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Academic Case for Support

Sian Sullivan, Ute Dieckmann and Selma Lendelvo, February 2019

This document is our Academic Case for Support submitted in February 2019 to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) and the German Research Foundation - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). We were responding to the first DFG-AHRC Cooperation funding call announced in November 2018 for Joint German-UK Project Proposals in the Humanities, incl. Law and Linguistics. The Case for Support can also be downloaded as a .pdf


Full project title:

Historicising Natures, Cultures and Laws in the Etosha-Kunene Conservation Territories of Namibia:
From Deutsch Südwestafrika’s “Game Reserve No. 2” to “Kunene People’s Park”?


Research Questions

The Etosha Kunene Histories research project asks three main questions:

  1. How can the conservation of biodiversity-rich landscapes come to terms with the past [Vergangenheitsbewältigung], given historical contexts of social exclusion and marginalisation?

  2. How can key biodiversity areas, where global value rests on ahistorical ideas of Nature, resist an uncritical presentism to become more deeply understood as entangled with diverse human histories and values?

  3. How can cultural and linguistic difference regarding ‘the nature of nature’ be more fully recognised in conservation policy and practice?



Our research questions above clarify that we seek to provide historical and ethnographic depth to questions of contemporary concern regarding global reductions of biological and cultural-linguistic diversities, for a set of contiguous territories that are themselves of global significance in terms of biocultural diversity. Our overlapping objectives are thus to:

  1. amplify understanding and recognition of the globally-significant conservation territories of ‘Etosha-Kunene’ as entangled with diverse human histories and values, involving cultural and linguistic differences around ‘the nature of nature’ in these territories;

  2. connect, compare and extend ethnographic research with varied indigenous groupings of people with regard to land, identity and natures-beyond-the-human in Etosha-Kunene;

  3. explore new methods and tools to represent, map, mediate and translate indigenous understandings and knowledges of the spaces and places comprising Etosha-Kunene, so as to support the recognition and representation of cultural diversity in conservation praxis;

  4. integrate people, places and histories into a dense “meshwork” for Etosha-Kunene conservation territories by compiling an environmental and cultural landscape history that attends to complexity through entwining and juxtaposing multiple data sources;

  5. contribute to a much-needed decolonisation of patriarchal-colonial thought regarding ‘the nature of nature’ through detailed analysis and deconstruction of how European colonial praxis objectified, collected and colonised both natures and cultures in Etosha-Kunene;

  6. support formal and institutional dimensions of environmental conservation policy and practice through creative compilation, publication and exchange of project analyses.

We explain below how we intend to meet these objectives, detailing our conceptual framework, our proposed and intersecting work packages, and our research methods.


Research Context - State of the Art and Preliminary Work

Our research responds to the above questions through a cross-disciplinary humanities programme of work focusing on conservation territories in Kunene and connected Regions of the former German colony that is now Namibia, what we are referring to as ‘Etosha-Kunene’. Etosha National Park and neighbouring conservation designations comprise shifting, overlapping and contiguous territories with which diverse indigenous and marginalised peoples are also imbricated. Our research team, comprising three women academics in Germany, the UK and Namibia, have a combined 50+ years of ethnographic, archival, oral history and livelihoods analysis research experience in Etosha-Kunene conservation territories. We are applying for a new programme of research contributing novel theoretical and pragmatic insights to socioecological challenges.

            As acknowledged by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2015-2030, this is a global moment saturated with loss in biological and linguistic-cultural diversity (WWF 2018; Moseley 2010). SDG15 aims to ‘ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems’ (SDG15.1), in part through protecting globally agreed ‘key biodiversity areas (KBAs)’ (, including Etosha National Park and Hobatere in Namibia’s Kunene Region. Ecosystem and biodiversity protections, however, can sit uneasily with other SDGs, such as SDG10 aiming for equitable development and reduced inequalities alongside political inclusion irrespective of differences such as sex and ethnicity (SDG 10.2).

            Additional tensions exist between the normalisation of a naturalist orientation towards nature in environmental conservation praxis, and recognition of cultural diversity in how people value, understand and experience natures-beyond-the-human (Descola 2013). The default position of the former arguably deepens divisions between an active, speaking ‘culture’ and a passive, mute ‘nature’ (Haraway 1991; Plumwood 1993), most recently by framing nature as a stock of ‘natural capital’ providing ‘ecosystem services’ to human society (cf. Helm 2015, discussed in Sullivan 2017a). Heterodox understandings of human / beyond-human relationships, particularly those associated with indigenous peoples, may thereby be muted and marginalised (Taussig 1987; Bird-David 1992; Berkes 1999). The territorialisation of spaces and species into formal ‘protected area estate’ (Naidoo et al. 2016: 635) thus enacts their deterritorialisation from other(ed) uses, values and ontologies (Mennicken & Miller 2012).

