Text and photographs Peter Cunningham
I never thought Namibia to be more or less hallowed than other countries, but few terrains can boast so evocatively with God’s presence, albeit cast in stone.
Geological features of reverence include the now fallen Mukurob or Finger of God, located off the main route between Asab and Tses south of Windhoek, and Vingerklip (Afrikaans for ‘rock finger’) south-east of Khorixas. These features of unique erosion and geological capriciousness, even exuding a certain religious mysticism, have drawn spectators from far and wide. Although Vingerklip still towers firmly over all who visit it, the Finger of God has paid the ultimate price of gravity and succumbed to nature’s whiles.
Until its collapse on 8 December 1988, Mukurob, an estimated 50 000-year-old sandstone-over-shale pinnacle, 12 metres in height and weighing an estimated 500 tons, towered solemnly over many a visitor standing neck-arched beneath it in awe. The term Mukurob evidently refers to ‘neck’ or ‘ankle’ – horob – in Khoekhoegowab. Another more enthralling explanation is that local Nama people challenged their erstwhile foes, the Herero, to topple the structure, taunting them with Mu kuro, ‘Now you can see’ after their failure to do so.
Before becoming isolated, Mukurob formed part of the larger Weissrand Escarpment, a geologically young formation that formed a few million years ago following rapid erosion after the continental break-up of Gondwanaland. Although the Finger of God is no more, it is still listed as a National Monument. The eventual demise of Mukurob was probably caused by an earthquake in faraway Armenia, condemning all those unfortunate not to have seen it yet it to a geological void.
Some of Namibia’s most striking rock paintings, probably indicating a mystical if not sacrosanct site for the original inhabitants, have been discovered on the Brandberg
The rock finger referred to as the Ugab Vingerklip, albeit visually less spectacular than Mukurob, has become a much-visited geological feature for visitors to Damaraland. The 35-metre limestone peak, rather like a coffeepot in shape, is situated in north-western Namibia close to other enthralling sights such as fossilised tree trunks, remnants of a gigantic flood that occurred approximately 260 million years ago and known as the Petrified Forest, and the 2 000-plus 6 000-year-old rock engravings at Twyfelfontein (an Afrikaans word translated as ‘doubtful fountain’). Forming part of the Ugab River terraces referred to as Namibia’s Monument Valley, the Vingerklip is an erosional remnant resulting from the resistant carbonate matrix of the capping. Although currently erect and majestic, seemingly raising the proverbial finger at geological processes over time, it too will undoubtedly eventually succumb.
Another geological feature in the vicinity of Vingerklip, although not as majestic but also with a religious character, is the so-called Organ Pipes, consisting of dolerite columns and said to resemble pipes in a church organ. These homogeneously oriented dolerite polygons, typical of dolerite, were formed by magmatic events some 125 million years ago.
Peaking at 2 573 metres, the Brandberg (Burnt Mountain) is the highest geological feature in Namibia. It too has religious connotations, as the Herero name Omukuruwaro is interpreted as meaning either ‘burnt mountain’ or ‘mountain of the gods’. Be that as it may, some of Namibia’s most striking and internationally renowned rock paintings, probably indicating a mystical if not sacrosanct site for the original inhabitants, have been discovered on the Brandberg, with one local ravine, the Tsisab, guarding over 45 000 paintings alone.
Geological pilgrims need not despair though, as a replica Finger of God in a Henties Bay garden points skywards for all to admire. Sceptics and neurotics might view this celestial replica finger differently though, but Henties Bay certainly caters for the singular traveller, as frequent spotters of Elvis in this coastal town can corroborate!
This article appeared in the Feb’12 edition of FLAMINGO Magazine.