The above is the title of a book that was published late last year (November 2019). Many studies, books and articles have been written on the 1904-1908 German genocide inflicted upon the Nama and Herero people of (then) South West Africa.
This recent book, written by Jephta Nguherimo is not an academic treatise on the tragedy of the Genocide. It is a poetic, artistic, emotional journey as seen by its author, about the epic tragedy that destroyed the lives of so many.
The book is written by a Washington, DC-based Namibian activist, academic and a researcher on worldwide genocide issues. As a part of his research for this book, Nguherimo travelled to several European countries including Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
The overriding theme of the book is epitomized by the front cover. The cover depicts a yellowish/reddish colour with a dead/dry tree with some of the branches that have fallen off.
Those colours symbolise the Kalahari (Omaheke) desert/sandveld. The dead tree with the fallen branches represents all those who succumb to the harsh and unforgiving desert. They were running to the unknown, in fear, fleeing the German onslaught.
The book cites one bragging German officer who said: “The arid Kalahari Desert was to complete what the German army had begun: the extermination of the Herero nation.”
The book starts off with an insightful prologue which is a must-read in itself. Unburied – Unmarked is a collection of short stories and excerpts from statements made by German officers. It contains beautiful photos juxtaposed with some disturbing images.
One photo from 1995 is of Founding President Dr Sam Nujoma and the late German Chancellor Helmuth Kohl making a toast. And there is a poem which accompanies it titled ‘The Ultimate Toast with the Chancellor’.
The rest of the book is a collection of very moving and emotional poems. Some of them were full of pain and so vivid that they made me weep like a schoolboy.
There are 30 poems in the book. I was somewhat amazed as to how one person can capture the genocide story so admirably in just 30 poems. The poem below is an example:
‘The Sea Can’t Swallow Me’ - My bones resting at sea bottom fish feast on my flesh, you thought I would be forgotten but the salt of the sea keeps my bones fresh, the sea can’t swallow me the sea and I are one, one bright day the waves will wash my bones ashore in my children’s memory I say, the sea can’t swallow me the sea and I are one’.
There is a poignant vignette called, The Unlikely Friends. This poem is a fictional account of a friendship forged of circumstances between a German camp guard and a Herero woman prisoner.
Nguherimo has written poems that come alive and create clear images of the points he strives to make. Namibians and Germans (those living in Europe and those of German ancestry still living in Namibia) should read this book. All should reflect its photos, stories and collections of poems.
I am not sure whether Namibian schools still teach the study of poetry like in my time in school. If they do not, they should and include Nguherimo’s text as a part of the curriculum. I still remembers poems like Die Ossewa and Amakeia.
The Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture should take a look at this important work as an educational and cultural text.
Unburied – Unmarked: The untold Namibian Story of the Genocide of 1904 – 1908 is available at Namibia Book Market and on amazon.com