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Mapping the unmappable with Indigenous people in Africa – a new edited volume

Updated: Apr 23

Ute Dieckmann, the German Principal Investigator for Etosha-Kunene Histories, has edited a volume called Mapping the Unmappable? Cartographic Explorations with Indigenous Peoples in Africa (2021, Bielefeld: Transcript).


The volume opens with a conceptual-theoretical chapter by Dieckmann on approaches to mapping and cartography with indigenous peoples: "Cartographic explorations with indigenous peoples in Africa" (pp. 9-46). It includes two chapters on case material with Khoekhoegowab-speaking peoples of our Etosha-Kunene project area, as detailed below.

1) Dieckmann, U. 2021 Haiǁom in Etosha: “Cultural maps” and being-in-relations (pp. 93-137).

Abstract. I will introduce a cultural mapping project in the Etosha National Park in Namibia which I was involved in for some time. It was undertaken with a group of (former) hunter-gatherers, Haiǁom, who have live in the area of the Etosha National Park for time immemorial. In retrospect, I will analyse the “silences” as well as misrepresentations on the maps, which were produced during that time, with regard to hunter-gatherers relations to places, people, animals, etc.


2) Sullivan, S. and Ganuses, W.S. 2021 Densities of meaning in west Namibian landscapes: genealogies, ancestral agencies, and healing (pp. 139-190).

Abstract. This paper introduces a historical cultural mapping project in west Namibia documenting childhood memories of former dwelling places, particularly in Sesfontein and Purros conservancies and the Palmwag tourism concession. The research draws into focus past practices of dwelling, mobility, livelihood and environmental perception amongst Khoe-speaking peoples (of ǁKhao-a, !Narenin and ǁUbun !haoti or lineages) who lived as hunter-harvesters and small stock pastoralists throughout the wider west Namibian landscape. A combination of factors cleared people from these lands, causing disruption to cultural, family and individual identities. Using a combination of tools – from recorded oral histories and musics associated with remembered sites, to logging mapped coordinates and associated information on google maps – the project aims to (re)inscribe layers of cultural significance now occluded from maps of the area. The paper focuses on three dimensions that are hard to make visible using conventional cartographic techniques: 1. the rhizomatically interwoven relationships between people, places and ancestors that on-site oral histories draw into focus as densely connected through past mobilities and genealogies; 2. the greeting practice tsē-khom that foregrounds the agentic presence of known ancestors and anonymous spirits of the dead associated with specific places and land areas; and 3. the remembered significance of |gais praise songs and arus healing dances linked with former living sites (ǁan-ǁhuib).




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