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Chronology re transcriptions, Dammann archive
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Chronology of work regarding the Ernst and Ruth Dammann Khoekhoegowab archive at Basler Afrika Bibliographien,
compiled by
Sian Sullivan

Last updated 10/05/2021
© This review work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Citation: Sullivan, S. 2021 Chronology of work regarding the Ernst and Ruth Dammann Khoekhoegowab archive at Basler Afrika Bibliographien. Online: 

Timeline of correspondence and events regarding the Dammann Khoekhoegowab archive, stimulated by Basler Afrika Bibliographien archivist Dag Henrichsen’s reading of correspondence associated with the Dammann Khoekhoegowab material on 24 November 2017 and email correspondence with Sian Sullivan of 29 November 2017, plus additional references, as cited. I am particularly grateful for clarifications on an earlier version from Professor Wilfrid Haacke (email of 12 January 2021).

This chronology is designed to be updatable in order to include new information or corrections regarding the transcriptions of the Dammann Khoekhoegowab as this research continues.




Recordings of African languages made in Namibia by Ernst and Ruth Dammann.

Vedder hands over language documents by Krönlein to Dammann

1960s and 1970s

Ernst Dammann cannot find translators in West-Germany.


Ernst Dammann corresponds with linguist Wilfrid Haacke (later Professor at the University of Namibia (UNAM)) in Windhoek, suggesting that transcripts by Pastor Eliphas Eiseb of Khoekhoegowab elements of the Dammann 1950s recordings might be published.


Wilfrid Haacke is employed in the Language Bureau (the Native Language Bureau in the local Department of Bantu Education in Windhoek, headed by Wolfgang Zimmerman), together with Johannes Boois to produce school literature in what was then referred to as ‘Nama/Damara’ and which they opted to call Namagowab (lit. Nama language), ‘as the dualistic glottonym would not have been appealing on a school book’[2] (ǁKhāǁkhāsen da ge ra Namagowaba from grades 4 to 7[3]).


Ernst Dammann travels to Windhoek and approaches Wolfgang Zimmerman, Head of the Native Language Bureau in the local Department of Bantu Education, who suggests possible African transcribers and translators who have compiled school books in the various languages. This leads to the involvement of Johannes Boois (for whom some 15 titles in Khoekhoegowab are listed at BAB, mainly schoolbooks), working on the Khoekhoegowab Dammann texts.

Dag Henrichsen later confirms that ‘Wilfrid Haacke could identify Boois’ handwriting’ for the transcripts in the Dammann Khoekhoegowab archive. Given that most of the handwritten transcripts in the archive are in this script, it appears that Johannes Boois did the transcriptions from the original recordings, as well as handwritten translations into Afrikaans for many of the Khoekhoegowab transcriptions. It appears that Dammann in Germany prepared the German translations on the strength of these Afrikaans texts with handwritten comments added to the typed up (by Ruth Dammann?) Khoekhoegowab and German texts being typically by him[4]. Boois also transcribed Eliphas Eiseb’s early texts whilst Eiseb wrote down more texts in Afrikaans himself. In Dammann’s autobiography[5] he briefly mentions Boois.

Haacke later writes that he acquired,

a linguistic grounding in Khoekhoegowab during a preparatory year [1973-74], so as to be able to produce linguistically accountable books together with Johannes Boois, a speaker of [161] Khoekhoegowab. Linguistic investigation was required in the grammar (morphology and syntax) as well as in the phonology, particularly tonology.[6] 

This study led to two Masters theses by Haacke on morpho-syntax: A Nama Grammar: the Noun-Phrase (Haacke 1976) and Subject Deposition in Nama (Haacke 1978). As Haacke states,

[t]he linguistic insights gained during the research for these dissertations, from which emanated an innovative hypothesis on the underlying syntax, formed the foundation not only for the didactic language primers co-authored with Johannes Boois for grades 4 to 7 (ǁKhāǁkhāsen da ge ra Namagowaba), but also for the formal university courses in Khoekhoegowab as first language when Haacke was in 1983 appointed at the Academy for Tertiary Education to set up a Department of African Languages.[7]


Eliphas Eiseb is employed with external funding on a Nama Dictionary Project led by Wilfrid Haacke, and physically accommodated alongside Haacke in the Bureau’s

offices to work with him, having been granted unpaid leave from the Lutheran Church until his retirement to devote himself to this initiative[8].  

Dammann (at 77) travels to South West Africa and also writes to Haacke requesting the return of the Khoekhoegowab texts (translated by Boois?) because he wants to keep everything together, but says that copies can be made of the transcripts. He thanks Haacke for the transcription of Pastor Eiseb’s text (sing.) and translation [is this referring to Eiseb’s life story for which the typed transcript is in Mappe 6?].


Dammann writes to Pastor Eliphas Eiseb (a key contributor of the original Khoekhoegowab recordings) urging for translations and additions to Khoekhoegowab material, but there is no confirmation of anything arising from this request.

In this period Zimmerman (see above) was Head of a Bureau developing nine languages, he himself being responsible for Kwanyama, not Nama/Damara.


Haacke is appointed at the Academy for Tertiary Education in Windhoek to set up a Department of African Languages[9].


