The Hai||om people, an indigenous San community, call the Etosha Pan the “Lake of a Mother’s Tears” representing the depth of grief a mother feels when she loses a child. This is just one tiny drop in the ocean of the beauty and depth of the Hai||om culture, a culture of one of the oldest groups of human beings on earth. A culture that would be a great loss to us all if the oral stories, by which the wealth of knowledge of the Hai||om is passed on, stopped being told.
Fortunately the elders of the still surviving community have joined hands with international researchers to form the Xoms Iomis Project, which can be translated into the much more mundane English version, The Etosha Heritage Project.
Xoms means Etosha Pan the Hai||om language. This project aims to document the cultural practices of the Hai||om people and to preserve the incredible body of cultural, historical and environmental knowledge.
Of special value is the knowledge of the biodiversity of the area. Through this documentation of their oral history, researchers will learn about the medicinal value of various plants as well as the behaviour of game in the region.
This kind of knowledge will benefit Namibia’s conservation efforts, and of course its people.
The project also designs and implements projects to create a sustainable livelihood for the people of the region, who have strong historical links with the Etosha Pan. It is part of Namibian conservation policy to ensure that the indigenous people of a conservation area benefit from the tourism and resources that area brings to the country.
There is much history that needs to be corrected as the Hai||om were forced off their ancestral land in the 1950’s and had to eke out a living as farm labourers, sadly they remain one of Namibia’s most disadvantaged peoples today.
Etosha National Park itself offers so much more than your average Namibian safari, the abundance of wildlife almost pales in comparison with the incredible silvery sand of the Etosha Pan.
For those who are interested, Born in Etosha: Homage to the cultural heritage of the Haillom tells the story of the culture and the history of the area and its people, better yet, visit Etosha for yourself.
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