The presence of the past: archaeology, environment and land rights on the lower Cunene River

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The presence of the past: archaeology, environment and land rights on the lower Cunene River
  Cimbebasia 17 : 23-39, 200123 The presence of the past archaeologlzr environment and land rights on the lower Cunene fuver John Kinahan P.O. Box 22407,IWindhoek, Namibia; e-mail: An archaeological survey of the area to be affected by a proposed hydropower scheme at Epupa on the lower Cunene River is described. The archaeological evidence from a total of 155 sites spans the mid-Pleistocene to Recent sequence and includes the remains of pastoral Himba serdements. No clear evidence as to the antiquity of Himba settlement was found, although the indications are that it would date to within the 19'h century AD. INTRODUCTION This paper arises from an archaeological field survey that formed part of a multi-disciplinary feasibility study for a proposed hydropower scheme at Epupa Falls on the lower CuneneRiverr. The lower Cunene forms the commonboundary ofAngola and Namibia in southwest- ern Africa in an arid, mountainous region in- habited by scattered communities of nomadic pastoralists. The proposal to construct a dam at this site provoked strong opposition and raised the issue of absrcinal ownership of the lowerCunene by the Himba, who are commonly be- lieved to have inhabited the area for centuries. Here I outline some of the background to theenvironmental study and the context of the ar- chaeological survey. I summarise the results of the survey and evaluate their relevance for the environmental study and the history of Himba seftlement on the lower Cunene River. Of the approximately 25 000 Himba in north- western Namibia and adjacent parts of Angola, Iess than 1 000 live in the 400 km2 area thatwould be inundated by the proposed dam. The Himba are mainly cattle pastoralists, but have substantial numbers ofsheep and goats. The aridconditions under which they live require a high degree of mobility and so a large number ofpeo- ple would enjoy theoretical rights to the Pas- tures of Epupa and its surroundings. For themost part, however, Himba households are quite sedentary, and it is the livestock that moves tosometimes distant pastures under the care of younger men. The Himba cultivate small fieldsalong the banks ofthe Cunene in years ofgood rainfall, although their dependence on agricul- ture is limited, as is their participation in the cash economy. Some authors stress the isolation of the Himba almost as a defining characteristic (Jacobsohn 1990), while others argue that it is the deliberate result of colonial policy (Bollig 1998a). To Crandall (1996), the complex social organisation of the Himba reflects a subsistence economy in which suiplus production of live-stock, rather than being marketed, is circulated among related households, thus promoting a high degree ofintegration and relative self-suf-ficienry. To investigate the feasibiliqy ofthe Lower Cune- ne Hydropower Scheme, or 'Epupa Dam', as it came to be known, the Angolan and Namibian governments commissioned a multi-disciplinarystudywhich was to cover not only the engineer-ing and economic aspects of the project, but also its expected social and environmental conse- quences. The studywas completed in1997,but an official decision as to the inception of theproject has yet to be taken. At the beginning of the study, the scheme was estimated to have a final cost of more than US 500 million, mak-ing it by far the largest infra-structural develop- ment in Angola and Namibia. Although it was generally recognised that the project would have significant environmental  24Cimbebasia 17,2001 impacts, no legislation existed to monitor ormitigate these (uidr Corbett & Glazewski I 996). PASTAND PRESENT ON THE LO\yER CUNENE BACKGROLIND TO THE STUDY In the absence of appropriate Namibian or Angolan environmental legislation, the terms of the lower Cunene environmental study were based on accepted principles ofinternational prac- tice, requiring that the consultants ... collect, evaluate and present baseline data on all relevant environmental aspects ofthe project area includ-ing the watershed, the reservoir, the project siteand the downstream reaches, to be presented as a comparison of impacts (Article 4.4.2.b in the PJTC Terms of Reference, cited in NavANc 1996). The framework of the study was also de- termined by the results of a pre-feasibility study (NauANc1996, L998) and the contents of Cabi- net Resolution 16.8.941002 by the Governmentof Namibia. AFRICA NAMI BIA Figure 1. The location of the Epupa Dam site on the lower Cunene River, showing the search quadrats used in the archaeologicai survey.  