Edited by Azizi Powell
This is Part I of a two part series on Nama Stap in South Africa and Namibia. "Nama Stap" (Nama Step) is also known as "Nama" dancing and "Riel dancing".
Part I provides an excerpt from a pdf file by E. Jean Johnson Joneson entitled The Nama Stap Dance: an analysis of continuity and change. This research paper focuses on a form of the Nama Stap dance in South Africa.
The content of this post is presented for folkloric and socio-cultural purposes.
Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2017/04/seven-videos-of-nama-stap-nama-step.html for Part II of this series. Part II provides information about Nama Stap and showcases nine videos of that dance form in South Africa and Namibia.
I recommend visitors to this blog read this entire pdf article.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to the Nama people sharing their cultural heritage with the world. Thanks also to E. Jean Johnson Joneson, the writer of this pdf paper.
Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2017/04/names-for-days-of-week-in-nama-khoekhoe.html for a closely related pancocojams post on the names for the days of the week in the Nama language.
Here's one quote from that post that is given here for clarification purposes:
Here's an excerpt from that post that is given here for clarification purposes:
"The Khoekhoe language... also known by the ethnic term Nama ... and formerly as Hottentot, is the most widespread of those non-Bantu languages of southern Africa that contain "click" sounds and have therefore been loosely classified as Khoisan....
It belongs to the Khoe language family, and is spoken in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa by three ethnic groups, the Nama, Damara, and Haiǁom. A smaller fraction of mostly Nama and Damara who fled the 1904-1908 Namibian War of National Resistance also speak the language in Botswana, while Khoena (previously Colored) are working hard ton revive the language in South Africa." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khoekhoe_language
EXCERPT FROM RESEARCH PAPER ON NAMA STAP (NAMA STEP) DANCING
This excerpt is mostly given as is, including ellipses "...", except for ellipses given in brackets that I used to indicate portions of this paper that aren't quoted in this post. I included one asterisk for a Nama word that is given in italics in that paper. The definition for that word is given below this excerpt.
From http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/1808/1/fulltext.pdf http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/1808/1/fulltext.pdf
The Nama Stap Dance: an analysis of continuity and change
E. Jean Johnson Jones
University of Surrey – Department of Dance and Theatre Studies
This article expands the field research carried out over a five year period (2001-2006) among the Nama people who live in !Khubus village, South Africa. The Nama may be identified with a sequence of movement that is widely recognised throughout South Africa as the Nama Stap (Step); the Nama Stap (NS) in turn is the major movement motif of the Nama Stap Dance (NS/D), and the foundation of the Nama Stap Dance-Female Puberty Version (NS/P).1
Despite overt colonial influences within these dances today, the Nama have declared these performance artefacts to be symbols of Nama identity. These dances, I will suggest, contrast with more classical Nama identifiers, such as the matjieshuis (mat house) and the Nama language itself. This article attempts to provide an appreciation of the Nama, especially Nama women, through an analysis and interpretation of the Nama Stap Dance-Puberty Version. It will then examine the major movement motif know as ‘the Nama Stap’ within the context of the NS/P. Through an integration of selected research methodologies, especially Laban analysis, dance analysis, and field research, an interpretation of the dance is suggested that reveals traditional and contemporary, colonial and post-colonial, markings.2
The Nama of !Khubus Village
Originating in the northern Cape, the Nama are the best known of the Khoekhoen peoples.3
Two groups of Nama are distinguished: the Great Nama who live in Great Namaqualand in Namibia and the Little Nama who reside in Little Namaqualand in the north-western region of South Africa. This paper begins by examining the lifestyle of the Nama of !Khubus village, Little Namaqualand.
Namaqualand, located in northern South Africa, is the least populated region of South Africa due in large part to its harsh, desert-like climate and mountainous terrain.
During the apartheid period (1948-1991), it was one of twenty areas known as reserves, coloured reserves, or coloured rural areas. Reserves were officially established in the early part of the 1900s as permanent settlements for the indigenous peoples of South
Namaqualand, the largest reserve, includes Concordia, Komagga, Leliefontein, Richtersveld, and Steinkopf. The village of !Khubus is part of the Richtersveld reserve, where it lies in close proximity to the Richtersveld National Park.4 The village of !Khubus is but one village settlement that developed out of the missionary crusades of the 19th-century. These religious campaigns were characterised by power over and domination of the indigenous people who inhabited the area. Ironically, it was through the mission station system that the national reserves system was established.
