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Sunday, June 7, 2015

!Nami≠nüs

 

Namibia was a German colony from 1884 to 1919, then administered by apartheid South Africa until 1990. It is still home to a small German population which I was a part of in 1968/69. The town I then lived and worked in was called Lüderitz, named after a German tobacco merchant, Adolf Lüderitz, who bought the town while it was a German colony from 1884 to 1919. Naturally, he named it after himself.

South-West Africa, as it was called then, became independent Namibia in 1990 and has been making efforts to break with its dark colonial past and adopt names that reflect the local people and language. The government now wants to change the name of the small harbour town Lüderitz to something that'll test the mettle of any GPS: !Nami≠nüs.

Spelling the new name is bad enough. For those who are not speakers of the local Nama language, this click-like tongue-twister requires quite a bit of verbal gymnastics - try it yourself here.

Like a dog returning to its vomit, I have in recent years revisited a number of my past 'abodes' but I may have to pass on !Nami≠nüs. I wouldn't even be able to ask for directions let alone understand the local tourguide if he told me that, "Nē ǀkharib ǃnâ da ge ǁgûn tsî ǀgaen tsî doan tsîn; tsî ǀnopodi tsî ǀkhenadi tsî ǀhuigu tsî ǀamin tsîn; tsî ǀkharagagu ǀaon tsîna ra hō" (In this region we find springbuck, oryx, and duiker; francolin, guinea fowl, bustard, and ostrich; and also various kinds of snake).