“Beware of falling meteorites.” The warning on a sign next to the way to the meteorite on the farm Hoba, some 20 km west of Grootfontein, is a joke of course. It is almost 80,000 years since a meteorite last fell from the sky and hit this spot. But there is a grain of truth in the banter: according to estimates earth is hit by approximately 500 meteorites per year. Most of them are rather small, however, their size ranging from that of a glass marble to that of a basketball, and for the most part they go unnoticed. The Hoba meteorite, on the other hand, is a chunky fragment weighing tons. It is likely to have caused a violent tremor when it crashed into the ground…. Click here to continue reading this story
Archive for the ‘Stamps and Stories’ Category
Posted in Stamps and Stories, tagged earth, gondwana collection, gondwana stamps and stories, Grootfontein, history, hoba meteorite, meteorites, namibia, science, stamps and stories, vacation on August 3, 2012| Leave a Comment »
Posted in Stamps and Stories, tagged climate, devils claw, gondwana, gondwana collection, harpagophytum procumbens, harvesting devil's claw, healing plants, kalahari sand, kalahari sands, Kamangu, namibia, nature, science, travel on July 27, 2012| Leave a Comment »
Kalahari’s sands harbour unusual treasure. The Devil’s Claw is one such gem, known to indigenous people for centuries for its medicinal properties. Although its name stems from the claw-like hooks of the thorny fruit, it is the secondary tubers of the Harpagophytum procumbens that are harvested for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
One of Namibia’s most famous plants, Devil’s Claw, called Kamangu by many ethnic groups, is known traditionally as an all-purpose tonic, assisting with ailments such as chest pains, emaciation, weakness, fatigue, urinary problems, digestive disorders and fever. The infusion is also taken as an analgesic, especially during pregnancy, and an ointment is applied to heal sores, ulcers and boils. It has become well-known in the western world in the last fifty years as a treatment for rheumatism and arthritis.
The creeping perennial with grey-green leaves and tubular mauve flowers that appear from November onwards is endemic to southern Africa, growing predominantly in the Kalahari sands of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. It belongs to the Pedaliaceae family. The fruit is dispersed by attaching to animals’ fur and the seeds may remain dormant for decades. The cassava-like secondary roots are sliced and dried for medicinal purposes. Traditionally, an infusion is made by mixing the powdered material with boiling water. Capsules, tablets, tinctures and ointments are also now available.
In the 1950s, the medicinal value of Harpagophytum was recognised by a German farmer in Namibia and the first major commercial export of Devil’s Claw began in the 1960s. The international demand increased in the 1990s. Today, Namibia is responsible for a large percentage of the supply of Devil’s Claw, which is mostly wild-harvested by rural people. Devil’s Claw was listed as a protected species in Namibia in 1977 and permits are required to harvest and import the plant. Thousands of harvesters living in remote rural areas rely on the harvesting of Devil’s Claw as their sole cash income.
A large amount of Devil’s Claw is harvested in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in eastern Namibia. The conservancy works closely with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to ensure the sustainability of Devil’s Claw. In the last few years, NGO funding enabled the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNDFN) to work with the Centre for Research Information Action in Africa – Southern African Development and Consulting (CRIAA SA-DC) to introduce and implement a sustainable harvesting programme. This also ensures quality of the product and prevents exploitation of the harvesters.
There is concern that Devil’s Claw is threatened by over-utilisation. Studies reveal a need for harvesting to be controlled and restricted to certain months of the year, so as not to disturb the plant during the growing season. It has also been ascertained that although the secondary tubers can be harvested, the primary tap roots must not be disturbed to allow plant regeneration and population growth, ensuring Devil’s Claw survival. Harvesting quotas and long-term monitoring of this valuable resource, which lies so unassumingly on the desert sands, are also recommended.
Resembling a weed, Devil’s Claw could easily be overlooked without its beneficial properties ever being realised. Thanks to indigenous peoples, like the San, we have been made aware of the untold treasures of the natural world.
