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Nameless in Namibia

Posted on September 7, 2016

Posted By Maureen Murphy, Luxury Travel Advisor

I find that being nameless is the oddest thing. I grew up in a country that named even the smallest hill. We had one named Brown Gilly and another named Tiddlewinks. These hills didn’t need equipment to surmount and you certainly wouldn’t be out of breath when you got there. But they had a name..

Not so in Namibia. You can drive for hours through sweeping vistas, vast panoramas, ancient rock formations and you might have a mild curiosity about what you are looking at so you can mention it later or research it or even remember it.

So you ask: “What’s the name of those mountains, those rocks, those hills?”

The common response: “They don’t have a name.”

Mountains are just mountains that are next to another bunch of mountains and beyond them just another bunch of rocks. All, by the way, jaw dropping in their beauty.

The sand dunes, of course, would defeat any naming ambitions. There are simply too many here. The sensible shortcut is just give the huge ones a number. If not for this, by the time they got to number three million (and with more to go), major exhaustion would have set in.

There is no effort here squandered in what was evidently considered a pointless task of labeling, assigning, specifying, identifying, nicknaming. None. And nothingness is an interesting way to describe the ‘Namib’ (the word used for desert by the local Hottentot people). The Hottentot at least came up with something that resembles a name for this place. However, the desert here is an ever changing nothingness on a scale that staggers belief.

For a people that do not put much emphasis on naming things, they sure go all out when they do name something. Some animals, for example, get names. The lowly Jackal, who might grab a dead baby springbok’s foot, is not one of them. However, if you are an elephant or a lion or a cheetah, you get the royal naming treatment. When you are named, your life is closely tracked and worried about and discussed.

Listening to the locals while exploring the area was like listening to a soap opera in the wild…

  • “Arnold, the new king of the elephant tribe, fought with Papa G, killed him, and became the lord and master.”
  • “Why is Arthur so grumpy and moody when he has everything he needs? All the female elephants he wants whenever he wants. All the power he wants.”
  • “What will Charlie [the other bull elephant] do with his life. Will he wander off by himself and ever find a home for himself?”

Then there are the desert-adapted lions. They are called ‘The Five Musketeers’ and were made famous when a documentary featured them. All hope for the future of desert-adapted lions in Namibia rests on them. They travel together and are tracked almost minute-by-minute by Dr. Flip Sander. Dr. Sandar has devoted his life to the study of these lions. All of the lions were descended from a single female, the late ‘Queen of the Desert’ who died earlier this year. They travel together with their sisters. One sister is named Bianca and, for the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the other sister. But she does have a name.

The ‘big cheese’ of the whole animal world in Namibia is the Black Rhino. These are seriously endangered and thus carefully tracked with detailed notes by the ‘Save the Rhino’ trust in conjunction with ‘Wilderness Safaris’. I guess you can say that rarity speaks volumes. I met Harry the Rhino one day. Curiously, my son was on the trip and is called Harry. Sometimes one had to tune in more closely on the conversation to sort out whether it was Harry the two-legged camera clicking dude being referred to or the four-legged deeply suspicious Harry the rare Black Rhino.

There is a method to the naming though. All of it depends on the mother. Harry’s mother, for example, had a name beginning with ‘H’ so therefore all her offspring will have names beginning with ‘H’.

It is easy to see that the people of Namibia care very much for some things and not so much for others. After recognizing this important part of their culture, I focused more on the named items than those that are nameless. I recommend others do the same when exploring this amazing place.

Written by and images provided by Maureen Murphy, Luxury Travel Advisor.

Find out more about Maureen and our other travel advisors →

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