On changing a town’s name
I get that the Europeans weren’t the first people living in Africa … or North America or South America or Australia … and that when they arrived, they often “claimed” land that didn’t belong to them and just moved in. That wasn’t actually the case here in Lüderitz. Adolph Lüderitz legitimately bought the land from a local chief (who sold it twice, by the way) and staked his claim here. Then, diamonds were discovered and … well, I’ve already told you the rest of the story, so I won’t repeat myself. After more than a century of the town having the name Lüderitz, it seems kind of unreasonable to change it to the original place name given it by local tribes centuries ago. I just read an article in Namibia’s New Era newspaper that the Lüderitz Town Council has voted to do just that … change the name of Lüderitz to !Nami#nus.
I searched on line in vain to find out how to pronounce !Nami#nus, but I was unable to find a specific pronunciation for the proposed new name of the town. The ! and the # represent click consonant sounds in Nama, a Khoekhoe language. I asked the locals how to pronounce it … no one was quite sure. So .. Welcome to “How do you pronounce this town’s name?”
In Durban, South Africa, all the street names were changed a few year’s ago to new names honoring famous black people. Maps now show the old name plus the new name, but most people, black and white, rarely remember what the new names are. If you ask for directions, they’ll provide the old street names and you have to figure out what the new name is in order to figure out where you are and where you’re going. I wonder how much it cost the city of Durban to change all those street signs to the new ones? And print new tourist maps? You wonder if all that money couldn’t have been used towards a better end.
I understand that people want to reclaim their heritage and show respect to their heroes, but certainly there are less disruptive and more illustrious ways to show respect. Many townsfolk here, black and brown and white, are fighting the change. !Nami#nus translates to “surrounded or embraced by water” in the Nama language. Mispronunciation of the town’s new name, if you ever figure out how to pronounce it in the first place, translates to a vulgar term for a part of the female anatomy. According to local knowledge, the Nama people were nomadic herdsmen and didn’t actually have a town or village established here. They just passed through now and then with their cattle and established a geographical place name for it. Some claim the name change is meant to eradicate all evidence of colonialism. (Heck, if you’re reading this, you were probably from a colonized country at some point or other.) Others feel the name change will help to secure more of the Nama vote. You have to wonder if changing a town’s name has as much impact on their lives or their votes, as perhaps offering more educational or health benefits.
The townsfolk are requesting a referendum vote to determine whether or not the town’s name will change. It’s not clear whether this will come to pass. In the meantime, our blog site reflects our visit to Lüderitz, Namibia. It may be that at some point I’ll have to change it to to “I can’t pronounce it, but you spell it with lots of punctuation marks and we were there once”, Namibia.