            Put differently, any attempt at decolonisation of patriarchal-colonial thought regarding nature (Plumwood 1993; Latour 2009: 2) requires engagement with how European colonial praxis has colonised the natural, subjugating and reconstituting ‘other’ cultural principles of order, knowledge and practice in doing so (Foucault 1970; 1980[1976]; Taussig 1987). Attention to the variety of ways in which peoples shape and perceive human intermingling with beyond-human natures is thus a lively concern in anthropology, cultural geography and the environmental humanities (Descola 2013; Kohn 2013; Tsing 2015; Haraway 2016).

            These concerns are also pressing for pragmatic environmental conservation endeavours, given observed correspondences between biological and cultural-linguistic diversity globally (Gorenflo et al. 2012), and the simultaneous decline (as noted above) in all these dimensions of diversity. Such complex ‘wicked problems’ (Brown et al. 2010) combine with an unprecedented crisis of ‘how we as a species will cope with the consequences, not to mention responsibilities, of being the major driver of planetary change’ (Holm et al. 2015: 983). They call for transdisciplinary and creative investigation to do two things simultaneously:

- to historicise (i.e. deepen) understandings of causative factors shaping the concerns of the contemporary moment;

- and to imagine and nurture possibilities for changing course.


            Our response is to combine and extend our prior work (see below) in order to contribute research that historicises a significant biodiversity conservation territory and the peoples with which it is associated, whilst also spatialising historical narratives and cultural practices associated with this territory. Our overall aim is to nourish new readings and representations that enhance both present understanding and future possibilities for equitably sustaining ecological integrity and biocultural diversity. In developing our proposed research, and as outlined below, we interweave state of the art contributions in material culture studies and cultural landscapes, environmental history, the anthropology of nature and the anthropology of sustainability, environmental justice and political ecology.

Conceptual Framework

People differ not only in their culture but also in their nature, or rather, in the way they construct relations between humans and non-humans. (Latour 2009: 2)

            Our starting point is the rich tradition of material culture studies emphasising that persons and ‘things’ are mutually constitutive (Miller 2010; Ingold 2013). From this perspective, landscapes, and the terrestrial ecosystems they support, are also complex kinds of things – ‘quasi-objects’ to use Latour’s (1993) term – bound with and shaped by human cognition and social experience. Constructed as cultural artefacts, as well as having independent existence with their own rhythms and ends, ‘landscapes’ – as ‘cultural landscapes’ – entangle ‘body’ with ‘world’ such that human experience meets ‘the world’ through the setting of the individual as well as the social(ised) body (Merleau-Ponty 1962; Tilley & Cameroon-Daum 2017). From this phenomenological perspective bodies and landscapes make each other in mutual, material and dynamic meshworks, through practices of mobility, dwelling and value involving different kinds of bodies and beings (Ingold 2010). Understanding particular, i.e. situated, relationships of human-with-beyond-human-others thus requires sensitivity to intercorporeality, i.e. to differentially embodied dimensions of actions and interactions (Breyer & Widlok 2018).

            At the same time, lived and cultural landscapes invite environmental history analysis as historicised spaces with multiple social meanings (Carter 1987; Basso 1996; Bollig & Bubenzer 2009), often riven by power relations and contestation (Bender 1993; Bender & Winer 2000). The territories progressively colonised through European imperial adventure objectified and instrumentalised spaces and natures which, for the peoples encountered, were alive with diversely agential and spirited significance, a dimension that perhaps helped constrain the accumulation strategies associated with contemporary environmental damage (Taussig 2010[1980]; Hannis & Sullivan 2018). Reconstructing the thought and practices of multiple actors through the historical traces they leave (such as journals, archived texts and collections) and/or through testimonies shared in the present (through oral histories and ethnographic engagement) constitutes a rich intertextual research praxis for weaving complex understandings of how landscapes, natures and peoples are (un)made through colonial and post-colonial encounters (for examples of such combined methodologies, see Dieckmann 2007; Tsing 2015; Delbourgo 2017). As Carter’s groundbreaking environmental history research shows, a potential here is to understand ‘the spatial forms and fantasies’ through which cultures declare their presence and shape ‘new worlds’ (Carter 1987: xxii).