Language in !Khubus, and in the Richtersveld more generally, is closely related to South Africa’s political history, especially that of the apartheid period. Even the spelling of the word !Khubus is reflective of colonial, traditional and contemporary customs striving to establish equilibrium. I noted, for example, three different spellings of the word !Khubus. According to local informants, ‘!Khubus’ is the proper Nama spelling.5
Nama is referred to as a family language. This means that older members of a family, and perhaps a few youth, speak it; few of these, however, are able to write in it.
Even those who do speak Nama will not use it outside of the home. According to mature adults in !Khubus Afrikaans was the language of clergy, school, employment and government officials. The use of Nama was rigorously discouraged: school-aged children were punished physically and socially, and the few employment opportunities to be had favoured Afrikaans speakers. Previously, Nama marked a speaker as uneducated and therefore socially inept. To some extent, this sentiment lingers today.
However, with the new South Africa, the re-establishment of indigenous languages is important to local identities.
The new South Africa, the ‘Rainbow Nation’, has adopted eleven official languages: Afrikaans, English, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, Ndebele, Siswati, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Tshivenda, Xitsonga. Afrikaans is the language used by Nama in the Richtersveld; this is due largely to the dictum of the apartheid government that ruled South Africa for nearly fifty years. It is used in the home, at school, in business, and socially. Nama people who are fifty years of age or older may, however, have retained the traditional Nama click language, and, in many cases, are able to speak a second ‘African’ language. English is not a language freely spoken among the Nama of !Khubus or its surrounding area. The acceptance of Afrikaans as the dominant speech in South Africa remains widespread but language use underpins cultural survival.
In the post apartheid era the Khoisan Heritage Programme (KHP) was established as part of South Africa’s nation-wide cultural revitalisation campaign. The Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) and the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) manage KHP. In the case of !Khubus, one of the major cultural revival programmes involves the re-establishment of the Nama language.
In Nama history, the Nama language fortunately survived in !Khubus during the colonial period. As related by anthropologist Peter Carstens, Prior to 1844 all mission work in Richtersveld was carried out by visiting missionaries…But in this year, J.F. Hein, a ‘Baster-Hottentot’ from Wupperthal, was sent there as an evangelist…Both he and his wife spoke Nama…Hein establish[ed] a small school in which he taught. The
medium of instruction in both these institutions was Nama. (Carstens, 1966, p 206).
On the farms, however, where the Khoikhoi worked they had to speak either Dutch or Afrikaans. During the twentieth century, language and cultural loss was more profound as urbanisation separated families and communities.
Contemporary cultural revival initiatives sponsored by KHP include the establishment, in !Khubus, of a Nama Stap dance group organised through the local school and managed by middle aged women in !Khubus, and a traditional Nama guitar ensemble that tours throughout the Richtersveld region that accompanies the Nama Stap dance group. Therefore, as much as spoken language is a major part of revitalizing Nana identity, so for this present generation of Nama is the continuity and change taking place in their dance.
A Movement Signature: The Nama Stap
For as long as they can remember, the Nama people have been dancing the Nama Stap (NS). No one has been able to provide evidence of why or how it came into being. Very few Nama, if any, have no embodied knowledge of the NS. Most learn this dynamic cultural artefact in childhood along with other Nama signifiers such as round huts, Nama mud ovens and Nama baked bread. Today Nama also do the Nama Stap Dance (NS/D) and the Nama Stap Dance-Female Puberty Version (NS/P); the later dance has evolved from the historic Nama female puberty ceremony. What is of interest to my research is that the NS, in all its variations, reflects the more recent life experiences of the Nama.
Description of the NS motif does not appear in literature concerning the Nama nor can Nama account for its introduction into the dance. The NS motif appears to be a contemporary addition. The NS motif, for example, is performed when either a demonstration of the NS/D, NS/P or the NS motif is requested. In addition, the NS is performed as part of Nama social gatherings as well as at performances and ceremonies 5 organised for tourist and government-sponsored activities. While the NS can be, and is, performed apart from the NS/P, the NS/P cannot exist apart from the NS, its most significant motif.
