Professor Pippa Skotnes' field trip to Namibia

19 Sep 2022
19 Sep 2022

As part of the ongoing research for African Language studies and more specifically, the !kun language in South Africa, Professor Pippa Skotnes recently went on a field trip to Namibia with linguist Dr Matthias Brenzinger, ethnobotanist Dr Nigel Gericke, Professor Bernhard Weiss, Dr Marilet Sienaert, Professor Karen Jacobsen, and PhD candidate Magdaleen du Toit focusing on archive and historical collections. The !kun section of the Bleek and Lloyd collection holds the narrations, watercolours, and drawings of four !Xun speakers – !nanni, Tamme, |uma, and Da – who ranged in age from about six to late teens. 

Maggie du Toit shared that the instructors frequently spoke of their abundant countries (the concept of ‘country’ does not refer to nation states but is the closest English translation for the !Xun word !nuerre, which rather means ‘hunting area’, or the general area in which a group of people lived), and many of their works with detailed plants and trees, which were explained as being relied on for sustenance or utilisation. Linguist Bernd Heine, has demonstrated that they spoke a !Xun dialect of its north-western branch from the Kavango area, spoken in the Western Rundu District of northern Namibia and bordering areas of southern Angola. In speaking of her wonderful opportunity of traveling to the region from which !nanni, Tamme, |uma, and Da were most likely from, Maggie's informed research in the company of six academics' expertise together and in the field revealed new insights and understanding of the !kun collection will contribute greatly to her PhD fieldwork. Some excerpts from her experience are shared below.

"From Windhoek we set off to the Erongo region where we saw beautiful rock paintings at Phillipp’s Cave; to Brandberg and ǀUi-ǁaes (or Twyfelfontein) to view the rock engravings and the White Lady of the Brandberg; to Etosha National Park; to Rundu where we camped on the bank of the Okavango River; to the Zambezi region where we camped next to a vlei frequented by hippos at night; ending with an impromptu detour to Tsodilo Hills in Botswana before heading back through Windhoek. 

The three weeks of camping and campfire stories, many long days’ driving (some when lost, some not), terrific teamwork and engagement, and unmatched natural landscapes made for a trip so productive, fun, and enriching, we were all left deflated when returning to everyday life."

Some images from the trip, shared by Magdaleen du Toit:

Photographing the rock paintings at Phillipp's Cave


Matthias Brenzinger and Maggie du Toit in a moment of intense concentration 


The Okavango river at sunrise 


Nigel Gericke traversing all kinds of terrain to get to plants