            An invigorated anthropology of nature (Descola 2013) and anthropology of sustainability (Brightman & Lewis 2017) similarly extends theoretical and empirical work in the social construction of landscapes through various theoretical-empirical routes.

            One route (re)deploys animism ‘to make sense of alternative modes of relation between humans and non-humans’ (Latour 2009: 1; Descola 2013; also Sullivan 2013, 2018), in combination with a perspectivism acknowledging that the material and animate conditions of different embodied experiences matter, for both sustenance and ‘point of view’ (Viveiros de Castro 2004). Such approaches, amplified via considerations of ontological difference regarding cultural understandings of the natures of being (Burman 2017; Sullivan 2017; Hannis & Sullivan 2018), also demand engagement with structures of power shaping whose knowledge can be spoken in political contexts of conservation decision-making. This means recognising the depth of difference that may exist between perspectives shaped by cultural contexts, so as to be able to take such differences seriously.

            A second route involves multispecies ethnography (Haraway 2008; Tsing 2015) to enhance understanding of the diversely embodied engagements and exchanges that create and animate socioecologies, as well as to decentre human experience in working out how to make with diverse beyond-human others (Haraway 2016). A third route relates to how value, including heritage value, is made in contexts of high global conservation priority, as well as the frictions that may arise as different valuation practices, coupled with differing forms of access to power, creatively meet, engage and jostle with each other (Tsing 2005; Bracking et al. 2018).

            These concerns contribute to environmental justice and political ecology questions around how justice is conceptualised and enacted in conservation contexts where multiple interconnected issues are likely to arise: culturally-inflected value practices and ways of knowing may prove untranslatable and incompatible (Burman 2017); historical complexities ignored in the urgency of offering and implementing present-day ‘solutions’ can lead to unintended outcomes of enhanced inequality and dissent (Berglund & Anderson 2003); and finally, it may be harder than first apparent to functionally entwine economic gain with both ecological integrity and a variety of justice concerns (Martin et al. 2013).

            African OECD development-aid qualifying countries face particular constraints in responding to this combination of challenges. Low per capita incomes combine with high societal vulnerabilities to global climate change and the presence of globally valued terrestrial ecosystems and species populations, to create a potentially volatile mix of conservation and development challenges (Lendelvo et al. 2018). One significant and creative response to these cross-cutting environmental and human development emergencies is an ‘upscaled’ focus on landscape scale conservation activities (as promoted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), see Brown et al. 2005). In this approach, ecologies and economies of scale are sought through enhancing ecological connectivity and ‘corridors’ for mobile species whilst amplifying investment in the high value landscapes that emerge.

            Such scaled-up approaches to conservation and the tangle of possibilities and concerns they foster are particularly noticeable in southern African contexts where Transfrontier Parks have proliferated in recent years, including |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld and Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) which cross the Namibian border. Not all scaled-up conservation territories cross international borders, however. ‘Etosha-Kunene’ in various conservation configurations (such as a ‘Kunene Peoples Park’, as proposed some years ago, MET 2009) is situated within the borders of Namibia, but also constitutes an iconic scaled-up African conservation area. As such, Etosha-Kunene provides a potent context for studying intersections between conservation, coloniality, indigeneity and ‘natural history’.


‘Etosha-Kunene’ – Historical Contexts

            Etosha-Kunene is shaped historically by both Anglo and German colonial interests stretching back to the mid-1800s, and subsequently by apartheid policies that partitioned land and populations during South Africa’s administration of former ‘South West Africa’ in the 20th century. The geographical constellation of ecologies and cultures constituting Etosha-Kunene conservation territories stretches westwards from the celebrated Etosha National Park centred on the massive Etosha saltpan in north-central Namibia, to the Skeleton Coast National Park encompassing the interface between the northern Namib Desert and the Atlantic Ocean. Etosha National Park (ENP) itself is the current incarnation of a ‘game conservation’ area established in 1907 as Game Reserve No. 2. by the former German colonial state of Deutsch-Südwestafrika (1884-1915) – see Map 1. As observed for major conservation areas elsewhere in Africa (see Adams & McShane 1996 on Serengeti), the establishment of Game Reserve No. 2 was related to declines of human and livestock populations caused by a series of factors: the rinderpest epidemic of 1897 (Miescher 2012; Rizzo 2012: 25); drought from 1900-1903 (Wadley 1979); and a genocidal colonial war of especially 1904-1907 (Bley 1998; Olusoga & Erichsen 2010).