The NS as a cultural artefact can be considered from different perspectives including the ethnographic where the dancing itself is the focus of attention or the anthropological where the culture as a whole must be considered. It may also be viewed in terms of a detailed movement analysis and documentation of the movement content.
Extending an interpretation from anthropological perspectives, issues such as gender relations, the impact of Christianity on the Nama, and the power of colonial influences may also be observed in this dance analysis.
The NS is primarily a travelling movement which progresses forward and backward through space while the feet typically maintain a close relationship to Place.
In Labanotation the idea of Place follows the basic law that ‘place’ is directly related to the centre of gravity of the performer (Hutchinson, Labanotation, 1970, p 35). When the feet move away from a central axis, rather than lifting away from the floor, they maintain contact with it by sliding across its surface. This sliding action is one of the features that distinguishes the Nama of !Khubus from other Nama groups. These two features, along with the fact that the limbs are never stretched beyond neutral, ensure that the dance step is small in respect of distance travelled and use of bodily kinesphere.
An erect torso that is supported by a buoyant, springy action in the pelvis …typifies this NS. Rather than initiating its own directions in space, the torso responds to movements of other body parts, especially the feet and the pelvis. The movement of these parts causes the torso to tip or deviate on and off its central axis in a counterbalancing motion. Moving in response to the torso, the arms behave in a passive manner that sometimes develops into a swing movement. Dynamically, two similar effort drives, dab and glide, are apparent. These efforts vary in time only—one accelerating while the other decelerates. Steps on Place dab (acceleration) while sliding steps glide (deceleration). These aspects of the NS are organised or phrased in relatively shorter or longer units. Overlapping, impulsive phrases organise the movement travelling forward while one long phrase structure movement travelling backward. These movement attributes that converge to create a ‘signature’ of the Nama Stap are readily observed
when the pattern is viewed as a discrete movement sequence.
Nama Stap Dance-Puberty Version Performance - An Ethnographic Account
While in residence in !Khubus, I was fortunate to witness a performance of the Nama Stap Dance-Puberty Version in June 2001. This version of the Nama Stap Dance
is based on the historic Nama Female Puberty Ceremony described most notably by
Agnes Hoernlé. Hoernlé is sometimes referred to as the ‘mother of South African anthropology’ (Barnard and Spencer, 1996). During her field research among the Nama between 1912 and 1913, Hoernlé recorded various rite of passage ceremonies. Among these is her description of the Nama female puberty ceremony.
The dance activities began in the early evening in the front yard of the home of one of the performers. A single pole-type lamp poured light onto the front steps where the speaker for the evening stood. The remainder of the yard, including the performance area, was in shadow. The dance event was in full swing when we arrived. A matjieshuis* occupied one corner (Figure 3). The area left of the matjieshuis and continuing fully around the periphery of the space was active with people talking and children running to and fro. Downstage right of the matjieshuis were about half a dozen chairs intended for us and other guests from the Richtersveld National Park; these were the people for whom the festivities had
been arranged. There was much laughing and talking among the group that also included people from the village. To the right of the seating area were the front steps of the house, and next to these an electric keyboard. This area was thumping with the sound of music and the voices of young men. Completing the circle around to the front of the matjieshuis was another group of people. Here were men, women, and children moving, dancing, laughing, and talking with each other or dancing alone. The central
area, the dancing space, remained relatively clear. The mood was festive, and people seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Our host for the evening was Willem De Wet, an organiser of the event and member of the !Khubus community, as well as a park ranger. Speaking in Afrikaans, he acknowledged and welcomed visitors to !Khubus and also announced our presence. He gave a brief introduction to the Nama Stap Dance-Puberty Version and to the women taking part in the performance. Sitting in front of the matjieshuis, the finer points of the dance were further explained by the dancers themselves.6
The dance company was composed of seven mature Nama women ranging between fifty and sixty-five years of age. The post-menopausal experience of the women struck me as curious. The dance, I had been told, was a contemporary interpretation of a rite of passage ceremony intended for a young female to mark the onset of her first menstrual cycle. I noted younger women in the audience, so wondered why they were not involved in the performance.
