Project C11

Landscape and Memory in postcolonial Namibia


Project Leaders:

Prof. Dr. Michael Bollig
Institut für Völkerkunde
D-50923 Köln

 0221 / 470-3501
 0221 / 470-5117


Dr. Klaus Schneider
Ubierring 45
D-50678 Köln

 0221 / 3369411
 0221 / 3369410



Larissa Förster M.A.


Research Area:





Conceptualisations of landscape and the issue of land ownership play an important role in the history of Namibia. Until today different cultural notions, social practices and historical experiences of the ethnic groups and political parties of Namibia have influenced the debate on the land reform, which has been planned since independence.

For many of the Hereros of Central Namibia the loss of their land through German colonisation, particularly through the colonial war of 1904 until 1907, has been a fundamental historical experience. In spite of the loss of land, or perhaps even for this very reason, Hereros still refer to the land in various cultural practices. In individual as well as in collective memory experiences of war and violence dating from that period are tied to specific venues of military conflict, and are integrated into oral history and oral tradition in a condensed form, i.e. particularly through place names, year names and so-called praise songs. This hints at the existence of a topology of war events and experiences of violence - a historical knowledge that explicitly refers to the landscape(s) of Central Namibia.
The continuous actualisation of this knowledge in various social practices like rituals can be understood as a strategy of symbolical re-appropriation of land and landscape. In this sense landscape is studied not only as a theme underlying processes of remembering, but it is also considered in its function as 'stage' (KIRSTEN ALNAES) for practices of commemorating.

Crucial for this study are narrations of history referring to places. Such narrations bring to light events, scenarios and images from pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times memorised in a verbal form. A focus lies on oral traditions in the form of praise songs of places and individuals, in which the appropriation and cultivation, but also the loss of land in (pre-)colonial times are remembered.
Furthermore rituals tied to places are considered. Such rituals can be understood as public enactments of the symbolical re-appropriation the land. By creating and maintaining such 'places of memory' (PIERRE NORA; JAN und ALMEIDA ASSMANN), space, nature and environment are coined into 'landscape'. In this connection the annual commemoration rituals of Hereros in honour of their heroes from pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times, e.g. the so-called Heroes Day in Okahandja, but also commemorative rituals on previous battle fields like Ohamakari near the Waterberg will be considered.
In oral tradition as well as in rituals graves and tombs play a pivotal role: irremovably spread across land and landscape, they generate a very dense network of 'places of memory'.

In many cases objects of material culture have been introduced into practices of remembering. They are used as objectifications and visualisations of symbolical references into the past. A great part of the project consists of a search and documentation of relevant objects in German and Namibian collections. This includes tombs, ritual utensils, uniforms and ceremonial objects occurring in commemorative rituals. In this context the origin of an important Herero tomb in the collection of the Vereinigte Evangelische Mission in Wuppertal (Germany) will be ascertained, and its history will be looked at critically from the point of view of a 'biography of things' (I. KOPYTOFF). The holdings of the anthropological museums of Köln, St. Augustin, Bremen, Hamburg, Berlin, München and Zürich, as well as those of the National Museum in Windhoek and other Namibian collections will also be included in the study.

Landscape between Waterberg and Okakarara
Research Area: Landscape between Waterberg and Okakarara


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