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Social practices, cultural diversity and demographic dynamics of the Damara and Nama of Fransfontein, Namibia, ca. 1880-2005

Between Kraal and Township: Processes of Migration in Northwestern Namibia

Fertility Decision-Making of Women in Urban Namibia under the Threat of HIV/AIDS



Social practices, cultural diversity and demographic dynamics of the Damara and Nama of Fransfontein, Namibia, ca. 1880-2005

From May 2003 to October 2004 Julia Pauli and Michael Schnegg conducted fieldwork in the Fransfontein area. Khoekhoegowab speakers, who in Fransfontein differentiate themselves into Damara and Nama, mainly inhabit the area, with more than 70% giving Damara as their ethnicity. The second largest group in terms of ethnicity are Hereros, followed by Nama and Ovambo. Yet, as our genealogical data clearly show, there are numerous multiethnic marriages, partnerships and coparenthoods. An ethnographic census, which we administered in May and June 2004, reveals, that Fransfontein consists of 137 households and the communal surroundings of 25 hamlets and a total 161 households. To complement our knowledge, we also elicited ethnographic data for five neighbouring commercial farms, focusing on the so-called ‘locations’ of the workers, most of them of Damara or Ovambo origin. Another important feature the census shows is the high mobility of the population. On average, people live less than 10 years in the area. Further, Fransfontein, and to a lesser extent the hamlets, are very much stratified economically, ranging from households living in extreme poverty to well situated, even wealthy families.


Our research activities are ongoing. In 2005 and 2006 respectively, further field research is planed. Some preliminary results tackle the following topics:

A marriage celebration in Fransfontein, Kunene

a) Fertility and Kinship:
For a number of historic-demographic reasons, half-siblings are very common and full siblings are rare. “Everyone has his own father” is a typical local description of Fransfontein family life. Most women (and men) have consecutively children with four, five or even more different partners. As a result, many people have 10 or more half-siblings. Male and female parallel cousins are also classified as brothers and sisters. The total amount of people an individual can refer to as “brothers” and “sisters” is consequently quite large. For the individual it is not possible to relate to all of these brothers and sisters in an emotional rich, supporting and trusting manner. But whom to relate to and whom to avoid? There is no explicit cultural rule to select certain kinds of siblings (e.g. the eldest brother or sister), nor is the mother always the connecting focal point. As in many Southern African societies, individual mobility is high and a child’s socialization is characterized by strong variations in people and places. Within this dynamic setting the concept of “growing up together”, kai //are, is of utmost relevance for creating an individual’s network of relatedness. Kai //are encompasses different dimensions of relatedness. Sharing space, sharing food and sharing emotional laden experiences are among the most important of these.

Paper Julia Pauli „We didn’t grow up together. Relatedness among the Damara and Nama of Fransfontein, Kunene South, Namibia” Panel Alber & Bochow ‚Familie und Verwandtschaft’. Frühjahrstagung der Sektion Sozialanthropologie und Entwicklungssoziologie der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie. 7.-9.7.05, Bayreuth, Germany.

b) Coparenthood and Marriage:
First analyses of 177 completed reproductive histories reveal a far-reaching demographic and cultural change, starting around the 1950ties. Women of the oldest cohort (born until 1934) have significant higher levels of fertility, and their children are the offspring of fewer men (on average 1-2 fathers). Women born later than 1934 have lesser children with more men (on average 2-3 fathers). Parallel to these fertility changes the number of marriages drops dramatically while the costs of marriage explode. It is assumed that both trends are connected. Marriage has become a rare event for a small group of people. The huge majority tries to become part of this group, using fertility as a (often unsuccessful) vehicle.

Paper Julia Pauli and Michael Schnegg “Genealogies, church registers and birth histories: Demography as a key to the history of everyday life” Conference ‘1904-2004. Decontaminating the Namibian Past.’ University of Namibia, August 2004, Windhoek, Namibia.
Paper Julia Pauli “Kulturelle Diversität in der Gestaltung demographischer Prozesse. Erkenntnisse aus einer multiethnischen Region Namibias“ Colloquium Africanum, 14.6.2005, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.