As the introductory bars of music started, the dancers casually formed a line of three pairs near the opening of the matjieshuis while the seventh dancer had unobtrusively entered the hut by the rear opening (See Figure 3). The observers either stood around the edges of the space or took seats on the ground, benches, steps, or around the matjieshuis. After a short stepping progression forward, the first theme of the dance was displayed. Each pair of dancers made a full clockwise circular path around each other as
the arms of each circled, embraced, and slid along the torso of her partner. This intricate inter-twining action was performed along a counter-clockwise oblong or circular path. Holding hands, gliding, shuffling steps defined the next segment of the unbroken counter-clockwise path. It was not possible to distinguish the rhythm for this stepping action as the dancers did not seem to be co-ordinated in regard to timing. Each appeared to be dancing to a slightly different beat; perhaps this is the nature of the movement. Roughly three-quarters of the way around the circle the dancers shuffled backwards (Figure 5). They were then moving backwards on a clockwise circular path.
This change in direction seemed to help the dancers re-organise themselves rhythmically and spatially. This collection of basic actions—progressing forward, turning around each other, and retreating—were then repeated to bring the dancers approximately three quarters of the way around the circle once again. Upon completing the second circle the first pair and second pair of dancers exchanged places and the circle was repeated a third time. This circuit was slightly changed from the others. Spatially, the curved shape of the path gradually expanded to take the form of an outward spiral that aimed towards the rear of the matjieshuis. The turning of the dancers around each other also changed. Rather than a change of movement pattern itself, it showed a change in attitude; each pair of dancers seemed to perform a succession of
turns along a spiralling path. The visual and dynamic effect was a progression of seemingly endless spinning towards the black space at the rear of the matjieshuis.
Still moving in pairs, the dancers continued their counter-clockwise dance around the hut. As they approached the front opening they gathered together, peered inside and hammered on its walls. Getting no response, they danced their way around the hut once again. When they reappeared along the right side of the matjieshut a new member of the group had joined them. Her elaborately painted face singled her out
from the rest and she became the focus of attention of both dancers and observers. With her arrival, the mood of the performance was lifted to a light gay tone. As they continued their progression around the matjieshuis the dancers took it in turns to spin with the new comer. When all who wanted to had danced with her, the ceremony ended.
The dance event, however, was not quite complete.
The ceremony was immediately followed by a discussion. The performers answered questions and responded to comments regarding the dance and their performance. The final portion of the evening was then given over to social dancing, in which the performers, villagers, and visitors could meet, chat, and dance with each
other. It was also a chance to have a go at learning the Nama Stap from the performers. Young, old, men and women joined in this informal dance lesson. The evening finished on a high note with everyone ‘Nama Stepping’ to a popular dance beat coming from the electric keyboard. The organisation of the dance, spatial relationship between dancers, and sequence of dance patterns were elements that came together to distinguish the NS/P.
The Nama Stap Dance-Puberty Version Performance – An Anthropological
The Nama Stap Dance that I viewed was organised not as a rite of passage ceremony which marks the transition of a Nama female from childhood to young adulthood, but as a performance event based on that ceremony. It was sponsored, planned, and hosted by the Richtersveld National Park in conjunction with the !Khubus community. This context alters both the performer’s and observer’s perception of the
dance and its progression as a ceremony, from ritual to theatre, raises a number of significant issues concerning its analysis and contemporary interpretation.
A dance titled the Nama Stap Dance could be regarded as a cultural representation or symbol of the Nama. Yet, Dutch colonists have heavily influenced Nama culture, including its dancing, since the Nama were subjugated by Dutch (and German) pioneers and forced to adopt much of their culture, including language. How is this ‘foreign’ influence situated in relation to the Nama today? It would appear that the contemporary Nama accept several variants of the NS/D and NS/P as representative of their culture.
The NS is part of the movement vocabulary of all residents of !Khubus from the very young pre-school child to the eldest grandparent. It, along with the NS/D, is part of the primary education programme of the local school that all school-aged children of !Khubus attend. Within the school setting, young dancers are encouraged to not only develop as good Nama Stap dancers but also to be inventive within the form. Through
the dance, a competitive spirit is encouraged and nurtured. Further, the NS and the NS/D are the forms that are most frequently performed and exported out of the village setting as part of local and government-sponsored tourist activities. These two dances enable a range of fundamental educational principles and the assertion of positive self and communal image. Within such a structure the future of the NS, NS/D and its
messages will survive, adapt and remain a dynamic aspect of the Nama culture.
