Nature, cattle thieves and various other midnight robbers: Images of people, place and landscape in Damaraland, Namibia
This thesis is a study of the social-economy of pastoralism in Damaraland, a former homeland of Namibia. It focuses on communal livestock farmers and their families, their strategies for coping with drought, poverty and a legacy of political oppression. By combining ethnographic, historical and ecological research methods the author achieves a multi-faceted view of pastoral practice in relation to land tenure, environmental change, political history and rural development. As part of a wider critique relating to past ethnographic representations of Namibians, the author presents a collection of over 200 photographs made by sixteen individual 'informants' from his central fieldwork area of Okombahe. These photographs form the basis for a discussion of identity, social relations, mobility, reciprocity, poverty and politics in rural Damaraland as well as theoretical considerations pertaining to visual representation generally. This ethnographic material is contextualized by exploring the historical experience of the inhabitants of Okombahe in relation regional economic, social and political processes. In order to survive in this unpredictable arid environment, communal livestock farmers, practice an opportunistic strategy of coping with drought based on flexible property relations. This thesis researches the impact which pastoral practice and communal settlement has had on this environment. The history of vegetation change in the vicinity of communal settlements in Damaraland is explored using a combination of methodologies including matched ground and aerial photography. The author concludes that this research validates recently revised theories pertaining to dryland ecology which posit that such environments are highly resilient: vegetation change associated with communal land use in Damaraland has come about primarily as a result of long term climatic fluctuations rather than because of unsustainable exploitation by communal farmers. This is shown to have important implications for contemporary development policy.