Two Verses: ‘Die Poppe is aan Dans’, and ‘!Namiǂnûs’
We walked into the museum, through what used to be the exhibition space, towards another section of the building, almost past the first room where tall lights extended onto large rectangular boxes containing folded white sheets of paper. While the group sauntered in the direction of the next room, I back-tracked slowly because I spotted an ekori in one of the boxes right in the front of the room. I asked the researcher guiding us through the Namibia collection to take us through the contents in that room first. We stood in front of the splayed ekori, elegantly decorated cap, three pointed ears with embroidered patterns. It had a train of long iron beads along a medium-sized leather bang that would envelop the nape and contours of a woman’s face and crown. The ekori still had hints of burnt-red ochre, now just browning under the pressure of pesticides, and from being pressed into trays in cabinets. The researcher then explained that it was the oldest ekori in a museum collection in Germany, and was now being returned from the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, along with 23 objects identified through a collaborative research and conservation project between Namibia, and Germany (https://www.preussischer-kulturbesitz.de/en/newsroom/dossiers-and-news/all-dossiers/magazin-international-cooperations/the-ekori-the-story-of-a-german-namibian-interrelationship.html).
At this moment the restorer from Namibia, who was sewing material onto a small bust to set a corset onto it for storage and packing-up for Namibia, stepped into the room. We exchanged stories about knapsacks, throws and blankets associated with leather works, such as the ekori. On a visit to the Dahlem museum several months later, we entered another part of the building, in the actual storage facility where several ‘blankets’ had been set atop tables and trestles. The collection was from !Namiǂnûs in the //Kharas region of southern Namibia. As the time in the room drew to a close we learnt that some of the more than 1000 objects from Namibia were present in cabinets where we were filming. As the archivist slowly opened the drawers, a strong scent escaped, a century-old scent contained in the leather garments, and on buttons, embroidery, wood, ostrich and sea shells, lingered on in the room, and momentarily took us back to well-worn shores, the smell completely inhabited the space, as we went about reading tags, setting up gear, lights and adjusting a ladder.
Ancestral inheritances of Namibian origin (some in the collection may be from Angola) in the Berlin Ethnological Museum were never exhibited in the museum. Research on the inventory and the extant of objects was only recently made public, particularly through the collaborative project cited above. The objects were taken, many through spoliation, from Namibia in the 1880s, and even as late as the 1950s, and 2000s. In May 2021, we attended a high-key, low-attendance handing-over ceremony in Berlin, in what used to be the entrance to the exhibition space of the museum, which has now been relocated to the Humboldt Forum. The ceremony was attended by the Namibian Ambassador to Germany, Director of the National Museum of Namibia, Head of the Prussian Cultural Foundation, Head of the Cultural Goods from Colonial Contexts of the German Lost Arts Foundation, Berlin-based journalists, and museum practitioners (https://www.smb.museum/en/whats-new/detail/twenty-three-objects-from-the-ethnologisches-museum-head-to-namibia-partnership-enters-next-phase/).
The recordings presented here are composed of two verses: ‘Die Poppe is aan Dans’, and ‘!Namiǂnûs’. The work centres aural forms to reflect on, and centre commemorative modalities related to demands for restitution. The audio commences with stories, and hymns of children, and women recorded in Namibia in the 1950s. The audio sculpture expands on the conversations made on film (shown at the Humboldt Forum), with Namibian museum practitioners, and artist/fashion designer who were part of the collaborative research project in the Berlin Ethnological Museum (‘Tracing Namibian German Collaborations’). The children’s voices are related to the assemblages of ‘dolls’, ‘poppe’, or ‘ompobi’, which are returned to Namibia (mentioned in the film), those who remain, and also draw on contemporary doll-making, children’s games, and sartorial practices in Namibia. Two sound collections are listed in the inventory, which form part of the Namibia collection at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin (Hans Lichtenecker and Ernst Dammann). The audio work is composed of parts of the latter sound collection retrieved from a different format and archive. (Continued in the next post, ‘!Namiǂnûs’)
Two Verses: Memory Biwa and Robert Machiri
Archives: Ernst Dammann Sound Collection, BAB; and other sources.
Special thanks: Julia Binter, Johanna Ndahekelekwa Nghishiko, Gabriel Rossell-Santillán.