It was a short week of classes for us at the house, and we were all excited to break up the monotonous weekends by heading to the coast. We had a full weekend ahead of us filled with informative speakers and tourist attractions. Our first adventure was a tour of Swakopmund. Swakopmund is a coastal town on the Western coast of Namibia, and is a popular tourist destination. This coastal town is very well known for it’s German colonial architecture.
Despite its charming beach atmosphere, Swakopmund played a large role in what is considered to be the first genocide of the 20th century. We learned in history class last week that in the early 1900’s the Herero led a revolt against German settlers . This created an ongoing conflict, which resulted in the systematic killing of Herero and other Namibian ethnic groups. One of the concentration camps for Herero people was located in Swakopmund. Many of the Herero captives were forced into building many of Swakopmund’s distinctive landmarks.
The biggest contrast we noticed on our tour of Swakopmund was the difference between the German and Herero memorials. The German monument was very easily accessible, located in the center of town, and towered over us. In juxtaposition the Herero monument was located in between the edge of town and the Namib Desert. It consisted of a simple stone engraved on the behalf of thousands of people who died under German colonial rule. What we took away from this experience was that the German heroism was more celebrated than the lives of thousands of Herero people. We also noticed a difference between the center of Swakopmund and the outskirts. The center of the town, which was noticeably wealthy, included mostly white families with a number of beachfront estates. The outskirts of town included an informal settlement inhabited by mostly black families. This further emphasized our impression of modern colonial influences in Swakopmund. This theme of contrasts carried out through the rest of our weekend in Swakopmund.
The picture on the top is a common street in the informal
settlement of Swakopmund. The picture on the bottom is a
gorgeous house on the bay in Swakopmund. These
houses are about a 10-minute drive from each other.
Our tours introduced us to women from different native Namibian cultures including a Herero lady, the Chief of one of the Damara clans, and a Nama herb specialist. Although these were very informative and interesting meetings they felt very contrived. They were all very short, staged glimpses into their cultures. It made us feel as if they were showing us what they thought we wanted to see as tourists in their country i.e. a traditional, exotic, “real” African experience.
During our free time we were able to experience some of the more traditional tourist attractions of Swakopmund. A few of us went skydiving, some of us went sea kayaking, and others just strolled around town. During our experiences we all noticed some form of subtle division between races. Whether it was at a restaurant or even just walking around we noticed that most of the customers were white while the servers were black. This hammered home the continuation of colonial ideas even in the absence of colonialism.
The inside of the fruit from a !Nara plant,
a staple of the Topnaar community.
We also explored Walvis Bay, another coastal city close to Swakopmund. Our tour guide, Joseph Tjitekulu (JJ), took us around the Topnaar community . The Topnaar live throughout two national parks that we traveled through. We visited a school, a church, and some local residents, all located in the Namib Desert. JJ spoke to us about the history of the Topnaar, and their relationship to the land, as agriculture is crucial to the livelihood of the people. However, even in the middle of the desert, JJ shared with us that he still feels the effects of colonial influence on the people of Walvis Bay. He mentioned that when he walks into a restaurant that is full of white customers he feels like he shouldn’t be there. In most cases he feels so uncomfortable that he has to leave. This solidified some of the inklings we had previously felt walking around Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. JJ’s statement reinforced to us that colonial influence still has a strong hold on the minds of this community.
The beautiful Swakopmund coast, where the desert meets the sea.
We noticed a stark distinction between race relations on the western coast of Namibia. This made us think about division between races in the United States. Although maybe not as blatant, there is no denying that there are still areas in the U.S. that contain similar separated environments. We do not notice it because we are in a place of privilege where this separation does not affect us much. Since being in Namibia we have been more aware of the situation, not only here, but also at home. As we continue to study and visit different areas in Namibia we are learning how to confront these situations in new ways. This new awareness is something we can all take back home with us and help educate people in our lives. We experienced many contrasts this past weekend in Swakopmund that challenged us all intellectually. Swakopmund is a beautiful town where the desert meets the sea, but it is also home to a huge contrast between the different groups of people that inhabit the community.
This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.