The shifting boundaries of Game Reserve

Map 1. The shifting boundaries of Game Reserve No. 2 / ENP, 1907–1970.
Source: Dieckmann 2007: 76, reproduced with permission.


Control of this new conservation area deepened as the state territory became a UN Mandated Territory (the British Protectorate of South West Africa) in the post WW1 period. Initially, indigenous Hai||om inhabitants were able to live in the Game Reserve but were later evicted as ENP was increasingly enacted as an “African wilderness” from which people were absent(ed). The area west of present ENP boundaries was also shaped historically by layers of land clearances, connected with the post-1958 westward extension of the Etosha protected area (Sullivan 2017b) – see Map 1. Various boundary changes again took place in connection with the creation of new ‘homeland’ areas following government recommendations in the 1960s. At this time, much of the western portion of Etosha was reallocated as part of the ‘homeland’ of ‘Damaraland’ and the western park boundary was moved eastwards to its 1970 position, allowing the Skeleton Coast National Park to be gazetted (in 1971) (Tinley 1971). Later, the Damara Regional Authority committed a large area of land in between these two Parks as the hunting and then tourism concession of Palmwag (see Map 2). Today this area is a popular high-end ‘wilderness’ tourism destination, and home to the largest population of endangered black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) outside of a National Park (Muntifering et al. 2016).

           After independence in 1990, the government addressed the land dispossession of the Hai||om through a resettlement programme, but sustainable livelihood options remain a challenge on these farms (Dieckmann 2011). Areas west of ENP became more deeply woven into Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) approaches through establishment of communal area conservancies (Sullivan 2002; Kimaro et al. 2015; see Map 2).

Boundaries of current tourism concession

Map 2. Boundaries of current tourism concessions, surrounding communal area conservancies
and state protected areas in southern Kunene Region, west Namibia.

Source: Jeff Muntifering, 2 October 2019.

In a gesture that is both innovative in the present and echoes past boundaries and concerns, recent years have seen proposals for the Etosha-Kunene conservation territory to be administratively and functionally connected through a ‘contractual park’ aligning the interests of multiple actors with the area’s ecological integrity (KREA 2008; MET 2009). Some versions of the boundaries of this proposed Kunene People’s Park / Kunene Volkspark resemble a brief moment from 1967-1970 when the ENP boundary extended west to the coast and south to between the !Uniab and Koigab Rivers (Tinley 1971). In 2018, proposals for a a smaller scale ‘People’s Park’ (PP) were reignited with international support by conservation donors and the British royal family.[1] As signalled by our titular question mark, however, it remains unclear how exactly such plans may unfold over the next few years.

            Etosha-Kunene conservation territories are populated and shaped by an array of individuals and groups who embody and enact diverse histories, experiences and perceptions. They include livestock herders, small-scale farmers, state and NGO conservation and development professionals, miners, tourists, tourism lodge managers and varied entrepreneurs, who are also groups and individuals with a clear sense of ethnic identity: European settlers; Khoe-speaking Hai||om, Dama / ≠Nūkhoen and ||Ubun of various !haoti (land and lineage based groups); and Nama, Herero and Himba pastoralists. These overlapping and intersecting ethnic categories are themselves caught within and made through formations of power and associated discursive regimes (Butler 2006[1990]; Sullivan 2001; Dieckmann 2007).

            This complex human history within the high-value conservation landscapes of north-west and central Namibia is routinely underplayed and sometimes entirely unacknowledged in conservation proposals, policies and management plans. This situation sets the scene for friction, misunderstanding and unrest, which can be magnified in new CBNRM processes if these unfold as if in a historical vacuum (as documented for Namibian Kunene contexts in Sullivan 2003; Pellis 2011; Pellis et al. 2015; Bollig 2016; Schnegg & Kiaka 2018; and for ENP in Dieckmann 2003, 2007). Corresponding conceptions and constructions of indigenous natures and cultures as somehow ahistorical – as external to and background for historical change and development – can thereby arise (Adams and McShane 1996). The Etosha-Kunene conservation contexts have certainly been caught within this frame: spectacularised as ‘last wildernesses’ (Hall-Martin et al. 1988) yet nonetheless inhabited in some corners by exotic(ised) indigenous pastoralists (Jacobsohn 1998[1990]) and primitive ‘Bushmen’ (as critiqued for Etosha in Gordon 1997; also Hitchcock 2015) for whom the permissibility of presence becomes entangled with projections of acceptably ‘pure’ traditional practices. All these ideas of natures and peoples have been dramatically shaped by historical factors that can be documented.

