Visit to !Khwa ttu, the San Cultural and Education Centre on Monday the 05th of September 2016.

!Khwa ttu is situated on the R27, about 70 km north of Cape Town. This farm is called Grootwater in Afrikaans probably with reference to the view across the sea. The San name !Khwa ttu means an open expanse of water, like a pan, most likely referring to some of the many pans that collect in winter in the hollows created by the granite outcrops. . Go here to brush up your background on !Khwa ttu.

When Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and I left Brackenfell on Monday morning, the weather did not look promising for the stargazing we had planned to present in the evening. I was going to give a talk after lunch, in which I intended to stress the value of indigenous astronomy and in particular the San-related astronomy. My talk would also include tips and guidelines about presenting astronomy sessions to tourists or visitors in general. To get to !Khwa ttu though, we first had to contend with some serious traffic congestion on the N7. The first was caused by an accident just before the Bosmansdam turn-off and then, for some or other unknown reason, we were rerouted by traffic officials through Parklands down to the R27.

We arrived just before 12:00 and, after reporting to Ri, Magdalena and Shaun, we went over to the restaurant to have lunch. I should add here that Shaun Dunn is a direct descendant of the famous John Robert Dunn. If the name does not ring a bell you can brush up on your history by going here . You can also read more about the interesting modern day legal implications of John Dunn’s activities in this article.

In the foyer of the restaurant we met up with Michael, the MMWC at !Khwa ttu (MMWC = Main Man What Counts ☺) and just managed a few words before he had to shoot off elsewhere. Auke spent some time in the museum before lunch while Lynnette and I had coffee with Snorre relaxing in his favourite window sill next to our table.

TOP: The lecture room with Lynnette at the left front, Shaun Dunn standing on the left and Auke’s hat just visible in the far right background. MIDDLE: Me up front with the trainees listening and hopefully remembering some of the things I said. BOTTOM: View from the front stoep and this is clearly not stargazing weather.
TOP: The lecture room with Lynnette at the left front, Shaun Dunn standing on the left and Auke’s hat just visible in the far right background. MIDDLE: Me up front with the trainees listening and hopefully remembering some of the things I said. BOTTOM: View from the front stoep and this is clearly not stargazing weather.

After lunch we were introduced to the trainees and we also later introduced Snorre to the group, much to their amusement. I discussed the value of indigenous knowledge and specifically indigenous astronomy knowledge. I drove the point home that this knowledge had great value as a cultural possession and that it should never be seen as inferior to modern scientific astronomy interpretations. The ancient astronomy knowledge worldwide is the basis on which later knowledge was able to develop. It is imperative that they remember that overseas guests come to Southern Africa for an African Experience. Their unique cultural astronomy narratives are an intrinsic part of such an experience.

The African knowledge tradition is an oral tradition. However, the social fabric, within which it had efficiently functioned for millennia, has all but disappeared in modern times. This means that the oral histories are disappearing too, as the last bearers of that knowledge pass away. The trainees are in the unique position that they still have access, probably only for short while, to sources of these histories; the ageing storytellers. They have an individual and collective responsibility to collect and record as many of these stories as is possible, before they all became lost.

!Khwa ttu was hosting a large conference so all their accommodation was taken up by the delegates. Michael and Ri had booked us into Elly’s Place, a Bed and Breakfast with a Dutch touch in Darling. Go here to find out more about this interesting and hospitable place to stay. With Ri leading the way we headed for Darling to book in and to have supper. Ri and our host Elly, joined us for supper and after supper we went back to !Khwa ttu where Auke handled the evening session with the trainees.

The clouds had effectively cancelled any stargazing or moon watching so we had to fall back on Auke and Stellarium. Despite the disappointment of not being able to do any stargazing the session was a huge success. Auke and I had our pronunciation of San names neatly torpedoed by the polite giggles of the trainees so we have now submitted a list to Ri and asked her to have the trainees record the correct pronunciation and give us the proper translation at the same time.

TOP: Auke imparting words of astronomical wisdom and, judging by the turned heads, he has the group’s attention. MIDDLE: The group of trainees saying goodbye. BOTTOM: The group without Lynnette who insisted on operating the camera.
TOP: Auke imparting words of astronomical wisdom and, judging by the turned heads, he has the group’s attention. MIDDLE: The group of trainees saying goodbye. BOTTOM: The group without Lynnette who insisted on operating the camera.

After Auke’s session the trainees said thank you and goodbye with a traditional San song, which the three of us appreciated immensely. I say the three of us, because Snorre absolutely hates clapping hands and stamping feet so I had my work cut out to prevent him from heading for the hills during their tribute.

After the evening and the lovely musical send-off Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and I left for Darling. A good night’s rest followed by a hearty breakfast at Elly’s and we set off home via the R27, having been warned by the petrol attendant that the road to Mamre and Atlantis was not in a good condition.

The trip home was uneventful, unlike last year’s one which left us with a broken side-window on the Vito and a repair bill of over R8 000-00.

