Namibian Rain Dance



Meet the other half of Untamed Travel Africa – Frikkie’s wife, Tillie.  Tillie is the computer brain – she deals with the bookings and makes reservations at all the lodges and in general ensures that each tour runs smoothly and to  the perfect satisfaction of the guests.  During my March 2017 tour, Namibia had an unusual amount of rainfall and in the course of our conversation about it, Tillie told me about a poem entitled Dance of the Rain.  She gave me a copy of it and I included it in this post as you will see.  Thank you, Tillie!  It is entitled The Dance of the Rain and the original was written in Afrikaans by poet Jan Konterdans, Die Dans Van Die Reen.   It is translated into English by Nikita.  Watch for it below.
As we were driving through a desert area, Frikkie stopped the car and said, “look at those birds,” and he told me a story about them. They lay their eggs in a shallow scrape lined with dried grasses and once the hatchlings emerge the parents feed and protect them.  But where do they find water for them?  The desert stretches endlessly and the baby birds cannot yet fly. They are completely dependent on their parents.  It turns out that the male, upper right hand, has  breast and wing feathers especially designed to hold drops of water.  Every day, the male flies for as many miles as it takes until he finds water.  He dips himself into it, thoroughly soaking his breast and wings and then flies all the way back to the nest to provide water for the babies.  These birds are called Namaqua sand grouses.  Imagine going miles and miles each day to get a drink of water.  Imagine how a little rain can make their lives a bit easier.  The legend goes that when it rains in Namibia, you tear off your clothes and dance naked in it.  Rain is a celebration of the gift of water.
This is a photo I took of the Kuiseb River in 2015.  This section of the river is a little south of the city of Swakopmund.  Most rivers in Namibia look like this – you could not distinguish them from the desert around them unless you knew what you were looking for.  In this case, notice the plants growing.  This means that there is some water underneath.  You might ask, why do you call this a river – it’s a river bed isn’t it?  I learned that in Namibia, a river is a river whether or not it has water in it at the moment.  When enough rain comes to fill the dry course, the phrase used is to remark that the river is now flowing.  So  in Namibia, a river is a river whether it’s flowing or not.
Frikkie and I stayed at the Khowarib Lodge in northwest Namibia hoping to see desert elephants.  As we were leaving the lodge early in the morning, Frikkie stopped the car so we could get a full view of the rain water which had filled the Hoanib river.  Water had not flowed in this river for years and now it was almost overflowing its banks. In fact, during the previous night I had heard the sound of water rushing outside from the deck of my lodge room. During this whole tour, I awoke more and more to the fact of  how alive the rain is – it has a splendid sparkling presence, sings a full range of songs from tiny burblings to  booming roars.     It is gentle relief of thirst to the parched grasses, the birds, animals, and humans; but this absolute necessity for life  can also rise and sweep away everything you hold dear. 
That was the morning of the day that we spent with the desert elephants who luxuriated in the same river filled with rain water, the Hoanib, in a wild secluded spot.  The river is golden brown, of course, because the rain pelted down and the dust swirled up to greet it.
At the end of our day with the desert elephants, as I describe in my previous post, Namibia’s Desert Elephants, we drove back to the Khowarib Lodge through a  thunderstorm already drenching the countryside.
That evening, amid exhilarating thunder and lightning, we gathered with at least 20 other guests at the outdoor dining room at Khowarib.  Just as the dinner service began, the rain burst out of the sky like a billion shining needles so much and so fast, that the whole area quickly filled up sparkling into little black waves.  We moved the tables back and watched spellbound.  The staff went out with brooms and tried to sweep the water away.  The power went out and all was dark, the only sound the roar of that torrential rain and cymbal crashes of thunder. Frikkie ran down to our lodge rooms to shut the canvas shades and came back drenched.  I went to the very edge of the patio roof and the rain water lapped up to my ankles.  My one regret is that I did not go out into that exulting rain and dance.  Eventually the power came back on and we were all able to eat dinner and the rain moved on.  It was very dark, however, as we made our way back to our lodge rooms.  Frikkie, as usual, was barefoot, and my shoes, made of light canvas, were soaked.  In fact they never dried – and, as the next week went by,  began to stink.  I finally had to throw them away.  I learned that the word Khowarib means walking in water.
The next morning, after hot tea with toast and the new sun melting down like butter, I made some notes in my journal as I sat on the deck of my lodge room and listened to the gurgling whispers and raspy humming of the newly revived Hoanib.   I wrote down a story Frikkie told me the night before: about when he was growing up on his family farm and whenever a storm came, his father gathered the family in one room of the house and said, “we must listen to the storm. It is not from us, but an act of God.” Frikkie grew up without television or radios or stereos, so imagine what it was like listening to a thunder storm’s reverberating rumbling words, perhaps the loudest words heard on that little farm – a voice deeper and more resonant than any human utterance.
The rain filled the pools and waterholes.  We were driving up the Skeleton Coast  and stopped on the way when we saw this pond.  A goose, maybe an Egyptian goose, was bathing in the golden bronzed water.  Her neck is twisted around as she tends to her wing.  There was a brisk breeze this day – the green reeds around the pond were swaying and rustling .
Still driving on the Skeleton Coast, we stopped and went exploring and found this  fresh water lagoon-like pond brimming with fresh rain water.  We found animals tracks around it.  Just beyond this pond was a wonderful beach and the pristine with blue ocean.  Some of the tracks we found were very special, but you will hear all about them in a future post.
The Ugab river flows alongside the Brandberg mountain range.  This is part of that river which is fully flowing.
This is also the Ugab which was very close to the screened in cabin were I stayed in Brandberg.  I enjoyed the amazement of Namibians, including Frikkie and Tillie, as they exclaimed about the rivers filling up.  Their daughter, Marika, works for a tour agency and via a phone call told us that she had to dispatch rescue helicopters to one area because the campers had pitched tents and driven their vehicle into the dry river  and when the rains came, they found themselves, their gear, and their car floating in a river.  Using the dry rivers as roads and places to camp is a common practice in Namibia – another indication of how unexpectedly this intense rainfall ambushed them. 
After dinner at the White Lady Lodge, I went back down to the Ugab. The lowering sun had transformed the water to sheets of liquid gold.
Another refreshed river, the Hoarusib, which flows beside the Desert Elephant Conservation site near Brandberg.  Frikkie knows the man who runs the place.  With the help of volunteers, they keep track of a group of desert elephants to study and protect them.  We got a tour of the rough and ready, but well equipped campsite and I even did a tourist thing.  See below.