            Analyses of major conservation areas that deeply historicise their making (see Carruthers 1995; Neumann 1998; Impey 2018), demonstrate their complexity and contingency, dispelling the empowered ‘myths of wild Africa’ (Adams & McShane 1996) on which they are based. This kind of detailed analysis that is simultaneously ethnographic, historical and spatial, has yet to been undertaken for Etosha-Kunene as a combined geographical and organisational unit (although see Dieckmann 2007, 2011 for ENP specifically).


Academic Research Team

            We thus seek to bring our combined research experience in the Etosha-Kunene conservation territories to bear so as to fill this gap. Since the early 1990s Etosha-Kunene has constituted the setting for ethnographic, oral history, archival, livelihoods and ecology research by the three researchers comprising the academic team leading this application:

  • Ute Dieckmann (German Principal Investigator, University of Cologne) has worked in the geographical, cultural and administrative areas of ENP and the neighbouring Outjo district. She has contributed detailed historical anthropology analyses of the perspectives and experiences of Khoe-speaking Hai||om who consider Etosha to be their home, as well as previously advantaged and disadvantaged farmers, and government and NGO officials (see Dieckmann 2001, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013; Peters et al. 2009). She has also been consulted as an expert witness on the historical particularities and ways of life of the Hai||om in their recent ground-breaking ancestral land claim[2], and has worked as a consultant for the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA);

  • Sian Sullivan (UK Principal Investigator, Bath Spa University) has carried out on-site oral history, cultural landscapes mapping and ‘ethnoecological’ research in the Palmwag Concession and neighbouring conservancies and Skeleton Coast National Park, mainly with Khoe-speaking Dama / ≠Nūkhoen and ||Ubun, most recently through the AHRC project Future Pasts ( (see Sullivan 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005; 2017a, 2019; Sullivan & Low 2014; Bracking et al. 2018; Hannis and Sullivan 2018; Sullivan 2019; Sullivan et al. 2019). She has also contributed as an invited participant to policy dialogues of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity;

  • Selma Lendelvo (Namibian Principal Investigator, University of Namibia) is a Senior Researcher in the Multi-Disciplinary Research Centre (MRC) of the University of Namibia (UNAM), and board member for Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s Nature Conservation Board. She has analysed indigenous knowledge in managing Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) bordering ENP, tourism experiences in ENP, and livelihood concerns of Himba-Herero pastoralists in Ehirovipuka Conservancy west of ENP (Lendelvo & Nakanyala 2013; Kimaro et al. 2015).


Together we propose to combine, build on and extend our prior and preliminary work through a new programme of research comprised of six intersecting work packages, as detailed below.

Work programme including proposed research methods

To meet our project objectives, we will use a combination of anthropology, history and geography research methods, as detailed for each Work Package (WP) below. Specifically, we will bring together ethnographic, historical anthropology, cultural geography and environmental humanities approaches to spatialise and integrate analyses of written documents, oral narratives, material culture and ethnographic data in geographical settings. Our overall intention is to historicise and complexify culture-nature imaginaries for a regional context of global biocultural significance. In doing so we seek to support recognition of cultural and historical complexity in conservation policy and praxis.

            As clarified further below, we are influenced by intertextuality (Kristeva 1980) as a device for conveying our research. Intertextuality as a methodological and literary practice encourages interrelationships between varied sources and layers of material to be rhizomatically connected and juxtaposed, so as to stimulate depth of understanding in both historical and spatial registers (as successfully deployed for Namibian contexts by Baer 2018). As noted above, we also acknowledge that understanding human relationships with beyond-human-others requires sensitivity to intercorporeality – to the differentially embodied dimensions of actions and interactions as these are enacted in specific situations (Breyer & Widlok 2018). As our last WP describes, our research will be collated and shared through a series of public engagement activities that facilitate co-learning, as well as via a project website ( and bespoke social media accounts (for example, Twitter @EtoshaKunene).


WP1. Historicising Socio-ecological Policy in Etosha-Kunene

Our research will open with the collation of texts, literature review and discourse analysis of policy documents relating to conservation in Etosha-Kunene over the last 120 years. This text-based research will involve detailed study and compilation of written sources regarding the changing boundaries, environmental and species protection policies (see Botha 2005), institutional structures and narratives shaping the changing Etosha-Kunene conservation territories. We hope to combine this review with semi-structured interviews with key actors implicated in conservation policy design and implementation. Our emphasis here will be on gaining deeper understanding of perspectives on the past held by such actors, as well as relationships between these perspectives and diagnosis of both present priorities and desirable futures.

