uirab explores in “A culture of sharing” how people have shared food in the past and how they continue to do so today. Jorries Seibeb and Francois Dawids document in “Food preparation in Fransfontein” what products the people in Fransfontein consume and how they prepare them. The next two chapters deal with two important economic activities: building houses and keeping livestock. Titus Kaumunika lays out how the people in Fransfontein keep domestic animals and Otto /Uirab shows how houses have been built in the past and how they are built today. The next two papers deal with health and beauty. Titus Kaumunika investigates the use of herbal medicines and Fiona Ilonga examines cosmetics and concepts of beauty. The third section describes important life cycle rituals. The chapter “The First Hair Cut” by Titus Kaumunika and Fiona Ilonga explores the widespread practices of the first haircut ritual. Francois Dawids chapter on “Fransfontein Marriages” gives an in-depth account of common engagement and marriage rituals.
We have decided to write the book in English, which is the official Namibian language since Independence in 1990. However, all chapters provide lists of the most important semantic concepts in Khoekhoegowab and Herero. Khoekhoegowab is not only spoken by Damara and Nama in Fransfontein but can be considered as the lingua franca in the area.
Sharing has been a central topic for all of the participants of the project. Living together, the title of our book, highlights the importance of sharing in the everyday experiences. Sharing creates similarity and eventually leads to feelings of belonging and identity. All too often, this important dimension of human living is not taken into account enough. Instead, differences are highlighted. Here, we have focused on similarities within one specific historical and political setting. We believe that our results demonstrate the value of such an approach. And we hope that our book might encourage other multiethnic communities to look at their own histories of living together and cultural sharing.


Bernard, H.R., and J. Salinas Pedraza. 1989. Native ethnography: a Mexican Indian describes his culture. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Bollig, M., and T.J. Mbunguha. 1997. "When war came the cattle slept." Himba oral traditions. History, cultural traditions, and innovations in Southern Africa; vol. 1. Koln: R. Koppe.

Britz, R.G., L. Hartmut, and C. Limpricht. 1999. A concise history of the Rehoboth Basters until 1990. Windhoek: Klaus Hess Publishers.

Bühler, A. 2003. Der Namaaufstand gegen die deutsche Kolonailherrschaft in Namibia vom 1904-1913. Frankfurt: IKO Verlag.

Fischer, E.F., and R.M. Brown. 1996. Maya cultural activism in Guatemala, 1st edition. Critical reflections on Latin America series. Austin: University of Texas Press Institute of Latin American Studies.

Lau, B. 1987. Southern and central Namibia in Jonker Afrikaner's time. Windhoek: National Archives Dept. of Nat. Education.

Miescher, G. 2006. The Ovambo Reserve Otjeru (1911-1938). The Story of an African Community in Central Namibia. Basler Afrika Bibliographien.

Odendaal. 1964. Report of the commission of enquiry into South West African Affairs 1962-1963. Pretoria: Government Printer, Republic of South Africa.

Pauli, J. 2005. "Kulturelle Diversität in der Gestaltung demographischer Prozesse. Erkenntnisse aus einer multiethnischen Region Namibias." Paper Presentet at the University of Cologne, 10.6.2005.

Riechmann, A. 1899. Unter den Swartboois auf Franzfontein. Ein Beitrag zur Missions und Kolonialgeschichte Süd-Afrikas. Barmen: Verlag des Missionshauses.

Shostak, M., and Nisa. 1981. Nisa, the life and words of a!Kung woman. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Werbner, R. 1991. Tears of the dead: the social biography of an African family. International African library. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

 Designed with Free CSS Templates