Posted in Stamps and Stories, tagged ancient hunting bow, calabash, drilling holes, gondwana collection, hunting bow, music instrument namibia, musical bows, namibia, National Museum of Namibia, omaoloolo grass, Swakopmund Museum, travel on July 23, 2012| Leave a Comment »
The curved bow is made from a branch of the omuhongo tree (Spirostachys africana), while the string is made from sinew or wire. The bow and the string are braced together by a small piece of string whereby the string is pulled closer to the bow stave and is divided into two lengths. The resonator, which usually consists of a hollow calabash, is fastened in the center of the bow or closer to one side. It has a large hole on the one side and a tiny hole on the other, through which it is fastened to the bow. A small cloth pad is sometimes placed between the bow and the calabash to prevent rattling. A cracked calabash resonator can be mended by neatly drilling holes along the crack and sewing over the crack with sinew.
When played, the bow is usually held horizontally with the string facing away from the player. The bow stave and the open end of the resonating chamber are pressed firmly against the chest with the left hand while the string is played by striking it with a stalk of omaoloolo grass or a small wooden stick held in the right hand. Pressing the string with the first finger produces different tones, while the thumb nail works as a stop. Increasing or decreasing the pressure of the calabash against the chest can also change tones. By moving the brace slightly with the small finger ‘fine-tuning’ is achieved. The okambulumbumbwa is played by men only and is always used singly, accompanying a deep vocal drone produced by the player. Three or four different notes can be played on the instrument, and the rhythm can also vary. Although the sound is not very loud, it can be heard some distance away.
Another musical bow, played by women, is the so-called okayaya. The bow of the instrument is shaped like a hacksaw and it has notches cut into it. The string usually consists of a piece of palm leaf which is secured at the one end to the bow by a knot, while the other end is wound around the protruding point of the bow stave a few times until the tension is correct. During a culture festival in 1976 it was observed that the player had wound the end of the palm leaf around her thumb instead. The bow is played with a small stick, which is scraped across the notches. The mouth serves as resonator.
An unusual musical instrument, the so-called ekola, was only known from the AaKwanyama, where it was played by medicine men. It consisted of two or four hollow calabashes, which were glued together in sequence from big to small to form the resonating chamber. The largest calabash had a hole at the top. A curved stick of palm rib, which was notched, extended over the length of the calabashes. The sound was produced by rubbing across the notches with a short thick stick and a bundle of long very thin sticks alternately. Before 1940, the National Museum of Namibia managed to obtain a fine example of the ekola, consisting of four calabashes, which unfortunately became damaged. Another example with two calabashes can be viewed in the Swakopmund Museum. Other musical instruments used among the AaWambo include the big and smaller drums carved from wood of the omunghete tree, lamellophones, kudu horns blown during rites as well as gourd and ankle rattles.
Posted in Stamps and Stories, tagged african fish eagle, animals, black eagle, gondwana, gondwana collection, large african eagle, namibia, namibian eagles, nature, rock hyrax, small antelopes, stamps and stories, travel, Verreaux’s eagle on July 13, 2012| Leave a Comment »
The black eagle or Verreaux’s eagle, as it’s officially called, is one of four large African eagle species – the others being the martial eagle, crowned eagle and our national bird, the African fish eagle – each specializing in a different ecosystem.
This king of the skies inhabits mountains, hills, cliffs and broken rocky habitats throughout southern and eastern Africa, from Table Mountain to Israel, excluding the Kalahari basin. There are about 500 to 1000 pairs of black eagles in Namibia, from the cliffs of the Orange and Fish rivers and the Karas Mountains in the south through the western escarpment belt, the Khomas Hochland, the Waterberg, Kaokoveld and to the Kunene River in the north.
Verreaux’s eagle, Aquila verreauxii, has a wingspan of about 2 m and like most birds of prey (‘raptors’) the female (±4.5 kg) is larger than the male (±3.7 kg). One of the reasons for this may be because smaller males are more agile and proficient hunters, while females need a good supply of body fat reserves to incubate eggs and brood small nestlings for long periods.