Paper Julia Pauli “Marriage in the Making. Knowledge Transmission and Social Practices among Damara/Nama of Fransfontein, Northwest Namibia” 20. Internationale Tagung des VAD. Panel Müller ‚Knowledge Transfer over Generations’; 24.-27.7.2006, Frankfurt, Germany.

c) Population Development and Resources:
In collaboration with project E1 (especially Olaf Bubenzer and Andreas Bolten) we have digitalized maps that visually demonstrate how land has become a scarce and rare resource for the local population during the 20th century. While commercial farms, mostly owned by farmers of European origin, extended, the communal area for the Damara, Nama, and Hereros shrank. Given these historical antecedents, it is extremely difficult for the local population to buffer risks.

Paper Michael Schnegg and Julia Pauli „Kein Platz zum (Über)leben. 100 Jahre Land An- und Enteignungsprozess im Nordwesten Namibias“ Panel organized by Julia Pauli & Susanne Berzborn ‚Umstrittene Ressourcen. Neuere Fallstudien aus Afrika’. Tagung der deutschen Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde. 4.-7.10.05, Halle/Saale, Germany.

d) Genealogies:
Numerous Fransfonteiners supported and encouraged our interest in collecting genealogical data. Before we arrived in the community, Otto /Uirab had already collected several family trees. Together with us, Jorries Seibeb and Francois Dawids his work was extended, supplemented and entered into a computer program (Family Tree Maker). First results were presented at an international conference in Windhoek.

Paper Michael Schnegg, Francois Dawids, Otto /Uirab, Jorries Seibeb and Julia Pauli „Family Origin. A genealogical project to reconstruct local histories and identities.” Conference organized by Tilman Lenssen-Erz “A Homecoming of Rockart” 16.-19.4.05, Windhoek, Namibia.


LINK: Family histories in Fransfontein
With Michael Schnegg, Francois Dawids, Otto /Uirab, Fiona Ilonga, Jorries Seibeband Titus Kamunika, since 2006:
Family histories in Fransfontein, funded by the Jutta-Vogel-Foundation



Between Kraal and Township: Processes of Migration in Northwestern Namibia

The multiethnic farming settlements surrounding the Fransfontein communal area form the starting point of this case study. These small settlements located in the arid southern part of the former Damara homeland in northwestern Namibia were founded in the late 1930s by immigrating Bantu-speaking pastoralists. Today, the residents of these settlements still practice livestock husbandry, albeit on a predominantly subsistence-oriented level. Most households are closely linked with the urban areas through migration of family members and through manifold economic relationships. The study traces how these migration processes have evolved in the contexts of colonialism, apartheid and independence, and points out how they are shaping the contemporary demographic, socio-cultural and economic structures of rural households.
Against this background, the study focuses on kin-based social support networks connecting rural and urban households. It aims to identify the actors and transfer relations of these support networks based on survey data on household economy and kinship relations. In addition, the study’s multi-sited ethnographic approach served to also include the urban-based members of these networks in the capital of Windhoek and in the port town of Walvis Bay. This allowed me to compare and calibrate the statements on urban-to-rural remittances and rural-to-urban transfers generated by this study. The data shows that rural-urban relations are thoroughly shaped by mutual dependencies and that both rural- and urban-based family members benefit from these relations. This coherence is not only demonstrated by transfers of cash, food and other resources, it is also reflected in age-specific patterns of residence in urban and rural households.
The case study furthermore reveals that the networks connecting the rural and urban areas are shaped by the mobility, flexibility and cultural adaptation of the actors involved. Despite their peripheral geographic situation, the rural settlements remain the cultural and emotional centers of the family networks dispersed by migration. Many urban-based family members keep up a rural identity and invest their money in livestock and houses in the country for their retirement. The changes in the architectural environment and living arrangements, which also reflect the growing socioeconomic stratification, are highly visible consequences of these trends.

