Posts Tagged ‘gondwana stamps and stories’

The meteorite on the farm Hoba, some 20 km west of Grootfontein.

The meteorite on the farm Hoba, some 20 km west of Grootfontein.

“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


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A true desert bloom crowned in the springtime by large disc-shaped crimson flowers, Hoodia has received much attention over the years, not for its ability to store moisture and thrive in arid areas or for its exquisite blooms but rather for its use as an appetite suppressant. In the last decade it has been universally acknowledged that the San/Bushmen, the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa, own the rights to the indigenous knowledge of the plant, but that has not always been the case.



The plant was used by the San for millennia as an appetite suppressant and thirst quencher (also as a treatment for high blood-pressure, diabetes and as a cure for abdominal cramps, haemorrhoids, tuberculosis, indigestion and hypertension), long before it was sought after in a western world in its battle with obesity.

The species of most interest in the family Apocynaceae for its appetite-suppressing qualities is Hoodia gordonii found predominantly in southern Namibia and north-western South Africa. The spiny-stemmed succulent grows in gravel or shale plains, Kalahari sands or on dry stony slopes. It can tolerate temperatures exceeding 40˚C and as low as -4˚C. Incredibly, a single plant can have as many as fifty branches growing from its base, can grow up to a metre high and weigh as much as thirty kilograms. Although eye-catching, the flowers referred to as stapeliads, are only attractive to its pollinators – flies and blowflies – with their strong carrion-like odour.

Hoodia with yellow flowers in the Gondwana Cañon Park.  Photo: Mannfred Goldbeck

Hoodia with yellow flowers in the Gondwana Cañon Park. Photo: Mannfred Goldbeck

The first Europeans to encounter Hoodia gordonii were Paterson and Col RF Gordon, who in December 1778 found specimens in the Upington area. Botanist, Francis Masson, recorded the use of Stapelia gordonii on his visits to the Cape around the same period. It was later transferred into the Hoodia genus, so named after dedicated succulent grower, Van Hood.

Hoodia is a protected plant in Namibia and a permit is required from the  for cultivation or harvesting, relocation or trade. It is also listed on the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), Appendix 2, regulating international trade.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa began to include Hoodia in its projects as early as 1963 and in 1995 it filed for a patent application for use of the active components (it had isolated the active compound – P57) responsible for appetite suppression. It later signed licensing agreements with UK pharmaceutical company Phytopharm that in turn sub-licensed the rights.

Hoodia bainii, issued in 1973, artist: Dick Findley

Hoodia bainii, issued in 1973, artist: Dick Findley

In June 2001, a South African-based NGO, Biowatch South Africa, with assistance from the international NGO, Action Aid, alerted the foreign media to the fact that the San had not been involved in the development or commercialisation of the Hoodia products, leading CSIR to enter into negotiations with the San. They were represented by the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA), the South African San Council and the San Institute of South Africa (SASI). This culminated in the CSIR and the South African San Council signing a benefit-sharing agreement in March 2003 with the San receiving a percentage of the royalties.

In August 2004, the San Trust, formally named the San Hoodia Benefit Sharing Trust, was registered, with 75 percent of all Trust income to be equally distributed to the San Councils of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

The bottles of weight-loss products lining pharmacy shelves have little resemblance to the hardy desert plant that survives in the Namib Desert, its soft sensual bloom belying its tough existence, and its recent history is far removed from the time when the San still freely lived off the land and roamed the southern sands of Africa.

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Although the long dress and the unique headdress of the Rehoboth-Baster women has today disappeared from the everyday scene it is still worn during special ceremonies such as the annual festival commemorating the Baster people’s fallen heroes during the battle of Tsamkhubis, which took place with the German Schutztruppe on May 8, 1915.

The ancestors of the Rehoboth-Basters, who were descendents of white fathers and Khoekhoe mothers, originated in the northern frontier districts of the Cape Colony during the first half of the nineteenth century. At De Tuin, south of the Orange River, a mission station was founded for them in 1863. It was soon taken over by the missionary Friedrich Heidmann, who was to play a significant role in their further history. Marginalized by increasing numbers of Trek-Boers, who invaded the area with their large herds of cattle and some marauding groups of San and Koranna, the Basters, accompanied by their missionary, left De Tuin and moved northward. Towards the end of 1868, they crossed the Orange River and, inspired by the Nama and Oorlam people, elected Hermanus van Wyk as their ‘kaptein’.