            Critical discourse analysis (Johnstone 2008; Fairclough 2010) will assist with identifying key themes, frames and shifts in actors, perspectives and policies through time (Sullivan & Hannis 2015). Our aim is to offer a more complete and integrated understanding of the changing political contexts and concerns regarding ‘nature conservation’ as these are shaping Etosha-Kunene.

Proposed milestones, outputs and personnel: this work package will be conducted by the full academic team and will be an iterative process throughout the duration of the project. Primary outputs:

  1. at least one peer reviewed journal article analysing the complex creation of, and struggles over, Etosha-Kunene in its different versions from establishment as ‘Game Reserve no. 2’ to the present coalescence of conservation spaces and interests – target Journal of Political Ecology;

  2. a publicly accessible online policy chronology that can be updated throughout the course of the project (see preliminary work at;

  3. an accessible locally printed policy-oriented publication detailing the chronology and analysis pursued in this WP (as part of our public engagement strategy detailed in ), developed and shared with stakeholders and policy actors through Namibia's Nature Conservation Board, of which Lendelvo is a member.


WP2. Comparative Indigenous Perspectives in Etosha-Kunene

While WP1 analyses official environmental policies for Etosha-Kunene conservation territories, WP2 addresses indigenous perspectives for these same areas, focusing especially on experiences and narratives of mobility and place. In WP2 we acknowledge Article 13.1 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which states that,

Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations
their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures,
and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.

Whilst sensitive to ethical and intellectual property dimensions of UNDRIP Article 13.1, in WP2 we aim for an iterative process of documenting and communicating knowledges regarding place, in combination with indigenous philosophies of ‘nature’ associated with Etosha-Kunene conservation territories. We will do this through two main research methods:

  1. on-site oral history as a means of ‘cultural landscape mapping’, through walking and working with especially elderly members of Hai||om, Dama / ≠Nūkhoen, ||Ubun and Himba-Herero to collate and document childhood memories of places of past significance (utilising material at and This research praxis has involved ‘walking the tracks of the past even in the present’ to draw out ‘the erasure of earlier histories in assessments of the present’ and fill ‘the present with the traces of earlier interactions and events’ (Tsing 2014: 13; also Ingold & Vergunst 2008). As such, revitalises knowledges, practices and experiences that may be occluded in formal territorial designations associated with species and habitat protection (de Certeau 2010: 24; Tsing 2005: 81);

  2. paying ethnographic attention to differing ways of knowing the beyond-human entities comprising Etosha-Kunene natures, so as to more fully recognise and understand the possibility of or preliminary explorations and proof of concept, see Sullivan (2017a) and Hannis & Sullivan (2018) with Kaoko ≠Nūkhoen and ||Ubun, also Widlok (2018) with Nyae Nyae Ju|’hoansi. Here we affirm the cultural and historical particularity of natural history observation and objectification (as explored in WP5) so as to be alert to the possibility of varied ontological differences in knowing Etosha-Kunene natures that may have relevance for both conservation and livelihoods (cf. Marks 1984; Kohn 2013). As part of this exploration we seek to facilitate small group discussions involving varied participants where perspectives and realities regarding understandings of nature might be shared and better understood.

Proposed milestones, outputs and personnel:
This work package will be conducted by the full academic team and again will be an iterative process throughout the duration of the project. We have also costed in specialist cartographic assistance to help us create online interactive maps, as well as printed maps, for data emerging from the on-site oral histories / cultural landscapes mapping dimension of this WP. Our primary outputs will be:


  1. a series of interactive online and printed maps;

  2. at least two peer reviewed articles focusing on:
    i. deep mapping of remembered places and spaces of mobility for indigenous Hai||om, Dama / ≠Nūkhoen, ||Ubun and Himba-Herero – target journal Cultural Geography;
    ii. juxtaposition of ontological tendencies regarding human-with-beyond-human-natures – target journal Environmental Humanities.


WP3. Making Identity and Indigeneity: Hai||om / ≠Nūkhoen / ||Ubun Identity / Identification

Ethnicity and ethnic identity play crucial roles in the everyday life of Namibians, despite efforts by the postcolonial government to downplay ethnicity and to ignore current marginalisation based on ethnic ascriptions. In WP3, we capitalise on the opportunity to bring together prior work by especially Dieckmann and Sullivan into a new conversation regarding how indigenous identities are made in Etosha-Kunene. Our respective in-depth and parallel research places us in a unique opportunity to draw into focus overlaps and intersections between Etosha Hai||om and Kaoko ≠Nūkhoen and ||Ubun (as observed ethnographically and historically by Möller in Rudner & Rudner 1974; Sullivan 2001; Dieckmann 2007; Schmidt 2011). This work is an essential contribution, given that scholarly and popular anthropology alike, in combination with policy and donor structures, have tended to emphasise and empower distinctions and divisions between these groupings as ‘Bushmen’ and ‘Bergdama’ respectively. The context is complexified by identity-switching along ethnic lines, as well as by diverse perspectives on how Hai||om and ≠Nūkhoen differ and relate.

