Posts Tagged ‘West-Caprivi’

The previous episode focused on the history of the Caprivi until the German administration, which ended with the First World War.

As from 1914 the area was placed under South African military rule. In 1921, the British High Commissioner for South Africa administered it as part of Bechuanaland. According to this regulation the East Caprivi fell under the responsibility of the commissioner at Kasane, while the magistrate of Maun was responsible for the West Caprivi. In 1929, the area was handed over to the South West Africa Administration. The administrative centre of East Caprivi was moved to Katima Mulilo in 1935. As from 1939, the area east of the Kwando River resorted under the Minister of Native Affairs, later the Minister of Bantu Administration and Development, while the administration of West Caprivi was placed under the authorities in Windhoek.

An ox-drawn sleigh with water barrel in the eastern MaSubiya-area (1980). Photo: Antje Otto; Collection: National Museum

An ox-drawn sleigh with water barrel in the eastern MaSubiya-area (1980). Photo: Antje Otto; Collection: National Museum

As a result of increasing poverty, discriminatory laws and the Administration’s failure to provide education and medical services the people of East Caprivi felt neglected and oppressed. In 1958, nationalism gave rise to the formation of the short-lived Caprivi African National Union (CANU) and its president was Brendan Kangongolo Simbwaye. In 1972, the East Caprivi area received its own Legislative Assembly with limited powers, which substituted the old order of a magistrate or native commissioner. The launch of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) in 1977 introduced the process of returning the people of East Caprivi into the administrative ambit of South West Africa.

After years of underlying tribal conflicts between the MaSubiya and MaFwe regarding the demarcation of the borderline, the South African Administrator-General for South West Africa in 1982 announced a border commission headed by the experienced government ethnologist, Dr Kuno Budack. However, both parties rejected the proposals, which were made after in-depth investigations.

A further reason for the conflicts was a power struggle between the two major tribal groups, the MaSubiya and MaFwe, as the former demanded a superior position in the area. In May 1993, the so-called ‘Katima Declaration of National Reconciliation’ was signed under the chairmanship of the Minister of Local Government and Housing, Dr Libertine Amathila. Although the equal status of both groups and their chiefs was reaffirmed, tensions between the two groups soon mounted again. In addition, disappointment and mistrust was growing among the BaYeyi, who no longer supported the MaFwe alliance of which they had been loyal supporters for more than a century. In 1993 they elected their own chief, who was confirmed in his position by the Namibian government according to the Traditional Authorities Act in 1995. Two years later the BaMashi under chief Mayuni also split from the MaFwe.

Caprivi (ox-drawn sleigh), series of four stamps, issued in 1986

Caprivi (ox-drawn sleigh), series of four stamps, issued in 1986

During the mid-1990s, a group of secessionists, who called themselves the ‘Caprivi Liberation Army’, started a unified resistance under the leadership of Albert Mishake Muyongo. The movement was mainly aimed at identifying the people of Caprivi as ‘Caprivians’ and not as ‘Namibians’ and conceiving Caprivi as a separate independent nation. An armed attack, which was planned on 2 August 1999, was uncovered and many of the leaders were arrested, while some managed to escape into exile.

Since Namibia’s independence repeated demands were put forward to replace the German names ‘Caprivi’ and ‘Schuckmannsburg’. Yet, there is no uniformly accepted name for the whole area of East Caprivi. Controversial opinions relate to the often-suggested name ‘Itenge’ and its exact boundaries. To indicate small specific areas within the East-Caprivi the local population used other names, e.g. ‘Kuhane’ and ‘Livanga’. The name generally favoured is ‘Lyambai’ – the SiLozi name for the Zambezi River. The indigenous name for Schuckmannsburg is ‘Luhonono’, which is derived from the many large Terminalia sericea trees, which grow there.


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A large variety of basketry has always formed part of the material culture of the sedentary Bantu-speaking people of Namibia, e.g. the AaWambo, VaKavango and inhabitants of the East Caprivi. Nomadic hunter-gatherers and herders, who had to limit their material possessions to what they could transport, could not afford to have such a wide variety of basketry. With the exception of the Khwe, who manufactured their own baskets, most San groups traded their baskets from Bantu-speaking neighbours.

Collecting Bag, Kxoe [Khwe], 50 Cent, issued in 1997, artist: Johan van Niekerk

The Khwe, who live in the eastern section of the Hambukushu area of Kavango, in the West-Caprivi and areas bordering the Kwando River, are generally classified as San, although their language, their physical appearance (they were sometimes referred to as ‘black Bushmen’) and their history differ distinctly from e.g. the !Xun, who live further south. Long before the Khwe moved to their present area, they lived in close contact with Bantu-speaking neighbours, e.g. the Luyi-Balozi in a region east of the Zambezi River, which resulted in their dark complexion and their stronger body structure. More recently, they mixed by marriage with the Nyemba and HaMbukushu in southeast Angola and the Kavango area and until the early 20th century they often acted as their servants. As a result of the historical contact with Bantu-speaking tribes some objects of the material culture and agricultural practices, as well as the acquaintance with stock penetrated the life sphere of the hunter-gathering Khwe.

In former times, the Khwe made flat winnowing trays, cone-shaped pópò-baskets and bag-shaped /oámà-baskets. They were made according to the coiled technique and a type of vertical coil. During the process of manufacture the makers, who were women, used bundles of strong Aristida grass stalks, which formed the core of the coil, and the middle leaf of the makalani palm (Hyphaene petersiana). If these were not obtainable, the leaf of the Phoenix reclinata palm was used instead. In order to make the palm leaves soft and flexible, they were soaked in warm water before the basket making process commenced. Sometimes the palm leaves were also coloured in different shades of brown by boiling them with the pounded bark of Berchemia discolor. Women made /oámà-baskets until the early 1960s. They were also regarded as their owners. Their height varied between 12 and 30 cm and they always had a handle of skin or fiber. They were primarily used as collecting baskets and for storing berries and other bush crops. When wild fruits were collected these were first collected into smaller pópò-baskets and poured from there into the /oámà-baskets. Popo-baskets were also used for winnowing grain.

Basket of the Khwe (Collection National Museum). Photo: Antje Otto

The ethnological collection of the National Museum of Namibia is in possession of several /oámà-baskets, as well as a pópò-basket, which were collected in 1932 in the West-Caprivi and finally made their way into the museum’s collection in 1948. According to Professor Dr Oswin Köhler, who started with the documentation of the culture and language of the Khwe as from the early 1960s, the making of /oámà-baskets had died out during those years although he still found some examples, which were used. He was able to photograph them and record some interesting information on basket making from his informants. Older people still had the knowledge to make /oámà-baskets although they did no longer produce them. Pópò-baskets were still made.

In 1996, Khwe basket making was revived with the support of a national craft promoter looking for marketable crafts to advance income generation. Since then, the Khwe again make /oámà-baskets not only for their own use, but primarily for the tourist market. Modern /oámà-baskets are sold at a local craft outlet at Kongola and various other Craft Centres in the country. The manufacturing technique and shape of the baskets are similar to the traditional ones although they are generally smaller and have more elaborate designs and more robust handles.

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