Baster, issued in 2002, artist: Mary Jane Volkmann

Baster, issued in 2002, artist: Mary Jane Volkmann

After a short sojourn at places such as Warmbad and Bethany, a group of ca 300 people settled at Rehoboth in 1870. After lengthy negotiations with Abraham Swartbooi, the previous owner of the Rehoboth-area, and the Special Commissioner of the Cape Government, W.C. Palgrave, the Basters finally gained ownership of their newly acquired land in 1882. Continue reading

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The massive sandstone pillar which until 7 December 1988 pointed to the sky like a warning finger in southern Namibia, east of the B 1 national road near Asab, was 12 m high, up to 4.5 m wide and weighed some 450 tons. What made the ‘Finger of God’ (also known as Mukorob) so special, however, was its base. Just 3 m long and 1.5 m wide it was narrower than the mass of rock which it supported! The mighty finger balancing on such a delicate foot, for thousands of years already, seemed like a wonder – a true wonder of nature.

No title (Mûgorob), first decimal definitive issue, published 1961

The ‘Finger of God’ inspired various tales. The Nama legend below explains the name and was told in many different versions:

The Herero people had been at loggerheads with the Nama since time immemorial. One day a large group of Herero and their well-fed cattle came from the grazing areas in central Namibia to the Nama region in the arid south. “Look here, how rich we are, with our nice fat cattle”, they boasted. “And what have you got? Nothing but rocks!” they mocked. The quick-witted Nama, however, replied: “We have this very special rock. You may own as many heads of cattle as you want – we are the lords of the country as long as this rock stands here.” This annoyed the Herero and they decided to topple the rock. They tied many thongs into a long rope, wound it around the rock and hitched up their cattle. But hard as they tried, they were not able to topple the rock. “Mû kho ro!” the Nama shouted – “There you see!”

In the Nama-Khoekhoegowab language the name of the rock is in fact ‘Mûgorob’, not Mukorob, which is one of the frequent small inaccuracies when original Nama names are used. The translation into ‘God’s Finger’, however, is not only inaccurate but downright wrong. According to Khoekhoegowab expert Wilfried Haacke the accurate translation of Mûgorob is ‘(somebody) saw’.


The Mûgorob before the collapse. Photo: Mark van Aardt

Apparently there was a saying in more recent times according to which Mûgorob was also seen as a symbol for supremacy – in this case ‘white supremacy’. The saying went that if Mûgorob collapsed, so would the system of Apartheid. It is not clear, however, whether this was perhaps invented only after Mûgorob had tumbled (on 7 December 1988) or even only after independence in 1990.

Whatever the case may be – the Herero and anti-apartheid activists are an unlikely cause for the collapse of Mûgorob. As was explained in the previous sequel of ‘Stamps & Stories’, geologists Roy Miller and Karl Heinz Hoffmann as well as geophysicist Louis Fernandez concluded in an essay published in 1990 that the causes were rain, pressure exerted by the rock formation’s own weight and – as the trigger – possibly the devastating earthquake in Armenia, the shock waves of which were also registered by seismological stations in Namibia.

Mûgorob continues to fascinate people. It was proclaimed a National monument in 1955 and the status was not revoked after the collapse. According to monument expert Andreas Vogt the justification for the monument status may have taken on a new meaning instead: the debris of Mûgorob illustrates that geological formations certainly do not exist forever but are subjected to the geological process of erosion – slow and imperceptible as it may seem.

One of the Mûgorob's descendants in Henties Bay. Photo: Sven-Eric Kanzler

There were also plans to reconstruct Mûgorob there and then in actual size – as a sculpture made from fibreglass. The idea was hatched by Oskar ‘Hampie’ Plichta who was the mayor of Keetmanshoop at the time. His vision never materialized but it did not remain without impact. Small Mûgorob sculptures have since appeared in several places in Namibia, one of them in Suiderhof, a suburb of Windhoek, and in the Prosperita industrial area. Another one has been spotted in Henties Bay.

Thus the big impressive Mûgorob got several small descendents after his demise. Hampie Plichta, who died in 2001, certainly would have been pleased…

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Wanted: Small Mûgorobs!

Gondwana would like to establish the number and locations of small descendents of the Mûgorob. One example is the Mûgorob sculpture spotted in Henties Bay (right picture) – but there are more of them in Namibia, maybe even beyond Namibian borders.

If you know of a small Mûgorob, take a picture, upload the photo on the  Gondwana’s Facebook page, state the exact location – and stand a chance to win a Christmas packet of books (Wild Horses in the Namib DesertGondwana History I and IIExpelled from a beloved country)!

Closing date for posts: Friday, 23 December 2011, 15h00 (Namibian time). All posts comprising PHOTO and exact LOCATION will qualify for participation in a draw. The winner will be notified via Facebook.


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