Sharon Gabie & Jessica Thornton

The small village of Tsumeb is nestled deep in the northern region of Namibia. While in Namibia the team enlisted the assistance of Enrico to assist with the local language of the people of Tsumeb. As anthropologists, we have come to learn that people express themselves better in their own language. In Namibia, while English is a formal language recognised in the country with a young population of less than three million inhabitants, people speak Oshiwambo, the language of the largest ethnic group in the country, Khoekhoegowab, Afrikaans and Otjiherero, among other languages (Stell, 2021). The common denominator is Afrikaans which is a regional cross boarder language because of the historical ties between Namibia and South Africa.

In Tsumeb, we met a council of Hai//om individuals who told us the stories of their childhoods, how places got their names by the sounds of water, and their memories of their last visits to the sea. The council told us of a ritual that needs to be conducted when you greet the sea. Amongst the group was Mr Moses and Veronica. Mr Moses explained to us that the sea is like a big snake in the minds of some of the Hai//om people. When interviewed, he described to us the movement of this big snake through energetic bodily movements. As part of the first Blue Values Journey in Namibia, the two individuals embarked on a captivating journey from the desert to the sea, where the contrasting landscapes created a mesmerising tapestry of natural beauty and cultural heritage. Their expedition from the border of the Ethosa National Park to Swakopmund saw otherworldly landscape sculpted by the wind that stretches as far as the eye could see. A journey towards the Atlantic coast, where the desert meets the sea in a dramatic collision of elements. A reunion of sorts, with memories from many years ago of being with the ocean. Mr Moses and Veronica travelled over six hours from Tsumeb to Swakopmund to meet with the team.

Arriving in the coastal town of Swakopmund, the cool ocean breeze provided a welcome despite the desert heat. It was a joyous and scary reunion. Veronica was clearly scared of the ocean, as we stood watching the waves roll to towards us and the water nearing our feet, Veronica wanted to run away. I clenched her hand in mine.  I could feel her shaking. She wanted to run. The longer we stood in the water the calmer she became. Veronica last visited the beach over forty years ago. While she knew that there is something called the ocean, where she stays in the North of Namibia, her socio-economic status does not allow her to make the trip down to Swakopmund to spend time with the ocean. The stories she heard from her family and friends that were fortunate enough to visit the coastal towns had now become a reality for Veronica. The moment of meeting the sea was both deeply meaningful and frightful for her.

Mr Moses performed the ritual at the ocean. He spoke to the ocean in prayer. He then touched the water and put it on his face and on his legs. Different people have different rituals they do at the ocean. Veronica was very intrigued by a young woman who was dancing for the ocean. This young woman stood there with earphones in her ears, moving her body rhythmically on the spot she was standing on. When we departed from the ocean, Veronica mentioned that she would like her daughter to also experience the sea and not wait forty years to experience something as beautiful as the ocean.

The individuals shared that for them the sea is a symbol and connection between humans and their faith, that “the majesty of the waves, the majesty of the sound”, the mighty power of the sea is also within us. After touching the waves of the sea, one shared that it is “very good to come to the sea when you are not feeling good, just to come and see how the water is moving. I t will bring down your stress”. From the serene solitude of the desert to the dynamic energy of the sea, each step of the journey revealed a new facet of the country's natural beauty and rich cultural heritage.


Stell, G. (2021). English in Namibia: a socio-historical account. In  A. Schroder’s, The Dynamics of English in Namibia: Perspectives on an emerging variety : 22-41. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Posted on 13 March 2024 08:57:42

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