Text and Photographs: Annabelle Venter
Text and Photographs: Annabelle Venter
About two months ago I met heritage guide Asser Manya for a cultural tour to discover new places in Windhoek. Even though I have lived in Namibia for 30 years, I realised just how much my knowledge of the city was lacking, so we recently met up again for the second part of the tour.
Asser is a gentle-mannered Oshiwambo-speaking Namibian, born and schooled in Windhoek. His parents instilled in him and his siblings that ‘hard work in all of life’s endeavours is the key to success’ and there’s an Oshiwambo proverb for that: Uwanawa ihauzi poka pala kayela.
He is one of the first specialised young Namibian heritage guides. Together with his partner Maria he set up Asmara Tours, offering cultural tours of Windhoek for visitors and locals to learn more about Namibian traditions passed down through generations.
Asser studied heritage tourism for four years at UNAM, followed by a one-year postgraduate diploma in heritage conservation and management. Thereafter he completed a 2-year internship with WWF at NACSO and then worked for IRDNC for a year.
Today we are visiting two new locations, a first for both of us. They will form part of his tours in future. Asser tailors a tour to suit your requests but I discovered that even two days is too short to see everything! One needs time to absorb the atmosphere and talk to people to enrich your experience.
Our first stop is the fascinating National Earth Science Museum housed in the foyer of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, next to the Safari Court. Entry is free and it’s open during regular office hours on weekdays. The museum illustrates the story of Namibia’s natural riches, focussing on minerals, palaeontology and mining. With displays showing the use of minerals in everyday products and a ‘dig’ where they can ‘discover and excavate’ buried fossils it makes for an excellent outing for children. It’s a favourite stop for schoolchildren during Heritage Week in September each year.
Windhoek has several fascinating museums, and most are situated within proximity to each other along Robert Mugabe Avenue. On my previous trip with Asser we visited the Independence Memorial Museum which showcases Namibia’s freedom struggle up to independence in 1990. Afterwards, we popped across the road for a few quiet minutes inside a famous landmark, the Christuskirche.
Our second stop on this trip is the Xwama Traditional Restaurant. It’s a bit early for lunch but the restaurant is always open for visitors and locals to meet and browse. Asser shows me the fireplace on the soft sand floor, which is the most important meeting place in any home. Decisions and family bonds are made and reinforced around the fire.
What was started by Twapewa Mudjanima Kadhikua 10 years ago in a riverbed has now expanded into a ‘must- see’ experience for tourists and locals alike. A conference centre and VIP dining area can be booked for formal events. The restaurant’s menu includes mopane worms, matangara (tripe), local spinach and mahangu cake to finish.
The last stop today is the Old Location, Ohungi and Restaurant. The owner, Ovia Amuthenu, tells us that the building dates back to German colonial times in 1902 and later used to house a Portuguese business. Just outside the building is the historical connection to its name. A small wooden footbridge crosses a riverbed which before 1959 was the access route to the Old Location on the opposite bank. Across the bridge and further down the road is the site of the 1959 massacre of the township’s inhabitants in response to their protest against the looming forced removal to Katutura (‘the place where we do not want to live’). Ovia says his restaurant has now become a meeting place for young professionals living in the area, where they can enjoy traditional food and beer and where they network. For the older generation, it holds nostalgic memories, not always bad ones. For one gentleman it was an emotional moment seeing the bridge because his grandfather built it. A married couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the restaurant, recalling how they carried all their belongings across the bridge to a new life in Katutura.
Asser’s own grandmother was one of the inhabitants of the Old Location, and when we visited her two months ago she shared many fascinating stories with me. She showed us old photos of her maternal grandfather, Curt von Francois, whom she never met, as well as a picture of her mother Josephine//Nawaxas von Francois sitting at his statue. Asser is clearly a favourite grandson and visits her with gifts and clients whenever he can!
An African proverb says ‘if you know where you come from then you know where you’re headed’. Asser explains that it provides a good grounding for any student wishing to work in the tourism sector. Patience is required – it’s slow-paced, laidback and a people-orientated field.
He distinguishes two aspects of heritage studies: tangible heritage refers to cultural objects, whereas intangible heritage refers to the story behind the objects and is best conveyed by someone who has studied heritage and is involved in it on a daily basis.
‘History and culture are alive because the information is imparted by people through people for people’.
This story was published in the Autumn 2018 issue of Travel News Namibia.