05 April 2012 | Land & Leute

Hidden stop-over in the heart of Rehoboth

Isaac's servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, "The water is ours!" So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, "Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land."
With these words from Genesis 26 the interested visitor is greeted by the museum of Rehoboth located in the Old Postmaster's Lodge in the centre of the town. It introdu-ces tourists and local visitors to the long and evocative history of the Rehoboth Basters and gives insights into archaeological findings and on environmental topics in close proximity to Rehoboth. The museum also caters for the educational needs of the local schools: Here, learners to know more about evolution, biology and geography and, of course, local history.

Rehoboth Museum is the first privately-founded museum in Namibia. In 1991 two additional exhibition halls were opened. The exhibits were arranged beautifully. The first hall covers a host of interesting issues about the Baster Trek and history of the Basters while the second room displays more common information about Rehoboth and its surrounding as well as a little classroom for pupils.
The Baster people are descendants of mixed formal or informal relationships of European settlers and the Khoikhoi, the indigenous Southern-African population. Because of their informal racial status they were not allowed to be in possession of own land in the Cape Colony of the 18th and 19th century and were therefore forced to leave their land every time the colonial government sold the land to new settlers immigrating from Europe.
In 1868 and under the command of their captain Hermanus van Wyk - he had just been elected as the Baster people first formal leader - a small group of Basters started migrating northwards in a two-year lasting trek with the aim to get own land. Finally, the 90 Baster families consisting of some 500 individuals, settled about 80 kilometres south of Windhoek at a place henceforth called Rehoboth.
On a table in the museum the original trek as well as that of the so-called "nach-trek" form 1894 can be retraced, shedding more light on the long journey from the Cape Colony to Rehoboth. With the help of old diaries and letters the originally route could be reconstructed.

The first ideas in the local community about the founding of a museum came up in 1970 when the Basters were celebrated the 100th anniversary of being granting permission to permanently settle the Rehoboth area. People discussed what to do with the old heritage and memorabilia collected by every household. Some items were even older than the Rehoboth Baster peoples themselves. The idea of a museum was born. However, it took another sixteen years before the doors of a place where the Baster history could be retraced would finally open in 1986. Currently the museum is governed by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Rehoboth Town Council. As a member of the Namibian Museum Association it provides more than just an exhibition about the history of the Basters.

Anzell Bayer has been a staff member at the museum since its beginnings sixteen years ago. Up to today she is responsible for school and visitor tours. Vera Tune, an edu-cated and experienced teacher, has been a volunteer at the museum for a very long time. Both women played a vital role in the enlargement of the facility and of the tree-planting campaign whereby more than 70 indigenous trees were planted all over the outside exhibition area.
Bayer and Tune were also involved when a number of graves in the so-called Acacia Fo-rest south of the town were found. In the museum, the historic discovery is thematised by means of a display board. It is assumed that the grave mounds are 300 to 400 years old and contain the human remains of San people who roamed the area before other indigenous groups and white settlers started to move in. "During a long spell of dryness we found little elevations similar to grave mounds which under normal climatic conditions had always been disguised by the grass", Tune explains. "The skeletons then found by a professional excavation team were very small and delicate which is why we suspect they are the remains of San people. As grave furniture we found ostrich necklaces, which serves as another strong indication that we had come across old San graves."
A little classroom is part of the museum. Twice or sometimes even thrice a week Anzell Bayer holds lessons for local schools. Teachers can choose between a number of topics such as the history of evolution, archeology, geology and local Namibian and Rehoboth history. The entry fee is minimal and, due to the lack of scientific lessons at school, teachers appreciate the service provided by the museum. "When given the opportunity to learn with the help of items displayed in the museum pupils learn much more about their environment and their history apart from just theoretical knowledge out of their school books", says Bayer. "By using Stone Age tools and bones replica we teach the students a lot more about the development of tools as well as the development of humankind."

With exception of Anzell Bayer's salary, the little museum does not receive any support from public coffers. The daily running costs must be covered from visitors' entry fees. "Bigger tourist groups normally don't have the time to stop over at Rehoboth and its surroundings. More often than not, only indivi-dual tourists find their way to the museum and take the time for a closer view. We are still in negotiation with tour operators in Windhoek and also in Europe to provide our offer as one of Namibia's important places of interests. But it's a hard job to convince them", Vera Tune explains. "Together with a guided museum tour we also can offer a trip to our famous acacia forest with a picnic or light lunch to show that the area of Rehoboth is worth stopping over."
The entrance fee to the museum for adults is 20 N$ including a guided tour. To find the museum just follow the signs on the B1. More information about the museum or combined trips to the acacia tree can be obtained at 062-522954. The web site address is www.rehobothmuseum.com.

Simone Schickner

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