I snapped a quickie photo of Frikkie and Tillie beside the Hoarusib. 
Everywhere we went we experienced the results of rain first hand.  This is Etosha, the very large reserve which is home to almost every kind of African animal.  A part of the land is open for tourists and the best way to see animals is to visit the marked waterholes early in the morning and late in the evening.  I had been in Etosha in 2012 and 2015 and my memory of it was of arid stretches of white pan, dried grasses, and an unforgiving sun.  It was my turn to be amazed as we drove into Etosha and I saw acres of green and flowing water. 
A group of zebras quench their thirst at one of the brimming waterholes.
This is the position which a giraffe must take in order to reach the water.  They are at their most vulnerable in this position, but I’m sure she is enjoying the fresh water.
We watched this black rhino walk all around, grazing on fresh field grasses and finally, with great dignity, sinking into the waterhole for a cool soaking.  The poem, Dance of the Rain, begins below.
Oh, the dance of our Sister!                                                                                                                                     First, over the hilltop she peeps stealthily                                                                                                         And her eyes are shy                                                                                                                                                  and she laughs softly…                                                               
from afar she begs with her one hand                                                                                                                       her wrist-bands shimmering and her bead-work sparkling….                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
softly she calls                                                                                                                                                                                         she tells the wind about the dance                                                                                                                                              and she invites it because the yard is spacious and the wedding large…                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
the big game rush about the plains…they gather on the hilltop…their nostrils flared up….
they swallow the wind                                                                                                                                                                         and they crouch to see her tracks in the sand….                                                                                                                                                                  
the small game, deep down under the floor, hear the rhythm of her feet                                                                                            and they come closer and sing softly,…….                                                                                                
“Our Sister! Our Sister! You’ve come! You’ve come!”  and her bead-work shakes, and her copper wrist-bands shine in the disappearance of the sun…..                                      
on her forehead rests the eagle’s plume….She descends from the hilltop                                                                                                   she spreads her ashened cloak with both arms..the breath of the wind disappears…
Oh, the dance of our Sister!


Frikkie took me to a place in the Spitzkoppe reserve not far from Henties Bay.  There are 3 animals painted on a granite wall there.
One is a zebra.  According to my trusty guide book, Bushmen associate zebras with water and supernatural potency.  Actually, zebras are seldom found more than 8 kilometeres from water.  Some Bushmen groups believe that there are Children of the Water who are a people striped in the same way as zebras.  The zebra is associated with rain. The !Kung called the heavy storm clouds /kwesi, meaning zebra.  Hold this thought….
Right behind the zebra, a rhino is depicted.  A zebra accompanied by a rhino is considered a rain animal.  The Bushmen designated the white rhino as the she-rain animal and the black rhino as the he-rain animal.  And the last animal on this panel is…
a lion!  There are perhaps some dancing humans on the panel (see lower edge of zebra) but the three animals dominate.  What might the lion have to do with rain?  The Bushman regarded lions with deep respect and considered them powerfully dangerous and unpredictable.  Only a shaman with great power could transform into a lion.  I’m going to hazard a guess.  Maybe this lion is a shaman accompanied by two rain animals and maybe this panel depicts a dance for rain.  Maybe.
And here is my Shaman Guide  Lion Man  enjoying the desert rain.  Are you ready for Untamed Travel with Frikkie?  For more information and booking options, email Tillie at [email protected]. In my next post, we will go in search of Namibia’s Desert Lions.