Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Southeast Namibia: Gabis

The following are images from the my exploration of southeast Namibia last year.

After leaving Karasburg we headed South again and after about 20km came upon the Catholic Mission at Gabis - there is no 'town' here, only the Mission buildings and a few dozen homes scattered around the area.

This remote Mission is situated on the usually dry Hom River.

I couldn't find much info on Gabis on-line but according to The Oblate Sisters of St Francis de Sales it appears that it was once a farm and the Mission itself was established in 1907, a year after the Nama - German war ended.

In 1904 the Herero and Nama people went to war against German Colonial occupation - this war resulted in the first Genocide of the 20th century, when the Herero and Nama people were virtually exterminated.

Another source states that "On June, 21th 1906, Gabis, west of Warmbad, is attacked by !Gami-#nun Leader Johannes Christian"

Close to the Mission, besides a long-dead tree, are the graves of two German soldiers who fell during this attack.

Born in the same year, they died on the same day, far from home.

A 'shrine' to the Virgin Mary - a distinctly Roman Catholic symbol - outside the old Farmhouse which, it appears, has now been converted into a Guest-house.

A grave marker in the small cemetery close to the Mission.

Another grave in the cemetery, the marker cut out of sheet-metal shaped like a map of Namibia and painted in the colours of the Namibian Flag.

At the Mission a group of kids came running up to the car and started fooling around for the camera - unfortunately all these pics were under-exposed.

The kids said that they were part of the soccer team, hence the matching t-shirts.

We drove about 16 km along the gravel track running parallel to the Hom river.

There were a number of homesteads along the river and what struck me most was the absence of litter.

The occupants are obviously dirt-poor but take pride in their homes - a stark contrast to the rubbish which surrounds many settlements in Namibia.

Home Sweet Home.

A rickety shelter in the middle of nowhere - what I couldn't understand is why the owner built it out in the open, under the blazing sun, when there were ample large shady trees around, closer to the river.

It's scenes like this that cause me to question my perceptions of reality - two kids, also in the middle of nowhere, happily driving their home-made cars.

Would these kids be Happier lolling in front of a computer, surfing the Net? - my guess is that they aren't even aware of the existence of the WWW.

I understand that information is access to knowledge and personal liberation but, on the other hand, to take this lifestyle away from these kids and immerse them in technology seems somehow obscene.

Does Knowledge bring happiness?

It also makes me think that wealth does not equal happiness and poverty does not equal misery.


Related Posts:
Southeast Namibia: Warmbad Pt 1
Southeast Namibia: Warmbad Pt 2
Southeast Namibia: Karasburg & More Poverty



  1. Where on earth do the people from the mission go shopping, I guess that they must do this from time to time. The dry river bed looks like it might be a good idea, the mission is not very high!
    The small cemetery looks quite forlorn, but the Namibian flag/map is very unusual.
    I often wonder how I survived without my computer but survive I did. Things took a little longer but I think I was much happier in many ways!! Instant contact is not always a good idea and I love my privacy. Diane

    1. Hehehe Diane - I'm a bit of a recluse myself ...

      Yeah, I guess some of the people are able to travel the 20km to Karasburg for supplies - Donkey-carts are a popular form of transportation ...

      ... there's not much money to spend though, many families survive off the State Pensions of their elderly relatives - 550 Nam dollars per month ... that's less than 50 British pounds ...

  2. This post is (strangely enough) very reminiscent of Patagonia, for it's absence of humidity and bleak landscape with poor habitation - but also because the "Salesianos" were a driving force in the region during the 19th Century, and I brushed up on them when I was translating my book. They had missions here and there, but mostly they were known for travelling alone or with one companion, on foot across the vast expanses of this sort of topography, putting up for the night with whichever shepherd or farmer crossed their paths - it was unthinkable not to offer them hospitality. I believe they were a power for the good on the whole. As implied, they were men - I've never heard of nuns in the order, so what you say is very interesting.
    One other thing that strikes me very strongly, is that in Argentina at the moment there's a lot of fuss going on about the 30th anniversary of the Falkland/Malvinas conflict, and therefore about the exploitation of foreigh powers generally, and particularly the British, which have come in for a lot of criticism. And yet maybe they should look at what colonialism by other European powers did to other countries - the extermination you describe by German colonial rule sounds far worse...
    I'll stop occupying space now! Enjoyed the post.

    1. Thanks for your interesting comment Caroline - I'd never heard of Gabis before arriving there, nor the female "Salesianos" ...

