- Place of the lions -
On one of the early project research trips in 2001, I travelled with Kadisen ||Khumub and Stephanus Haneb to Sore ‡Axab, which is situated approximately 30 km east of Tsînab (Halali). The reader has already been introduced to Kadisen; although Stephanus resided on a commercial farm outside of Etosha, he was born at ||Nubes, and knew the park quite well; he still occasionally visited acquaintances at tourist camps.
Such trips often deliver historical information and personal anecdotes in equal measure, and this was no exception. Sore ‡Axab is a reliable source of potable water – not an open fountain (|aus) but a strong well (tsaub). Its reputation did not stop there, however, as it was also known to be a favoured haunt of lions – a fact that was not lost on me as we left our car and walked into the bush.
From the rapid-fire conversation of Kadisen and Stefanus, with interjection and reformulation punctuated by peals of laughter, I gathered that this was the setting of oft-retold stories. On one occasion “in the old time”, it emerged, the Hai||om men were upset because a lion had “stolen” the antelope they had hunted. With rather more enthusiasm than good sense, they had launched an attack, hoping to flush it out of the dense bushes and scare it off.
They succeeded in flushing it out, but that was the extent of their success, as the lion first pounced upon one of their number, !Gauaseb, biting him in the buttocks and back. Fortunately, the lion was already very old, so !Gauaseb was not immediately torn asunder. Another of the party, ||Khumub, tried to distract the lion, and succeeded: the lion discarded !Gauaseb and turned his attentions to ||Khumub, running him down and pouncing on him. He pinned him down with his paws, but instead of biting him, just continued to press him to the ground.
Then ||Khumub became angry at how the lion was treating him, and resorted to one of the oldest of fighting tricks: he kicked the lion in the testicles! Not surprisingly, the lion now became angry; he put his jaw over ||Khumub’s shoulder and began to drag him into the bush, with ||Khumub still wildly kicking at his testicles.
Remarkably, the lion left both men and made his escape. Fortunately, the lion was old and his teeth were already worn down – otherwise he would have bitten them to death. Though both men were injured, neither was dead – they were big people, and the lion could not bite into their muscles. With the aid of Hai||om ointments, both recovered fully.
Kadisen affirmed that !Gauaseb was a particularly famous man. ||Khumub had died before he had been born, but he had personally met !Gauaseb.
This was not the only encounter with the old lion at Sore‡axab. An elderly woman called ||Khumus (from ‡Homob, whose people often came to Sore‡axab) was once sleeping there. She was alone because her husband ||Oreseb was at that time staying with another wife, elsewhere. Then an old lion – almost certainly the same one – came and attacked her, but all it managed to get was some clumps of hair and a bit of skin. It tried to chew on her head, but she screamed at him to go away and leave her alone. And the lion let go, and ran away.
Lions in the Etosha National Park
The conversation regarding lions spread to other venues. Kadisen recalled that once when he was still young, the men had gone to !Noabas, some 20 km to the west of Tsînab (Halali). Early one morning, an old man, Haraamseb, had gone back to ‡Nu||Games, where the children and the rest of the family had stayed behind. When he arrived, he found that a lioness was prowling around the children. He swore at her and used his springbok horn to call for help – it made a piercing sound (“xam, xam! xib, xib, xib!”) that could be heard for many kilometres. The other men heard, and knew there was danger. They found the lioness at the place where the roads now meet, and chased her away.
But Sore‡axab was actually the place where one was most likely to encounter lions – Sore‡axab belonged to the lions. On the way back to the car, I asked them if they were not afraid of lions. No, the lions were regarded as “colleagues”, as friends, and if they were killed, it was unusual for people to eat them.
“And if they attack?”
Kadisen explained that there was a saying shouted at approaching lions: “||Gaisi ai!nâkarasa!” (“You ugly face, go away!”)
Although lions were generally off the menu, it was the practice of two brothers from the ||Oresen family to eat lions; one of them died prematurely, and his demise was ascribed by other people to his predilection for lion meat. A remarkable funeral once took place at ||Nububes. A man with the surname ||Oreseb had killed a lion, prepared the meat and eaten some of it at ||Nububes. What remained of the lion had to be buried, and all the people at ||Nububes were called by ||Oreseb, crying like the lion roars, to attend the burial.