Khoekhoegowab linguist Levi Namaseb starts at the Academy for Tertiary Education in Windhoek.


Dammann writes to Haacke thanking him for the transcription and translation [into German] of one of Eiseb’s texts [?**his life story, Mappe 6?] [see 1981?].


Wilfrid Haacke becomes Professor of African Languages at the University of Namibia.

Late 1980s

Mention of the Khoekhoegowab texts completely disappears from an otherwise very lively correspondence regarding the Dammann Herero material. Work with the latter material appears to be much more coherent.


By the 1990s all the Dammann (incl. Khoekhoegowab) material is with Prof. Dr. Gudrun Miehe[10], a linguist at Univ. of Bayreuth in Germany who was a student of Ernst Dammann[11].


Prof. Miehe emails Dag Henrichsen (BAB) saying that she does not have the Dammann / Khoekhoegowab texts, but then says that she’s about to take the Khoekhoegowab texts back to Haacke.


Prof. Miehe confirms to Dag that she is not working on the Khoekhoegowab Dammann texts and language, but that she has copies of the Khoekhoegowab texts and is taking them back to Haacke who she says had already ‘dealt’ with them and had taken care of them so that Eliphas Eiseb could work with them in Namibia.


Ernst Dammann dies at 99 years on 12 July[12].


A number of stories recorded in the Dammann Khoekhoegowab archive are included in Sigrid Schmidt’s comprehensive “Catalogue of Khoisan Folktales”, published this year[13]. Schmidt works with selected stories recorded in the archive as especially Damara (ǂNūkhoe) examples of ‘Khoisan’ folk lore, connecting the stories to her extensive collection of Khoisan folk stories, but without situating the material regarding the speaker or providing context.

2014 - present

New layers of work begin on the Dammann Khoekhoegowab material, e.g. historian and sound artist Memory Biwa utilises some recordings in sound art installations, and anthropologist Sian Sullivan and Khoekhoegowab-speaking collaborator Welhemina Ganuses begin working (albeit as non-linguists) on English translations and interpretations of the Kkg-Dammann archive.

2019 - present

Sian Sullivan begins collaborating with musician Toby Marks / Banco de Gaia and the Hoanib Cultural Group in Sesfontein / !Nani|aus on a contextualised recomposition of one recording of a ǂNūkhoen |gais song. The first recomposition works with Danis (!Habugu ams) / Honey (Bee song) sung by a Viktoria ǁHoeses to the Dammanns on 2 February 1954, and translated into English by WSG. The original |gais with the recomposition can be heard at 


In April the new composition is played at a public dance event in the UK.[14]

The new Namibia 1953-54 platform at for the  full Dammann archive aims to ‘make this vast material more accessible to a broader Namibian public and families in particular’.

BAB receives a new small batch of written documents from Ernst Dammann’s niece, mostly photographs many of which the archive already has. She had apparently found them in some loose things (books etc.).

2021 -

The ‘honey song’ |gais sung for the Dammanns by Viktoria ǁHoeses in 1954 and the recomposed “A Bee Song” [see 2019] is included in an exhibition by Basler Afrika Bibliographien (BAB) to celebrate BAB’s institutional history.



Dammann, E. 1999 70 Jahre Erlebte Afrikanistik. Ein Beitrag zur Wissenschaftgegsichte. Berlin: Verlag von D. Reimer.

Haacke, W.H.G. 2005 Linguistic research for literary empowerment of Khoesaan languages of Namibia. African Studies 64(2): 157-176.

Haacke, W.H.G. 2008 In memoriam: Pastor Eliphas Eiseb, pp. 11-14 in Ermisch, S. (ed.) Khoisan Languages and Linguistics: Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium January 8-12, 2006, Riezlern/Kleinwalsertal. Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung No. 22. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe.

Haacke, W. H.G. and Boois, J. 1991 Khomia da ra. Grade 5. Windhoek: Gamsberg Macmillan.

Jungraithmayr, H. 2007 Ernst Dammann (1904–2003). Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 157(1): 1-6.

Schmidt, S. 2013a A Catalogue of Khoisan Folktales of Southern Africa. Part I: Introduction, Types, Indices, Sources. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

Schmidt, S. 2013b A Catalogue of Khoisan Folktales of Southern Africa. Part II: The Tales (Analyses). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

[1] Wilfrid Haacke, pers. comm. 16 January 2021, after letter to him from Ernst Dammann, 13 December 1998.

[2] Wilfrid Haacke, pers. comm. 12 January 2021.

[3] For example, Haacke and Boois 1991.

[4] Wilfrid Haacke, pers. comm. 16 January 2021.

[5] Dammann 1999.

[6] Haacke 2005, pp. 160-161.

[7] Haacke 2005, p. 161.

[8] Haacke 2008.

[9] Haacke 2005, p. 161.

[10] 8 January 2021.

[11] Jungraithmayr 2007, p. 4.

[12] Jungraithmayr 2007, p. 1.

[13] Schmidt 2013a and b.

[14] ‘Eat Static & Banco De Gaia Extra Date’ [web page]. Accessed online at

<>, 18 December 2020.