The puberty version of the NS/D presents this research with a set of particular challenges in terms of interpretation. There are, for instance, a number of descriptions of the historic Nama female puberty ceremony on which the dance is based. These include, among others, Hoernlé (1918), Hoff (Barnard, 1992), and informants in !Khubus. The Hoernlé and Hoff versions introduce elements of the dance not mentioned
by cultural informants, such as the use of cold water and the fact that the initiate’s feet should not touch the ground. What is the historical significance of these elements and why have they disappeared from the ceremony? More fundamentally, what purpose does the dance ceremony serve for Nama women today? Close analysis of the Nama Stap Dance Puberty Version provides evidence of the effects of continuity, discontinuity and transformation in the contemporary context.
!Khubus is sometimes labelled a sleeping town. This identifies a locale as well as a condition in which there is no paid work in the immediate vicinity. Residents must seek employment outside of the community and, where practical, return home to rest. This situation was already apparent when Carstens did his research fifty years ago. Today, those who are employed further afield such as in Port Nolloth, Springbok, or even Cape Town, do not return to the village on a regular basis. Grandparents in small accommodation, as few as three rooms, may care for as many as three or four children. According to informants, it is the case that some parents gradually cease to return to the village for long periods of time. The extended absence of parents from the village has had an effect on traditional social systems; male puberty ceremonies, for example, have all but disappeared (Barnard, 1992, p.185). In terms of the female Nama legacy, as traced through the NS and the NS/P, the intervention of the remaining middle-aged females and grandmothers, has allowed the Nama female puberty ceremony to survive thus far. Since another generation of young women to whom to pass the dance is either absent or no longer appreciates the significance of the dance, the future of the NS/P is however uncertain. The presence of the NS/P in the tourist performance has perhaps slowed this process of loss and discontinuity.
Some informants felt that the knowledge of traditional hut construction was part of Nama cultural heritage that should not be closely linked to commerce. Of equal importance is the process of why and how culture is restored, if indeed it can be.
The indigenous peoples of South Africa have not had access to their country’s vast natural resources such as diamonds, gold, and fertile farmland. Nor have they had access to the same superior educational opportunities or the worthwhile employment of white South Africans. This deprivation has left many indigenous peoples devastated culturally and economically The acknowledgement of cultural identity among
indigenous peoples through a programme of cultural revitalisation has had positive psychological and economic benefits. Dancing, in this regard, can be revised along commercial lines and developed into what has been referred to by anthropologist and dance ethnographer Adrienne Kaeppler as ‘Airport Art’ (1992). This form of art caters directly to a commercial market and is displayed at tourist venues. Tony Manhire, a specialist of San Rock Art and one of my guides, expressed concern that the dances of the San were being exploited in this way.
1. I have labelled this version of the dance ‘Nama Stap Dance-Female Puberty’ Version in order to distinguish it from the better know Nama Stap Dance.
2. The content of this article relates to the three fieldtrips undertaken in Namaqualand, South Africa between 2001-2006 as part of my doctorial research titled: Nama Marks and Etchings: an analysis and interpretation of the Nama Stap.
3. Basically, all specialists would agree that the Khoisan peoples include speakers of numerous click-using languages which belong to some four or five language families, subfamilies or groups. The linguistically ‘generic’ relationship between all Khoisan languages have yet to be established beyond question, but most specialists do assume for reasons of practicality that we can at least speak of a Khoisan phylum or superfamily. Briefly, Khoisan language families or subfamilies include Khoe (also
know as Khwe-Kovab or Hottentot), !Kung (Ju), Ta’a (including !Xõ), !Wi, and tentatively ‘South-western’ or ‘Cape’ (/Xam) (Barnard, 1992, p. 22-23).
4. Situated in the western corner of Namaqualand, and named after Dr. Ricther, an inspector of the Rhenish Mission who visited the area in 1830, the Richtersveld National Park was opened on 16 August 1991. The management of the park is atypical in that it is managed by community members and National the Park Board.
5. I noted three spellings of !Khubus: Khoboes, Kuboes, and !Khubus. The name is a Nama word meaning ‘God is found here.’"
[This paper has a total of 29 pages, including notes/citations]
* matjieshuis = traditional Nama reed house http://www.richt
This concludes Part I of this two part series on Nama Stap.
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