Piles of stones a reminder of Haiseb deity - News - Gondwana Collection


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Piles of stones a reminder of Haiseb deity

Avatar of inke inke - 07. July 2017 - Discover Namibia

Information boards in front of the reception of Canyon Village.

Canyon Village is dedicated to the history and culture of the Nama and Oorlam peoples. Before this Gondwana lodge opened in September 2003, five Namibian artists were engaged to depict scenes from the everyday life of these peoples as it was more than 100 years ago in dozens of murals. The idea was for guests to become acquainted with the people of southern Namibia and to keep alive the past of the Nama that was slowly fading into oblivion. 

One of the traditions and beliefs of the Nama has been displayed three dimensionally in the shape of a pile of stones in the parking area in front of the lodge since 2007. 

In many parts of Namibia piles of stones, usually next to ancient paths and passes or sometimes in the vicinity of waterholes, have existed since time immemorial. Among the Nama they were known as Haitsi Aibeb (the grave of Haiseb, a deity) and held in great respect. 

The name is revealing: "Ai" means "on" in the Nama language and "beb" the location of something. Thus the directtranslation of Haitsi Aibeb is "the place where Haitsi is found". 

Travellers who came across a Haitsi Aibeb added a stone, a stick or a twig and occasionally a few drops of water or diluted honey, some venison or tobacco. They then knelt down and said a prayer, often starting with "Haiseb, ║khō tsî da ge ra (Haiseb, we bury you)". Those on a longer journey asked for a favourable course or good hunting. Upon leaving the site they were not allowed to look back. This was a general rule when leaving an extraordinary place. Refusal to show deference towards Haitsi Aibeb was equal to provoking misfortune or an accident. 

According to the belief of the Nama, Damara and several San (Bushmen) peoples, Haiseb was a deity who lived in primeval times when animals were human beings who ruled over the fire and the dead could still be revived. Haiseb the bull calf was born after his mother, a cow, had eaten some magic grass. He was known for singing wondrous songs out of bushes and trees. Thus he was referred to as Haiseb, which means "he who is like a tree". Over time the name changed to Haibeb. 

He saved the world from a monster called ╪Gâ╪gōrib, or Plunge-into-the-Hole, which had caught many a traveller in its pit. According to oral tradition the demon sat beside his pit and mocked anyone who passed. He challenged passersby to throw a stone at him. Usually they could not resist the temptation. But the stone always bounced off ╪Gâ╪gōrib, hit the person who had thrown it and catapulted him into the pit. There the monster pounced on his victim and devoured him. Only resourceful Haiseb managed to overpower ╪Gâ╪gōrib. It is unclear exactly how he did this. They say that Haiseb possibly distracted the monster and flung a piece of rock at its head so that it tumbled into the pit itself. In a different version Haiseb was chased around the pit by ╪Gâ╪gōrib until he slipped and fell into it. Down there Haiseb changed into another being (nobody knows exactly what type of being it was). Apparently Haiseb licked his lips when he emerged from the pit. The monster was never seen again. 

The sun, the moon and the stars rose from Haiseb's breast. He died several times and arose again - supposedly always in a different shape. This might explain why his graves can be found in many places in Namibia and why scientists have not as yet unearthed any mortal remains beneath the piles. 

After an attempt to murder him, Haiseb sorted out the animal world. The story goes that he removed fish from the desert and stopped lions from nesting in trees. He gave the fire to the people. Lumps of fat turned into stones and death became irrevocable. The world evolved as we know it today. Haiseb disappeared from earth and his presence was reduced to that of an invisible deity. 

These days Haiseb is remembered only by the Damara in the central and northwestern parts of Namibia and by the Hai║om at Etosha (as Haikaib). He is all but forgotten among the Nama and in their folklore has been replaced by the jackal. 

The pile of stones in front of the Canyon Village is intended to keep alive the memory of old customs which are no longer practised. Add a stone, ask for a good trip and do not look back when you continue on your way! 

Sven-Eric Kanzler, Inke Stoldt

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