Kinahan - archaeology on the lower Cunene River 25 In practice, the study was divided in two major components: one to address the biophysical en- vironment and the other to examine the socio- economic aspects of the project. Specific termsofreference were drafted for each specialist con- tribution and this resulted in the separation of the anthropological and archaeological studies,so that the historical dimension of the anthro- pological study was limited to oral and docu- mentary sources, and the archaeological study was limited to the material aspects of cultural heritage. Although archaeological remains in Namibia are protected under the National Monumenrs Act No. 28 of 1969), there is no provision for impact assessment, and it is merelyrequired under Section 12 parugraph 3 a) that developers report archaeological finds to the rel-evant authorities. Thus, while the Namibian leg- islation did not demand an archaeological as- sessment, international practice ensured that it formed part of the srudy uideWorld Bank 1 991 , 1994).The location of the proposed dam andthe archaeological survey area are shown in Fig-ure 1. The pre-feasibiliry study identified the key en- vironmental and social issues pertaining to the lower Cunene Hydropower Scheme as the loss ofriparian and seasonal stream habitats upstream of the Epupa Falls, as well as downstream im- pacts on aquatic habitats; primarily the Cunene fuver mouth. Of equal concern was the poten- tial impact of the scheme on the Himba peopleand their natural resource base. Public hearingswere held in Angola and Namibia, and debateover almost every aspect of the project becameincreasingly rancorous e.g. Anon. 1996; Fried- man 2000; Maletsky 1997; Statement oftheAf- fected Community 1996). The study was brought to an end without completing the cru- cial mitigation proposals that would be required by major international lending institutions ¬†NauANc 1997). *{-, Figure 2. A Himba ancestral grave on the lower Cunene River, with crania of sacrificial cattle impaledon moPane Posts.  25Cimbebasia 17,2001 Proposals to resolve the dispute by material com- pensation were turned away by the Himba who would not agree to the inundation of their an-cestral graves, situated mainly on the banla of the Cunene and its tributaries (Bollig 1997a). Irrational though their position may have seemed to economists and development planners, the Himba graves are concrete evidence of land own-ership where no other records exist (Figure 2).Moreover, the concept of land ownership among the Himba does not include the prerogative to sell or otherwise alienate properry that is held in common, under the patriarchial guardianship of lineage elders (van'Warmelo 1962). The patri- arch and the ancestral graves form a powerful link between the living and the dead in a society that does not subscribe to the values of the market economy. The environmental study indicated that theimpacts of the Epupa Dam outweighed its ad-vantages and suggested that an alternative sitesome 30 km downstream would be more suit- able. This site, known as Oryokawe, lies in a deeply cut section of the Cunene River at the foot of the Baynes Mountains. Although far smaller, a dam at this site was considered to be economically viable, with limited environmen- tal impact. The Namibian government none- theless favoured the Epupa Dam on the grounds of its size and power generating capacity. It was considered that the Epupa Dam could also func- tion independently of other hydropower instal- lations on the Cunene, such as the war-dam- aged Govd Dam in Angola. The Himba of Epupa, under the leadership of Hikuminue Kapika, nonetheless asserted their right to re- ject the development proposals in their entirery as the absrcinal owners ofthe project area. Under colonial rule, the land of the Himba was considered too marginal for settler cattle ranch- ing, and too distant from market centers t; at- tract even itinerant traders. The lack of viable mineral resources combined with these disin-centives ensured that the Himba remained on the periphery of the colonial economy, unaf- fected by the systematic land appropriation ex- perienced by other rural communities (Bollig 1998a). Ownership ofland in colonial Namibia was defined by European precepts of private properry and thus is distinguished from the communal lands of traditional communities such as the Himba. Ownership of such lands resorted under the colonial state (Adams \Terner 1990:94) and, ironically, continues as such under the post-colonial constitution of Namibia (Harring 1 996). THE EPUPA ENVIRONMENT HIMBA PASTORALISM From its source on the Bid Plateau ofsouth cen- tral Angola, the Cunene River descends to an ancient inland delta system at Matala in thesouthern part ofthe country. Post-tectonic up- lift of the continental margin led to the capture of this entire 100 000 km2 drainage which used to flood the 5 000 km2 Etosha Pan in northern Namibia. The lower Cunene is a narrow palaeo-glacial valley, and in years ofexceptional rainfall the volume ofwater exceeds its capacity of flow. \7hen this occurs the river upstream ofCaluequespills over its banks and drains southward over the old inland floodplain.Downstream of the Epupa Falls, the Cunene River is a narrow rushing torrent, and over long distances it is almost