            WP3, then, makes a strongly theoretical as well as ethnographic contribution to theories of identity making. We seek to understand the shifting identity terrain specific to Etosha-Kunene in terms of how identity categories are constructed, negotiated, appropriated, realised and modified. We understand identity to be simultaneously the dynamic ‘effects of institutions, practices and discourses intersecting with multiple and diffuse points of origin’ (Butler 2006[1990]: xxxi, emphasis in original), as well as actively made, altered and instrumentalised by protagonists in relation to both contexts and ‘origins’. Specifically, we propose a Foucauldian ‘archaeological’ analysis (Foucault 1972) of identity discourses and categories regarding an array of distinct and intersecting ‘Khoe’ and ‘San’ identities, as these have become present and potent in ethnographic, linguistic, conservation, legal and daily discourses. We will draw on participant observation, literature review, oral histories, semi-structured interviews and facilitated conversations with various Hai||om, ≠Nūkhoen and ||Ubun individuals.


Proposed milestones, outputs and personnel:
WP3 will involve Dieckmann and Sullivan in particular, who aim for publication of a major co-authored theoretical-ethnographic paper in a high profile anthropology journal – target Current Anthropology.


WP4. Retracing and Spatialising Coloniality in Etosha-Kunene

In WP4, we deepen our historicisation of the ecological and policy spaces of Etosha-Kunene in WP1 through analysing historical engagements with these spaces by an array of early (male) colonial actors from predominantly Sweden, Britain and Germany, dating back to the mid-1800s. A number of narratives exist in the form of written journals and other accounts (for example, Galton 1890[1851]; Andersson 1861; Möller 1895-96 in Rudner & Rudner 1974) for which detail is largely missing from recent analyses of spaces in Kunene (for example Rizzo 2012; Bollig & Olwage 2016). Further, little or no spatialisation or retracing of these historic journeys has been carried out despite the rich information they contain regarding specific places visited, routes taken, peoples encountered and the natures observed, utilised and collected. In particular, the significant impact of this early period on indigenous fauna – attested to in documentation by European hunters that speaks of the decline of fauna that they themselves caused (for example, Galton 1890(1851); Andersson 1861) – arguably constitutes a neglected yet major driver of the later perceived need for ‘game conservation’ (cf. Mackenzie 1988; also Bollig & Olwage 2016). This occluded history merits detailed chronological and spatialised reconstruction for Etosha-Kunene conservation territories.

            We intend here to focus on a series of journals and journeys from 1850 to 1925 by colonial actors who played a large historical role in creating the later impetus for protecting Etosha-Kunene species and spaces. This series will include, but not be limited to: Francis Galton (English), Charles John Andersson (Anglo-Swede), Axel Eriksson (Swedish), Hans Schinz (German), Hugo Hahn (Russian-German), Palgrave (Cape Colony British), Peter Möller (Swedish), Major Charles N. Manning (Anglo-South African), and the American Denver Expedition of 1925/26. The narratives of these actors, and the routes and places with which they are entwined, record changing perceptions and practices regarding Etosha-Kunene that have acted to shape the cultures and natures encountered there (Gordon 1997). To date they not been systematically read together, nor have their narratives been spatialised or brought into conversation with indigenous African narratives, experiences and perspectives (WP2).


Proposed milestones, outputs and personnel:

Sullivan and Dieckmann will lead on WP4, making full use of possibilities for closely reading texts in both English and German. Again, this WP will be conducted iteratively through the project with outputs including:


  1. a series of interactive online and printed maps entangled where possible / appropriate with those created in WP2;

  2. peer reviewed articles on:
    i. systematic reading together of these different narratives – target Journal of Namibian Studies;
    ii. coloniality and the construction of natures and cultures in Etosha-Kunene – target journal Environmental History.