Activities within the SFB 389
Period of employment: January 2005 to December 2007, subproject C10. Field research in Namibia: April 2005 to April 2006 and November/December 2006.
Multi-sited fieldwork on processes of migration, social security networks, demography and livelihood strategies in the farming settlements surrounding the Fransfontein communal area as well as in Windhoek and Walvis Bay. Graduated (PhD) from the Institute for Social Anthropology at Hamburg University in February 2008. Title of thesis: “Zwischen Ziegenkraal und Township: Migrationsprozesse in Nordwestnamibia.”


Urban life in Katutura

Rural houses, Olifantput,
Fransfontein Communal Area





The Namibian town Khorixas: Fertility Decision-Making and Cultural Change in Pre- and Post Apartheid Times

This subproject is focusing on reproductive decisions of women in a typical Namibian town under the threat of HIV/AIDS. Khorixas, the former administrative capital of Damaraland, remained capital of the Kunene region until 1999. Like in Fransfontein, the research site of Pauli & Schnegg [C10 (1)], most of the 5.000 – 6.000 inhabitants are Damara but members of most other Namibian groups do also live in this town.

Following the national trend fertility is also declining in Khorixas (In 2006 the total fertility rate (TFR) in Khorixas was 5,1. Unfortunately comparative data for the town of Khorixas itself do not exist but according to the 2001 Population and Housing Census, Kunene Region published in 2005 by the Central Bureau of Statistics in Windhoek, the TFR for the whole Kunene Region declined from 6,2 in 1991 to 4,9 in 2001).

According to the data collected during a 12-month-fieldwork this is mainly due to the use of contraception and changing relationships. As marriage does rarely happen periods without a partner occur several times during the reproductive life of a woman. Thus most of the women have children from different men.

Even though women have free access to contraceptives unwanted pregnancies occur due to a critical standpoint towards this kind of fertility control. These negative attitudes concerning contraceptives are partly caused by a history looking back on forced sterilizations and forced injections of mostly Depo Provera, a hormonal injection known for its diverse and severe side-effects.

On the other hand children are wanted in order to (often unsuccessfully) obligate the fathers, follow social norms (in a relationship children are regarded as a kind of MUST), and as a support during old age. The before mentioned aspects are at the same time reasons why HIV/AIDS is still spreading even though the majority of the population is well informed about the disease. Difficult economic situations – 85% of the population of Khorixas are unemployed – combined with patriarchal structures giving the man the power to decide and the fact that talking about the pandemic or sexuality in the private sphere is still a taboo force women into unprotected sexual actions.

Details as well as other factors influencing the process of women’s reproductive decision-making (like religion and traditional beliefs or life concepts) have been presented and analyzed in two articles:

  • (2008) “My scriptures help me when I have to make decisions” – Zum Einfluß von
    Pfingstkirchen auf fertiles Verhalten und den Umgang mit HIV/AIDS in der
    namibischen Kleinstadt Khorixas. EthnoSripts, 10 (1): 44-64.

  • (2007) The Gift from God: Reproductive Decisions and Conflicts of Women in
    Modern Namibia. In: LaFont, Suzanne and Diane Hubbard (eds.) Unravelling
    Taboos: Gender and Sexuality in Namibia. Windhoek, JohnMeinert Printing:


Cooperation with:

    • the regional office of The Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Namibia, Lironga Eparu, in Khorixas (head: Simon Stefanus)
    • the Aidshilfe Köln, e.V.
    • the Legal Assistance Center (LAC), Windhoek, Namibia (organization of a workshop on the new Maintenance Act in Khorixas, February 2006)


Khorixas seen from one of the surrounding hills


Grandmother with grandchildren


Two sisters and their children