The eagle’s main prey is the rock hyrax or dassie. In some areas where hyrax are plentiful and readily accessible they may comprise 90% or more of the eagle’s diet while in other areas they comprise as little as 50%, with other medium sized mammals (e.g. hares, rabbits, small antelopes) and medium to large birds (e.g. guineafowl, francolin and bustards) making up the balance. Verreaux’s eagle will also scavenge. It sits imperiously on top of a carcass which, if it is a sheep, leads farmers to assume that the eagle killed the animal.
Seven such incidents were investigated with farmers and in six it was found that the sheep died of other causes, mainly predation by domestic dogs, birth problems or disease. In the 1970s and early 1980s farmers in the Karas Mountains, because of perceptions of small-stock predation, largely eliminated Verreaux’s eagles from the area. This resulted in an explosion of rock hyrax, which ventured out far from their rocky areas over the plains where they competed with small-stock for grazing. (Twelve hyrax eat the same amount of grass as one karakul sheep.) Once the Karas farmers understood this they started protecting Verreaux’s eagles and today the Karas Mountains once again supports a healthy population of this magnificent eagle.
The nest is a large stick platform lined with green leaves, usually built high on a ledge on a sheer cliff face, safe from baboons. Verreaux’s eagles are monogamous, forming lifelong pair bonds, and are territorial, defending their home range. Breeding starts in late April and May with spectacular courtship flights and displays. The peak egg-laying season in Namibia is June and most clutches comprise two eggs. The eggs usually hatch 2-3 days apart after an incubation period of 45 days.
On hatching, one of the most interesting biological events takes place. The first chick to hatch, which is larger and more developed, attacks the second in what has become known as the Cain and Abel struggle. Reasons suggested for this are that the second egg serves as a reserve in case the first is infertile and that one fit young eagle has a better chance of surviving and ultimately rearing offspring than two less fit young eagles. The fledgling leaves the nest for the first time at about 95 days after hatching, and is chased from the territory about 30 days later.
Verreaux’s Eagle is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the Namibian Red Data list because of persecution from small-stock farmers and because it is vulnerable to the use of poison, usually set to kill mammalian predators of small-stock. It is a sad fact that, for every target species killed in this way, over a hundred non-target scavengers are poisoned, most of them vultures and scavenging eagles. Fortunately, because of the remote mountainous terrain in which they live, the population of Verreaux’s eagle in Namibia is stable.
Posted in Stamps and Stories, Uncategorized, tagged africa animals, african leopard tortoise, animals, climate, gondwana, gondwana collection namibia, mountain zebra national park, namibia, nature, science, stamps & stories, tortoise, tortoise populations, travel on June 28, 2012| Leave a Comment »
The leopard tortoise favours semi-arid thorny to grassland habitats but seems to thrive anywhere from coastal to mountainous landscapes. It is able to cope with heat as well as extreme cold, aridity as well as humidity. Tortoises in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock in South Africa are known to dwell in the abandoned holes of small predators during the cold winter months. Likewise, in the arid scenery around the Tiras Mountains in southern Namibia, they shelter in similar holes to survive the heat and extended periods of drought. There, however, the occurrence of leopard tortoises is no doubt proportionately much smaller than it is in the vast savannah of Serengeti National Park in East Africa, for example.
Leopard tortoises are herbivores which graze on grasses like lawnmowers. They also favour various fruits, succulents and thistles and even eat the dung of other herbivores. The key to success seems to be versatility combined with resilience.
Adaptability is also reflected in the reptiles’ size within different tortoise populations. The largest ones are found in areas where food is plentiful and, perhaps, where the reptiles have enough time to grow. In many African cultures large leopard tortoises are seen as a food source. For the San (Bushmen) in the Kalahari this tortoise used to be a special treat and the empty shells were treasured as containers for collecting berries and roots. But the numbers of tortoises always remained stable, even though baby tortoises have many natural enemies to contend with – hornbills, eagles, hawks and secretary birds. Bush fires are another threat.
