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!Qamtee |aa ||Xanya ‘The Book of Traditions'

!Qamtee |aa ||Xanya ‘The Book of Traditions'

Histories, Texts and Illustrations from the !Xoon and 'N|ohan People of Namibia
Boden, Gertrud (ed.)

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!Qamtee |aa ||Xanya ‘The Book of Traditions'

Editor: Gertrud Boden
Publisher: Basler Afrika Bibliographien
Basel, 2008
ISBN 978-3-905758-04-7
Soft cover, 21x21 cm, 106 pages, many illustrations, maps and tables


The !Xoon and 'N|ohan people of Namibia are one of the former hunting and gathering populations in Southern Africa, who are so well-known to the world under the labels 'San' or 'Bushmen'.

They speak two varieties of the Taa language, which belongs to the language family of Southern Khoisan.

Their language, cultural practices and oral histories are currently subject to a documentation project funded by the Volkswagen Foundations Initiative 'Documentation of Endangered Languages' (DoBeS).

The booklet wants to inform about the history of the !Xoon and 'N|ohan people, their past and present ways of life, and especially aims to provide insights into these peoples' own views of the changing living conditions which they have faced during the past 100 years.

The booklet is also meant to serve the members of the speech community as a tangible record of their memories and experiences.

About the editor:

Gertrud Boden holds a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Cologne in Germany.

She has conducted research among different groups of San people in Namibia for about ten years and organized a museum exhibition on San at the Museum of Cultural History in Duisburg.


Changing Livelihoods
The Land and the People
Encounters and Relationships
The Law of the People
Wishes for the Future
References & Further Readings


This booklet comprises a collection of oral history accounts from the Taa-speaking people living in Namibia. The authors of these texts call themselves either IXoon (pi.: IXonyatee) or 'Nlohan (pi. 'Nluhmte) and belong to the populations classified as the (former) hunters and gatherers called 'San' or 'Bushmen' in southern Africa.1

They speak two different varieties of the Taa language. This language belongs to the language family of Southern Khoisan or Tuu.2 Research on the language, cultural practices and oral histories of Namibian Taa-spea-kers is currently undertaken within the scope of the Volkswagen Foundation's initiative 'Documentation of Endangered Languages' (DoBeS).

The booklet is a product of the research carried out within this project. It aims to provide information about the past and present lives of the IXonyatee and 'Nluhmte who have only very rarely been mentioned in Namibian history writing. In the first place this is due to their small numbers.

Only about 500 Taa-speakers are currently living in Namibia. Another reason is the ignorance of the cultural and linguistic diversity between different San groups by people who were satisfied with categorizing all hunters and gatherers in Southern Africa simply as 'Bushmen'. The book is meant to serve Namibian Taa-speakers as a tangible record of their memories and experiences.

Most of the present texts are excerpts from life stories which people were asked to tape in Taa after detailed biographical interviews in Afrikaans. Some texts are answers to questions concerning particular subjects such as hunting methods, farm labor, or exceptional experiences.

Others are transcriptions of interviews on historical subjects. Some statements made in informal conversations were included as well because they either provide an alternative perspective or contain additional information.

All recordings were first translated from Taa into Afrikaans by Taa-speakers and were then translated into English by the editor who has tried to maintain the individual styles of speaking as far as possible but has removed slips of the tongue as well as repetitions.

The texts are accompanied by photographs, maps, drawings and - in cases where details were found to match - by excerpts from files kept in the National Archives of Namibia.

The title of the book, its five chapters - dealing with livelihoods and current living conditions, the history of settlement, encounters and relations with fellow Namibians, changing norms and values, and wishes for the future - as well as the way of presenting the authors of the texts by pictures along with both their official and Taa names, were discussed and agreed upon during community meetings in December 2006.

The editor has selected the texts and statements included in the book according to the richness of information contained therein and in order to reveal as wide a range of different perspectives as possible.

Experiences and evaluations of changing lifestyles, of historical developments and of relationships with fellow Namibians turned out to be very diverse within the community. The selection of texts and statements presented here will show that this is true for every aspect of life and for all periods of history.

Opinions were, of course, not evenly distributed. No claim is made to providing a representative picture of views and attitudes. The booklet should rather be understood as a testimony of the diversity of views and judgements within the community. […]

"The Namas wanted to take the land a way from our chief and oppress us"

Johannes Naqusin Sese Sikhau is a !Xoon man in his seventies. He was one of the main informants on history.

Our headman was Oujan Mboman. He was the kahoxaa39 of the IXonyatee. That is what my parents told me. They also told me that he died at !Uu-!om (Okeriko) during the war. The war started at Okahandja. The chief of the Namas started the war. His name was Xurubara.40 At first he made war against the Hereros. Later he made war against Mboman and shot him to death.

Xurubara had sent someone who should tell Mboman that he had to prepare himself since he [Xurubara] wanted to come and meet him. But this person did not come to
Mboman. Mboman did not receive the message. Then Xurubara came and shot Mboman with a muzzle loader.

He shot him because of the chair [throne]. People used to bring him presents. That is the reason why he was shot. The people used to bring him offerings as if he was a king. That is why he was shot, because he was the kahoxaa of the whole area. The Namas wanted to take the land away from him and oppress the IXonyatee.

When Mboman was shot, the IXonyatee fled in all directions. Some of them joined the Tswanas, others went to the N+ossob [Nossob river] and again others went to Mariental and mixed with the Namas.