Visit to !Khwa ttu, the San Cultural and Education Centre

Thursday & Friday the 27th & 28th of August 2015

Snorre’s trip started with a bang.  As I was carrying him out to the Vito in his carry cage the handle broke. Snorre and the cage hit the brick paving with an almighty thump, which unclipped the top half of the cage from the bottom half. In the process the door fell off and Snorre bolted. I eventually found him under the trailer and he was definitely not a happy cat. It took a lot of coaxing to get him out of there and a plenty of convincing to get him back into the cage as well. Why did the handle break?  Obviously it must have been shoddy workmanship because it could definitely not have been overloading!

We've hit the road. Top left: Onto the N1 Top right: N7 coming up Middle left: N7 moving into open country Middle right: About to leave the N7 Bottom left: On the way to the R27 Bottom right: Did the kids buy the car or are they just tagging him?
We’ve hit the road.
Top left: Onto the N1
Top right: N7 coming up
Middle left: N7 moving into open country
Middle right: About to leave the N7
Bottom left: On the way to the R27
Bottom right: Did the kids buy the car or are they just tagging him?
On the R27 and heading West Top left: This road is a temptation for people with fast cars Top right: We aren't going that far today Bottom left: Good wine to the right but we'll give it a pass today Bottom right: Not far to go now
On the R27 and heading West
Top left: This road is a temptation for people with fast cars
Top right: We aren’t going that far today
Bottom left: Good wine to the right but we’ll give it a pass today
Bottom right: Not far to go now

This visit had been in the pipeline for a very long time. Michael Daiber, the CEO at !Khwa ttu and I met at a West Coast Tourism event in 2013.  I steered the conversation in the direction of astronomy, as I always tend to do, and from there it didn’t take long for us to agree that we ought to arrange an opportunity for Star People to meet and interact with the trainee guides. However, as often happens with best intentions, all sorts of occurrences prevented the visit from taking place.  I had a serious back operation and then Michael had to have even more drastic surgery but, eventually, life got back on even keel for both of us, so we started arranging again.  Actually that is not quite correct, because somewhere along the line Ri Vermooten, the Programme Manager and Facilitator at !Khwa ttu, got involved and she set the ball rolling again. Go here to brush up your background on !Khwa ttu

Here are two more links with more information on the activities at !Khwa ttu.  The first one is about training and the second one gives more details about the activities and persons at !Khwa ttu.

!Khwa ttu is situated on the R27, about 70 km north of Cape Town. This farm is called Grootwater in Afrikaans and the name San !Khwa ttu also means an open expanse of water, like a pan. When Lynnette, Snorre and I left on Thursday morning the weather did not look promising for the stargazing we had planned to present in the evening. I also had to give a talk after lunch in which I intended to stress the necessity of integrating traditional astronomy’s mythology with the western (Greco/Roman) mythology and factual scientific astronomy, when interacting with visitors; especially overseas visitors. We hoped that the clouds might give us a few breaks to do some star gazing and constellation hopping that evening but the chances seemed slim.

We were met, welcomed and shown to our very cosy accommodation in the guest house by Magdalena Lucas. Magdalena is a ᵵKhomani from the small southern Kgalagadi settlement of Rietfontein.  She came to !Khwa ttu to attend the guiding course, completed it successfully and stayed on to become one of their two trainee curators. Her fellow trainee curator at !Khwa ttu is Jobe Gabototwe, a Xhaikwe from Kedia near Mopipi in Botswana.

Top left: The entrance to !Khwa ttu and the buildings up on the hill Top right: The training centre with our poster display on the stoep Bottom left: Introductions being made Bottom right: Star Wheel instruction
Top left: The entrance to !Khwa ttu and the buildings up on the hill
Top right: The training centre with our poster display on the stoep
Bottom left: Introductions being made
Bottom right: Star Wheel instruction
The group from left to right Joubert Kamamba (!Kung), Edward Foster, Martin Joseph (!Kung), Nathan Friedburg (‡Khomani), Omphile Motshabi (Naro), Anton Kana (!Xun), Magdalena Lucas (Admin), Ri Vermooten (Training Manager), Richard van der Byl (‡Khomani), Jostina Amutenya (!Kung), André Antonio (!Xun), André Vaalbooi (‡Khomani)
The group, from left to right are Joubert Kamamba (Khwe), Edward Foster, Martin Joseph (!Kung), Nathan Friedburg (‡Khomani), Omphile Motshabi (Naro), Anton Kana (!Xun), Magdalena Lucas (Admin), Ri Vermooten (Training Manager), Richard van der Byl (‡Khomani), Jostina Amutenya (!Kung), André Antonio (!Xun), André Vaalbooi (‡Khomani)

After lunch I set up a selection of our A-frame poster displays on the stoep of the training building. We were then introduced to the trainees and they introduced themselves to us after which we spent the rest of the afternoon interacting with them. We also introduced Snorre to the group, much to their amusement. We discussed the value of indigenous knowledge and specifically indigenous astronomy knowledge. I drove the point home that this knowledge had great value as a cultural possession and that it should never be seen as inferior to modern scientific astronomy interpretations. The ancient astronomy knowledge worldwide is the basis on which later knowledge was able to develop. It is imperative that they remember that overseas guests come to Southern Africa for an African Experience. Their unique cultural astronomy narratives are an intrinsic part of such an experience.

