The study area of this publication is the western part of Bushmanland, north east of the Otjozondjupa region of Namibia. The area is commonly referred to as West Bushmanland, and this name is used throughout this publication.
West Bushmanland has about 2000 inhabitants, mainly !kung. They belong to three different tribes - the Ju\oasi, Punguvlei and Vasekele. The ancestors of the Ju\oasi lived in the eastern part of Bushmanland as hunter-gatherers and even today, this region is mainly populated by them. The ancestors of the Punguvlei came from the Rundu area and those of the Vasekele from South Angola. Both groups lived as hunter-gatherers, but also practised to some extent shifting cultivation due to earlier contacts with Bantu tribes and the Portuguese. Both Punguvlei and Vasekele people came to Bushmanland during the time of the South African occupation, when they were employed by the South African Army and stationed in West Bushmanland. At that time, West Bushmanland was mostly unpopulated as there was no surface water. The South African Army drilled boreholes and so enabled people to settle permanently in West Bushmanland.
Today, most of the villages in Bushmanland have developed from former army bases and depend on government diesel for generators for their water supply. The !kung people are no longer nomadic, but live permanently in villages. Hunting and in particular gathering still play important roles in their livelihood, especially for those who do not have a job or any other income. This is the case for most of the !kung, as the unemployment rate amongst them is an estimated 95%! While the Ju\oasi still live from hunting and gathering only, the Punguvlei and Vasekele have continued with their tradition of cultivating fields. They grow mahango, sorghum, maize and vegetables like beans, pumpkin, melons and different kinds of plants for harvesting leaves. The work on the fields is mainly done by hand, although the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement sometimes provides a free ploughing-by-tractor service and some !kung started to plough with cattle. However, other than chickens, they usually do not have any livestock. Most of the livestock in Bushmanland belongs to Herero, Damara, Kavango or white people who have settled in Bushmanland at the time of independence or after.
The Kanovlei Forestry Research Station, which was my home from January 1996 to January 1998, is about 170 km north east of Grootfontein and 120km west of Tsumkwe. It was established in 1989 on top of a dune 4.5km from the main Grootfontein to Tsumkwe road (C 44) in the middle of the bush.
Today, the station employs six labourers, one driver and one ranger. It is inhabited by about 60 people, mainly Vasekele. As the contact with the people at the station was naturally the easiest, a lot of information was received from them. This has meant that information from Vasekele sources is more comprehensive than from Punguvlei or Ju\oasi.
After about one year I realised that it is necessary to know more about the Vasekele language in order to be able to write down the correct Vasekele names of the plants. Both the Vasekele and the Punguvlei language do not exist in written form. They are said to be different languages, but quite closely related. They both use the same four basic click-sounds, whereas I was told that the Ju\oasi language has five basic click-sounds. Vasekele and Punguvlei names of plants are often the same, but Ju\oasi names are mostly different.
I learned the Vasekele language with the help of Mr. Auzenu Manzolo who is Vasekele and a former Primary School Teacher and when I started I discovered some interesting aspects of the language. For example, the verb form changes if you speak of 'we' as two people, as three people or as four and more people. Also I was very surprised to hear that the original Vasekele language has words for only four different colours: black, blue, red and white. All other colours were always described as being similar to one of these four. Today, as Vasekele has mixed with a lot of Afrikaans words, most other colours are named in Afrikaans. But the most useful aspect, especially for the income generating projects which were also part of my work, was that the Vasekele language only counts from one up to five; six and more are usually just referred to as 'baie' which is an Afrikaans word and means 'many'. I had always wondered why the women of the bread baking project just answered 'baie' if I asked them how many breads they had baked or sold. Now I understood!