Incubation time differs from 80 to 120 days in areas which are humid and always warm, to more than one year in mainly arid regions – like Namibia, for example. This is another form of amazing adaptability: if the rains stay away the hatchlings would find no grass and starve. It does in fact happen that fully developed baby tortoises hatch but stay in their nesting hole in a state of ‘drought hibernation’, waiting for the proverbial better times. After sufficient rain has fallen they will finally make their appearance. In typical tortoise manner the baby ‘leopards’ are immediately able to look after themselves without restriction and have all four little feet firmly planted on the ground.
In some parts of their original habitats leopard tortoises have nevertheless become rare. The reason will most certainly be the impact of the most destructive of all living creatures, modern man. Because even the most adaptable species are unable to cope with fast changes in their habitat. Perhaps we, as humans, should take a leaf out of that book.
Posted in Stamps and Stories, Uncategorized, tagged eembuvi-plaits of Mbalantu women, gondwana, gondwana collection, headdresses, initiation ceremony, namibia, northern namibia, omawe gomupolo, omhatela, Omusati Region, omutyuula-tree, oshiwambo, ovafuko, southern angola, travel, tribal area, vacation on June 20, 2012| Leave a Comment »
The Mbalantu live in the extreme northern parts of the Omusati Region and part of their tribal area extends into southern Angola. As they take a rather insignificant position among the OshiWambo-speaking groups, they were neither frequented by early traders during the nineteenth century nor did they participate in the agreements, which were signed between the German Government and various OvaWambo chiefs in 1908. Mission stations were also only founded much later, which contributed towards the Mbalantu having retained some of their traditions, e.g. the skills to make handsome pottery and the rather spectacular headdresses of their women, for a much longer period of time than some of the other tribes. At the age of approximately twelve years, Mbalantu girls started preparing their hair for later headdresses. As among the Ngandjera and Kwaluudhi, the Mbalantu girls also covered their hair with a thick layer of finely ground tree bark of the omutyuula tree (Acacia reficiens), which was mixed with oil. The mixture was applied to improve hair growth. A few years later the thick fat-mixture was loosened so that the hair became visible. Subsequently, fruit pips of the bird plum were attached to the hair ends with the aid of sinew strings.
If a girl had reached the age of sixteen years, the headdress consisting of fruit pips was discarded and instead long sinew strands, which often reached the ground, were attached to the hair. According to reports dating to the early 1900s, some 80 strings of sinew were sometimes used.
Just before the girls could enter the ohango initiation ceremony, the long sinew strands were converted into two or four thick plaits, which were known as eembuvi. They were hanging down on the sides of the head and at the back. Sometimes small ornaments, which were adorned with white porcelain beads, were attached above the forehead at the base of the plaits. If one considers that the plaits remained part of the head of the girls for day and night, one can imagine the extreme exertion the young girls had to go through during the initiation ceremony, which was just about to commence.
If the girls had managed to proceed through the initiation ceremony, they were called “brides” (ovafuko). At this stage another thick layer of ground tree bark and fat was applied onto the head. Various ornaments made from beads were attached on top. Finally, the long plaits were taken up and arranged in a specific manner along the sides of the head and at the back, where they were attached. According to historical reports this headdress was a “mighty coiffure” and its weight was of such nature, that the upper ends thereof were often attached to a piece of rope or skin, which was fastened around the forehead in order to distribute the weight more evenly. The front edge of the coiffure, which was known as omhatela, was often decorated with a band of large, white beads (omawe gomupolo). At the back just below the omhatela a leather strip decorated with cowrie-shells was also sometimes attached. The young girls were now regarded as married. The omhatela-coiffure was often worn long years after marriage
Posted in Stamps and Stories, Uncategorized, tagged african penguin, animals in namibia, Benguela Current, birds in namibia, climate, gondwana, gondwana collection namibia, guano layer, IUCN’s Red List, jackass penguin, namibia, nature, penguin, penguin eggs, penguin numbers, penguins moult, science, southern tip of africa, Spheniscus demersus, stamps and stories, travel, vacation on June 14, 2012| Leave a Comment »