The small space, supervised by the charming, young Administrative Assistant called N#aisa Ghauz, soon filled to capacity with primary- and secondary-school-aged children from the town’s multi-ethnic population. True, I’d brought along a giant box of crayons and some sweet fruit treats, but it was the origami device I made that kept them intrigued.
This was an early prototype of the Story Starter and featured numerals and words, the words written in Ju|’hoan. (Problematic, as it turned out the majority of children weren’t Ju|’hoan. I saw for myself what educationalist had reported, viz. that Ju|’hoan children are reluctant to mix with their multi-ethnic peers; the few that approached the teaching table were soon elbowed out by physically bigger and more confident kids. I have sympathy for the repeated requests by the Ju|’hoan community for a mother-tongue school in the town. However, it’s contrary to Namibia’s laudable inclusion policy. Clearly, attitudes on both sides need to change – the San need to build confidence, their neighbours need to gain respect for them. Hearteningly, the Director-General of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation mentioned something to me that just might help in this regard. More about that when I blog about my new project idea.)
In the meantime, I was here to investigate local literacy levels, so I switched to oral teaching using English, Afrikaans and illustrations to explain building a story together from chosen elements on the device. Lots of paper-folding, drawing and laughing later, one group of youngsters did produce a tale, much to N#aisa’s surprise. “The children come to the library after school,” she explained, “but most just look at the pictures in the books. They don’t like to read or write.”
Yes, few wrote, but all wanted to draw and proved excellent copyists when I demo-ed cartooning (to the best of my limited ability) the various animals they chose as story protagonists. One group of youngsters dictated a short but complete story, which they called Oscar and the Snake*. See it here. It’s been translated into Ju|’hoan by a local interpreter, !Ui Charlie Ngeisi. Once he uploads this will be the first, original, stakeholder-created Ju|’hoan story on the site. But upload could take a while. Participating in the digital world is a challenge when one lives as remotely as !Ui Charlie and the people of Nyae Nyae do.
- *It may interest readers to know that the actors in the photographic illustrations of Oscar and the Snake are Koba’s relatives, Kqece (pronounced Kah-shay) and his father, |Aice (pronounced (Tay-shay). They warmed to the idea of helping to make a Ju|’hoan-produced story for upload to the Internet.
- How so? Well, by this time, I’d become something of a local phenomenon, being a |un di (white woman) who suddenly appeared as Koba’s benefactor. In keeping with the cultural norm, I was benefactor to her relatives too. Every time I visited, there were more and more people assembled around her small tent.
- I’d also now met her husband, N!aice. It happened thus: I was in an office, when a man wearing a familiar necklace approached me. I stared, nonplussed. Wasn’t this the gift I’d given Koba at our first reunion? There couldn’t be another one in town. N!aice, who is as confident as Koba is shy, introduced himself in excellent English. He said how pleased they were to become reacquainted with me and how much they liked the necklace. (Doh, CM! Hunter-gatherers have a sharing culture; personal ownership is not a cultural norm. Don’t leave home again without your ethnographic lenses in.) N!aice is a seasonal worker in the Nyae Nyae conservancy, a co-operative which manages the land and resources for its Ju|’hoan membership.
- We had enormous fun shooting the frames for the story in Koba and N!aice’s yard, with the onlookers laughing so hard at the way young Kqece somersaulted into his role, that the rookie actor corpsed, as did his father.