inaccessible, even on foot. The steep mountainsides flanking the river are practically devoid ofsoil and vegetation, and only where tributary valleys meet the river are people and their livestock able to live. Conditions are less rugged in the area upstream of the Epupa Falls, although this, too, presents a harsh set of environmental constraints. Near the Epupa Falls, the Cunene River valley is in the form of a wide and shallow basin, with the Sierra Techamalinde andZebra Mountains forming its northern and southern rims. The area receives an average of 350 mm rainfall per annum (CY 65Vo), mostly in the summer months of December to April,when daytime temperatures of over 45'C are  Kinahan - archaeology on the lower Cunene River )7 Viewed as a simplified land system (uideJohans'son & Strctmquist 1978), the Epupa basin in- cludes five component landscape units. Steep hillslopes (Unit I) with exposed rock and skel-etal soils make up 1 1 of the potential inunda- tion area; colluvial footslopes (Unit II) with oucwash fans and small isolated hills comprise 72o/o of the area; seasonal streams (Unit III) with associated bush make up a further l3o/o; theriparian zone of the Cunene (Unit IV) accolrnts for 2o/o of the area, and the Cunene River itself (Unit V) makes up the remaining 2o/o. Nl of these environmental components are of impor- tance to the Himba, so that although the colluvial footslopes are essential grazing areas, the riparian zone forms a vital resource base in times of drought, as well as a prime area of cul-tivation when soil water ievels are high enough to sustain maize and miliet through the grow- ing season. Inundation of any one ofthese com-ponent units would reduce the flexibiliry of theHimba subsistence economy and greatly increase the level ofrisk, particularly in cattle husbandry. Vegetation cover on the steep hillslopes is lim- ited to patchy thornscrub wirh scattered Acacia robynsiana Merxm. & A.Schreib. (Fabaceae) trees. In contrast, the deeper sandy soils of the colluvial footslopes support extensive Ca-lophospermum mlpane (J.Kirk ex Benth.) J.Kirk ex J.Ldonard (Fabaceae) woodlands. This spe- cies is of considerable economic importance to the Himba, for the buiiding of cattle enclosuresand as a source of leafy browse in the dry season (Malan & Owen-Smith 1974). The vegetationof the seasonal streams also includes Faidherbiaalbida (Delile) A.Chev. (Fabaceae), another im- portant source of animal fodder. Small but reli- able artesian springs occur in the seasonal stream- courses, and these determine the location of Himba settiements in the otherwise dry envi-ronment on either side ofthe Cunene River. Theriparian zone, with its deep alluvial soils, sup- ports a narrow but remarkably dense and spe- cies-rich woodland. One of the most important trees of the riverine environment is Hypi/1asns petersiana Klotzsch (Arecaceae), a fan palm pro-ducing large quantities of edible fruits on which the Himba rely in times of famine.Himba homes teads ozonganda are relatively per- manent setdements, and in the Epupa area these are preferentially located in the colluvial envi-ronment (Unit II) which seems to offer the best mix of reliable pasture, water and other re-sources. Generally, pastures near to the home- stead are reserved for the dry season, and when the rains commence the cattle are taken to tem-porary encampments ozoy'tambo at distant pas-tures where they remain as long as possible. Risk management strategies employed by the Himbainclude complex stock exchanges, which serve to maximise the spread of the herd and create a web of economic obligations. The pattern of such networks is largely determined by the so- cial relationships of bilateral kinship in which descent uia the femd,eline eanda confers rights of inheritance over properry while the male line oruzo determines access to the ancestors, to so- cial status and to sacred cattle (Crandall 1996). The acute environmental constraints that affect Himba pastoralism are illustrated by the com- parison between rainfall and cattle numbers over the sample period 1971 to 1996 (Figure 3).There is a noticeable lag in the response to rain-fall, and cattle numbers appear to plummet onlyunder conditions of extreme drought, as oc- curred in 1981 . This reflects the success of riskmanagement strategies enabling herds to be moved to better pastures. In the same way, de- pleted herds could be rebuilt more rapidly by recalling loan animals than by natural increase. The fact that cattle numbers increased fifteen- fold over the fifteen years following the cata- strophic 1981 drought is due to these practicesand the resilience of the lower Cunene environ- ment. This has implications for the historicaldevelopment of Himba pastoralism, to be ad-dressed beiow. Sustainable pastoralism under these conditions is characterised by a sparse but relatively predictable distribution of small en- campments, only some of which might be oc- cupied for prolonged periods. As the next sec-
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