Namibia Part VI – Twyfelfontein and Damara Living Museum


We arrived at Twyfelfontein late in the afternoon looking for a place to stay. Near the engravings is a beautiful lodge, but there are tour buses everywhere and we knew even before we asked that they would be fully booked. So we went to the second nearest place we saw, Aba Huab Rest Camp. What a horrible place at terribly high prices! I donʼt say this lightly; Iʼm used to slumming it, but this takes the cake.

Neglected is an understatement. I think this place only survives because of its proximity to Twyfelfontein. The ablution is outside in the fresh air, with stone walls and no roof – not a problem as such – but the toilets donʼt have doors to start with. I was surprised twice by “visitors” in a precarious position. The one toilet looked like it was on a sinkhole waiting to happen, and Hugo refused to go in there, with good reason. Although there were obvious lights and signs of electricity everywhere, nothing worked.

All four of us went together to have a shower (safety in numbers and all that jazz) and the children insisted on taking every single light we have. It almost looked like a Christmas celebration in those bathrooms. Poor Hugo was last in line for a shower and had water for about 30 seconds. No further comment; letʼs just say, in my sister’s words, he had “onkruid in sy taaltuin” (weed in his word garden).

The restaurant had no food at all, the kiosk had nothing and the bar was occupied by a few inebriated locals with barely anything to drink. I do not recommend this place at all – minus five stars for it.

Taking all that in account, itʼs no surprise we improved our own record for  getting out of there  – tent and trailer packed, breakfast done and all four dressed in less than an hour. It IS possible! At 7:50 we stopped in the parking area of Twyfelfontein, the first tourists to arrive.

Twyfelfontein (Afrikaans: uncertain spring), officially known as ǀUi-ǁAis (Damara/Nama: jumping waterhole), is a site of ancient rock engravings in the Kunene Region of north-western Namibia. It consists of a spring in a valley flanked by the slopes of a sandstone table mountain that receives very little rainfall and has a wide range of diurnal temperatures.

The site has been inhabited for 6 000 years, first by hunter-gatherers and later by Khoikhoi herders. Both ethnic groups used it as a place of worship and a site to conduct shamanist rituals. In the process of these rituals at least 2,500 items of rock carvings have been created, as well as a few rock paintings. Displaying one of the largest concentrations of rock petroglyphs in Africa, UNESCO approved Twyfelfontein as Namibia’s first World Heritage Site in 2007.

Twyfelfontein is situated in the Huab valley of the Mount Etjo formation in southern Kunene Region of Namibia, an area formerly known as Damaraland. The rocks containing the art work are situated in a valley flanked by the slopes of a sandstone table mountain. An underground aquifer on an impermeable layer of shale sustains a spring in this otherwise very dry area. The name Twyfelfontein refers to the spring itself, to the valley containing the spring, and in the context of traveling and tourism also to a greater area containing nearby tourist attractions: the rock engravings, the Organ Pipes, Burnt Mountain, Doros crater, and the Petrified Forest. The World Heritage Site covers the area of rock engravings.

The area is a transitional zone between semi desert, savanna, and shrubland and receives less than 150 mm (5.9 in) annual rainfall. Diurnal temperatures vary from 10 to 28 °C (50 to 82 °F) in the winter month of July and 21 to 35 °C (70 to 95 °F) (Borderjumpers: it was AT LEAST 35 °C when we were there in March) in the summer month of November.

Source: Wikipedia

We had a lovely Afrikaans-speaking guide for just the four of us. She told us that the engravings are between 2 000 to 5 000 years old, meaning that for        3 000 years the San (or Khoi-Khoi) came to this area to engrave their pictures in the stone. The pictures aren’t just random either, they all have a meaning and was a way of communicating with other groups of San people. It showed where water could be found, where game could be found and also had spiritual meaning. Apparently many of the artists were in a trance when they did their work. How historians know this, I have no idea! They are probably on the same hallucinatory drugs.

To my untrained eye, the circles look like they prove that aliens exist. Or it may show the location of waterholes, whichever you prefer.

Reading the Stones: The Art of the San

At first glance, the engravings and rock paintings found at Twyfelfontein are similar to prehistoric rock art found around the world. Figures, footprints, strange geometric shapes and animal-like figures cover the stones, telling the story of hunter and prey. But what is unique about Twyfelfontein is that the ancestors [Ed: Nice error! Surely they meant to write “descendants”????] of the people who created these works are still living. Although life has changed for them, they still share similar beliefs, rituals, hunting techniques and understandings of the world around them – allowing us a unique insight into the meaning behind the rock art, and what our ancestors were trying to say.

Here are some of the stories behind one of the largest rock art sites in Africa.

The San are able to put themselves into trances by means of dancing and hyperventilation. This is often carried out by a shaman, who will perform various acts while in this “spirit world”, such as healing and making rain. Much of the rock art is believed to be depictions of what the shaman saw while in the spirit world. This is also why many of the engravings are positioned next to fissures and crevasses – it was believed they were entrance points to the supernatural world.

One of the most famous figures in Twyfelfontein is the Lion Man. This lion has five toes on each foot (instead of four), and at the end of his bent tail is what looks like a human hand. The Lion Man represents a human who has turned into a lion while in the spirit world. A giraffe with five “horns” is also believed to be a Giraffe-Man. However, the four-headed ostrich is believes to be a very early example of “animation”!”

– Source:

You may be confused by the images of seals, dolphins and penguins! However, these creatures were never present here; instead, the San travelled over 100  km to the coast to collect salt, and drew what they saw when they had been there.

When we were finished learning about the San, we went to the Damara Living Museum. The children were very good at keeping straight faces with all the naked boobs hanging about. I thought it was a plastic surgeon’s dream come true.

The Living Museum of the Damara close to Twyfelfontein is the first traditional Damara project in Namibia and the only one of its kind. The possibility to experience the traditional Damara culture in this form exists nowhere else in Namibia or in the world.

Together with the San, the Damara belong to some of the oldest nations in Namibia. Their original culture was a mixture of archaic hunter-gatherers and herders of cattle, goats and sheep. Due to their loose social structures, the Damara were not able to defend themselves against aggressors during the colonisation of Namibia. This is one of the reasons why their culture has to a great extent fallen into oblivion.

The establishment of the Living Museum of the Damara was an attempt to reconstruct the “lost culture” of this people. Here visitors have the unique opportunity to get to know the fascinating traditional culture of the Damara, thus contributing to the preservation of the culture, as well as to a regular income for the Damara community, who built the museum.

In the photos, two guys are showing us how to make fire without our modern tools. Gustav bought himself one of the “kits”, but we haven’t managed to even get a tiny spark. Only blisters!

Our guide, talking about herbs and medicines.


After a very educational morning at Twyfelfontein and the Damara Living Museum, we were sent off with a few beautiful songs. Here is a snippet:

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