Twyfelfontein tour guide

Somebody once joked: "If it's Tuesday it must be Belgium," referring to an American tourist bus 'doing' Europe. On Tuesday 03.05.2011 (the camera records the date exactly) it was Twyfelfontein in Namibia. Most of the tourists on the bus were British and two were Canadians, all keen to see the famous rock engravings declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007. Namibia is on the heritage map.

For Bernadette Goamus it was just another busload, luckily speaking English, that she would lead down the rocky path leading to the engravings. Bernadette has been guiding at Twyfelfontein for 10 years, but she seems never to tire. Every new group of tourists is a fresh experience for her, and she makes every visit a special one for the visitors.

There are 911 World Heritage Sites, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Twyfelfontein, originally known as /Ui-//aes, is the only one in Namibia. It contains around 2,000 rock engravings, chiefly of animals, including rhinoceros. The site also includes six painted elephants, ostriches and giraffes, as well as human figures. Archaeological evidence from stone tools and artefacts found in the area place the engravings in the late stone age, between two and four thousand years old.

Expert sources say the imagery of the art suggests the belief system of San hunter-gathers, who lived in the area until partly displaced by Damara herders about 1,000 years ago. These in turn were displaced by European colonists within the last 150 years. In the 1940s the Twyfelfontein land was granted to an Afrikaner settler who gave it the name Twyfelfontein, meaning 'doubtful fountain'. The original Damara name of /Ui-//aes means 'the spring between the rocks'.

Although Namibian rock art from this period in Namibia is usually attributed to San hunter gatherers, the evidence is inconclusive as to whether the engravings and paintings found here were the work of the predecessors of San or Damara people. No San live in the area these days, but some experts believe that the traditional beliefs of present-day San, who live in the north-eastern part of Namibia, give some insight into the meaning of the rock paintings and engravings at Twyfelfontein.

The area was designated a national monument in 1948 and is now protected by the National Heritage Council, which trains guides like Bernadette Goamus. In her sturdy boots and official uniform, she is every inch the expert guide. For Bernadette and her colleagues, Twyfelfontein is much more than a cultural site: it is a solid source of income.

The guides all come from the Uibasen Twyfelfontein Conservancy which exists to provide local people with a better livelihood. As the name suggests, conservancies protect the environment. Many focus on wildlife, but Uibasen Twyfelfontein's strength is tourism. The conservancy earns revenues from high class lodges on its land, and local people find work both in the lodges and at the heritage site.

As the suns starts to set on Tuesday, the tourists climb back into the bus, checking their cameras and chatting excitedly. Bernadette is ready to knock off. She has three children to feed and to get ready for school. Tomorrow – Wednesday – she will be back again.

Steve Felton
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