Conservation profile – The Torra Conservancy comes of ageJuly 15, 2012
Conservation profile – A Caprivian dreamJuly 15, 2012
by Christine Eckstrom
As a young girl, Desarie Ilnoobes played with other children in a remote valley near her village, in the shadow of the red sandstone hills of Twyfelfontein, where the ancient rock art would one day change her life, and that of her community.
From a distance, Twyfelfontein resembles a towering amphitheatre of giant boulders, tumbled and tilted on steep slopes, eroded into fantastic shapes. Up close, the smooth faces of many are covered with engravings and paintings dating back 6 000 years. The more than 2 500 engravings make Twyfelfontein one of the grandest galleries of rock art in the world, appropriately recognised in 2007 when the location was proclaimed as Namibia’s first World Heritage Site.
When the Twyfelfontein-Uibasen Conservancy was created in 1999, it gave the local community the power to manage the resources of a 300-km2 region centred around the rock-art site. Partnerships between the conservancy and private companies developed tourism facilities around Twyfelfontein, providing jobs for previously unemployed local people. Prior to the conservancy, Desarie may have expected to lead the life of a traditional village woman in rural Namibia. “But,” she says, “since the conservancy was formed, I learned about the rock engravings and studied to become a guide.”
For the past nine years, dressed in neat khaki slacks and a polo shirt as one of the site’s 15 official guides, Desarie has led visitors from around the world through the rock engravings. “Twyfelfontein was used as a ceremonial and sacred place,” she explains. “The artists did the engra-vings to succeed in hunting, heal the sick, and bring the rain. Giraffes and rhino were symbols of rain and the artists believed that if they engraved more of them, there would be more rain. It was also a way of communicating between different groups of people. It was like telling a story.”
At the haunting ‘Lion Man’ panel, she explains, “At the end of the tail and legs, the lion has human feet. To heal sick people, traditional healers and shamans entered a trance that transformed them into animals. Lions have a supernatural power in healing, thus ‘Lion Man’ is half human and half animal.”
At day’s end, Desarie returns home to her village, where she is raising two daughters. “In the past, children here couldn’t go to school because the parents couldn’t afford the school fees. The nearest school is in Khorixas, 100 km away. Now many of them can go to school.”
The village still lacks electricity and running water. Ironically a cellphone tower stands on a hill above her hut, and Desarie keeps up with the news when she can. “As a young person trying to upgrade your life, you have to be on top of current affairs,” she says.
Desarie has taught herself to speak German, and is fluent in English, Afrikaans, and Damara, her home language. “Even with guests who are French or Italian, I can explain a few things.”
What she’s learned about rock art has given her the realisation: “These engravings are what the people from the past have left us. It’s like messages for us to continue telling people the same stories our grandparents have been telling us.”
This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.