WP5. Collecting, Curating and Returning Etosha-Kunene Natures

WP5 builds on WP4 by focusing specifically on how the natures of Etosha-Kunene have been imagined and fashioned through colonial natural history collections and the curation and display of the specimen-artefacts that thereby arose. This WP draws technically on our experiences of natural history collection in Namibia: for example, in the 1990s Sullivan collected several hundred plant voucher specimens now housed in the National Herbarium of Namibia, as well as using material from the entomology collection in the National Museum of Namibia in the course of ethnoentomology research with ≠Nūkhoen interlocutors in west Namibia.

            Many of the travellers-hunters-traders analysed in WP4 were notable for the time, energy and resources they devoted to tracking down, killing and preparing natural history specimens for collections later housed in museums elsewhere, often in their home countries. Charles John Andersson’s first collections, for example, included ‘about 500 bird-skins and 1000 insects’, taken to England by Galton in 1852; more insects were donated to the South African Museum in 1860, and the rest of his collections are in Swedish museums and the Nottingham Museum in the UK (Rudner & Rudner 1974: 188-189). Axel Eriksson created a large collection of bird specimens from former South West Africa, mostly donated to the municipal museum in his home town of Vänersborg which as a result hosts the world’s largest exhibition of Namibian birds. A large collection of insect specimens was also donated by Eriksson to the South African Museum in Cape Town, and a large number of bird skins collected by him are currently housed in Uppsala’s Evolutionsmuseet. Additional collections might be located, for example, through the museum records section of Namibia’s Bird Information System which lists around 500 museum records for the country collected prior to 1900.

            Procured as an objective (and objectifying) catalogue of encounter with exotic colonial natures, such collections and associated displays acted in the past as ‘imperialistic propaganda’, leaving us today with ‘a passive witness’ of past relationships with plants and animals that communicates something of how nature in the colonial encounter was dealt with (Lemaitre 2016: 15, 73; also Kranz 2016). At the same time, such collections can reveal information about the places and landscapes from where they were sourced, as well as providing historical information for present-day species locations. In WP5, then, we will research and document a selection of specimen-artefacts in these collections, paying attention to the labelling and metadata associated with specimens, technologies of collection and ordering, and modes of display as hybrids of nature and human art (Lemaitre 2016; Delbourgo 2017). Where possible, the recorded provenance of collected specimens in Etosha-Kunene will be collated to enable comparison with present-day distributions, as listed in the various citizen science atlases and in particular the bird information system contributing present-day biodiversity monitoring in Namibia (see


Proposed milestones, specific outputs and personnel: This WP will be carried out by Sullivan who will make a series of research visits to identified collections to document and photograph specimen-artefacts held and displayed, paying particular attention to their provenance in Etosha-Kunene and the texts and aesthetics of their archiving and display. Two envisaged outputs are:


  1. compilation of an annotated and illustrated ‘catalogue’ of selected specimen-artefacts and the circumstances of their collection, with mapping of their provenance in Etosha-Kunene;

  2. contributed material for the project’s mobile exhibition in year 3, juxtaposing the content and geographies of the collections, the historical circumstances of their collection, and the places and landscapes from where specimens were sourced (see WP6).


WP6. Public Engagement

Cutting across the three years of our project is a public engagement strategy in which we seek to both foster knowledge exchange and maximise possibilities for societal and policy impact from the research carried out in WPs1-5. WP6 will involve a range of activities:

  1. a workshop hosted at the mid-point of the project that brings together researchers in Project 04 ‘Future Conservation’ in CRC 228 “Future Rural Africa” (see, to maximise possibilities for co-learning by linking DFG-supported research in the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area (north-east Namibia) with our research in the similarly scaled-up conservation area of the emerging Kunene Peoples Park;

  2. a mobile public exhibition in year 3 that is both physical and online, combining and juxatposing content from across our research and accompanied by an accessible explanatory booklet (for prototype see Sullivan et al. 2017). This exhibition will build on our prior experience of curating research exhibitions: Dieckmann was a consultant for several exhibitions on Hai||om cultural heritage in ENP and for the permanent San Exhibition in the National Museum of Namibia; Sullivan curated the multimedia research exhibition Future Pasts: Landscape, Memory and Music in West Namibia in the UK (2017) and online (

  3. the production of accessible locally printed publications including:
    i. a detailed policy-oriented book developed from the policy chronology and analysis pursued in and with stakeholders and policy actors;
    ii. a catalogue of selected natural history specimen-artefacts and the contexts of their collection, developed through research in WP5.


  4. production of a professional film and additional moving image film installation(s) to be used in multiple engagement pathways - from broadcast on national TV to installations in our project exhibition - so as reach both new understandings and new audiences.



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[1] As reported at;;

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