During the coffee break we were able to generate some interesting discussions around the poster display and after the break we discussed the problem, which the African knowledge tradition experiences in a modern world; it was an oral tradition. However, the social fabric, within which it had efficiently functioned for millennia, has all but disappeared in modern times. This means that the oral histories are disappearing too, as the last bearers of that knowledge pass away. The trainees are in the unique position that they still have access, probably only for short while, to sources of these histories; the ageing storytellers. They have an individual and collective responsibility to collect and record as many of these stories as is possible, before they all became lost.

The clouds, as is often the nature of clouds when one wants to do astronomy, were not going to go anywhere that evening. As a substitute, I spent two hours running through some basic astronomy in Stellarium and demonstrating that programme and the Virtual Moon Atlas.  I discussed the use of the Sky Guide and also showed the group how to use the Southern Star Wheel which they had each been given. I was able to use Stellarium to illustrate to the group the fact that our southern skies were completely unknown to visitors from the Northern Hemisphere and that they should capitalize on this.

Two of !Khwa ttu’s full time guides, André Vaalbooi and André Antonio as well as Magdalena Lucas and Ri Vermooten also attended the sessions. André Antonio has elected to be known as André Regopstaan to distinguish him from André Vaalbooi.

Our very nice accommodation at !Khwa ttu
Our very nice accommodation at !Khwa ttu
Panoramic view from the front of our guest house toward the Atlantic
Panoramic view from the front of our guest house toward the Atlantic
Weaver helping herself to nectar from an Aloe
Weaver helping herself to nectar from an Aloe
A very cocky mouse-bird on a very thorny perch
A very cocky mouse-bird on a very thorny perch
Panoramic view to the north behind the guest house
Panoramic view to the north behind the guest house
The "werf" of the complex, still deserted this early in the morning
The “werf” of the complex, still deserted this early in the morning
Top left: The kitchen end of our flatlet with a nice fireplace Top right: The sleeping end of the flatlet with a very good bed Middle left: Snorre wondering when breakfast is going to materialize Middle right: Lynnette and Snorre at breakfast - Snorre watching the kitchen door Bottom left: The dining room with a lovely fireplace separating it from the reception area Bottom right: How long is this breakfast going to take you guys?
Top left: The kitchen end of our flatlet with a nice fireplace
Top right: The sleeping end of the flatlet with a very good bed
Middle left: Snorre wondering when breakfast is going to materialize
Middle right: Lynnette and Snorre at breakfast – Snorre watching the kitchen door
Bottom left: The dining room with a lovely fireplace separating it from the reception area
Bottom right: How long is this breakfast going to take you guys?
Top left: The covered pathway leading from the visitors parking area Top right: The front of the reception area and restaurant entrance Middle left: The reception and restaurant from another angel Middle right: I love this notice posted on the library door Bottom row: Two very important publications on San culture that are well worth reading
Top left: The covered pathway leading from the visitors parking area
Top right: The front of the reception area and restaurant entrance
Middle left: The reception and restaurant from another angel
Middle right: I love this notice posted on the library door
Bottom row: Two very important publications on San culture that are well worth reading

After the evening session Lynnette, Snorre and I had supper and went to bed. The next morning, after breakfast in !Khwa ttu’s lovely restaurant, we said our farewells and left for home.  On the way back we passed a group of municipal workers cutting the roadside grass with weed-eaters that were not fitted with stone guards. One of these infernal machines flung up a stone that hit the Vito right side window in the sliding door and shattered it. More than R8000-00 later it has been replaced (at our expense) but the saga with the municipality is still developing. I wonder if all the flag waving is to get motorists to slow down so they can take better aim.

Top left: Just at the bottom of that hill in the right-hand background is where the weed-eater incident occurred Top centre: The window does not look damaged if you stand far enough away but look at its left edge Top right: This is where the impact was and from this close the damage is much clearer Middle left: View from the inside and now the broken window (left) is clearly different from the one on the right Middle centre: The municipal vehicle and its driver who said the foreman had gone "to fetch something" Middle right: The other end of the municipal vehicle attached to a trailer Bottom left: The hill with the two lines of weed-eater wielding workers on either side of the road in their orange overalls
Top left: Just at the bottom of that hill in the right-hand background is where the weed-eater incident occurred
Top centre: The window does not look damaged if you stand far enough away but look at its left edge
Top right: This is where the impact was and from this close the damage is much clearer
Middle left: View from the inside and now the broken window (left) is clearly different from the one on the right
Middle centre: The municipal vehicle and its driver who said the foreman had gone “to fetch something”
Middle right: The other end of the municipal vehicle attached to a trailer
Bottom left: The hill with the two lines of weed-eater wielding workers on either side of the road in their orange overalls