      ... I think that people were generally more hospitable towards travellers in days gone by ...

      Yes, colonialism is but one aspect of the age-old conflicts which have occurred through man's hunger for land and wealth ...

  3. Thank you--as always--for today's tour!

  4. Too bad you were not available to build the Virgin Mary shrine. Your stone work would have been much better.
    Your statement on wealth and poverty is very true.

    1. Thanks Bill - hehe ... a travelling shrine-builder?

      ... makes me think of Shriners ... perhaps you could do a post on them if you have had any experiences with them? ...

  5. I really like that--wealth does not equal happiness and poverty does not equal misery. I have found that to be true in lots of places I've visited. I think Americans who haven't traveled outside the U.S. much tend to equate poverty with misery and unhappiness, and also they then feel guilty because they are so relatively rich. Lots of my friends here recoil in horror when they pass through poor areas in Mexico on the way to tourist resorts. This whole set of feelings leaves the rich American feeling pity for someone and being socially very separated from them--which of course means you miss the opportunity to know or understand someone a bit. Anyway, I think it's really condescending to assume someone is miserable because they are poor.

    1. Thanks Barbara - you make an interesting point regarding guilt, missed opportunities and knowing people ... perhaps there is also an element of fear involved ...

      I think that when trying to help less-fortunate people improve their lot it's worth keeping in mind 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day - teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime' .... or something like that ... :)

  6. Whenever you go on a road trip, you come upon the most interesting, beautiful, thought-provoking,and fun things along the road. I thought about you last time we drove to Los Angeles as I looked for stuff along the road. They took that red truck away, but the old boat, The Minnow, is still sitting there in the middle of the desert. Then there's that huge airplane graveyard and a few mansions on top of impossibly steep hills, three large white crosses in the desert, I guess a car accident took some lives. Little else, except the beautiful landscape.

    1. mmmm Inger, I'm really curious to see The Minnow and the airplane graveyard ... could you get some close-ups and do a blog post?

  7. Very interesting scenes. I really enjoy looking at grave markers and the ones that you have captured are certainly unique to what I usually see and also very interesting.

    Those missions building look huge against the desert sand. If the mission once had a farm does that mean the river once had water? Does the river still have river but is temporarily dry, as it happens Kenya during an especially hot spell?

    What strikes me about the people photos you show of adults and children alike, is how very beautiful and attractive the people are. I mean virtually everyone is so beautiful. Of course, I realize beauty is relative and depends on one's perception but a lot of these people could I think be in fashion shoots and such (not that they want to be or that that is anything they should aspire to). Personally though I really appreciate knowledge (a trained teacher) and the internet (an avid user), I really don't think these children would be any happier or better off spending hours and hours in front of the computer. This has certainly created obesity problems in NA. The only thing I worry about is that when people are cut off from knowledge or the ways of the world, they do not know how to protect themselves from those that might take advantage of them in some way. I'm thinking now of the tribesmen in the Amazon...several new tribes have been "found" recently and there are now concerns about making contact and introducing disease (just as an example).

    I'll close by saying how much I love the ingenuity and resourcefulness of many African people. I've seen it in Kenya and Ghana in person. Now I see it in photos in Nam. Like these two young boys who obviously have made or someone has made for them, these wonderful little trucks.

    Great post once again.

    1. Thanks Penny - I have a whole folder of pics of graveyards and graves ...

      ... The Hom river is dry for most of the year and may flow for a few days when it rains - from the last pic you can see that there is ample groundwater here ...

      Yeah, you're probably aware of my view that the Earth's human population is reaching a critical mass and that catastrophe is imminent - perhaps people who have basic survival life-skills are the ones who will inherit the Earth ...

    2. I didn't appreciate that there is a lot of groundwater there. I just assumed the water tank and windmill operate when there is more water in the river. It is always amazing to me that water can come from the ground in different places. Thank for the additional information :-)

  8. I adore that picture of the kids... :)

    1. Thanks L - can you imagine them walking alone like that (there were no dwellings in sight) in a city?

  9. I can't imagine that those two soldiers imagined that their final resting place would be in such a remote part of the world. I wonder if they would be pleased. Again you have helped us to understand the essence of life in Namibia.

    1. Thanks Calvin - it's strange that you should comment on the soldiers - I only included that pic because of my life-long dislike of the way young men die in old men's wars ... this abhorrence developed as a child when I read about the trenches in WW1 ... the way that the State takes complete control of a person's life ...