They have been there since time immemorial, in many parts of Namibia: piles of stones, usually next to ancient paths and passes or sometimes in the vicinity of waterholes. Among the Nama they were known as Haitsi Aibeb (the grave of Haiseb, a deity) and held in great respect.
Travellers who came across a Haitsi Aibeb added a stone, a stick or a twig and occasionally a few drops of water or diluted honey, some venison or tobacco. They then knelt down and said a prayer. Those on a longer journey asked for a favourable course or good hunting. Upon leaving the site they were not allowed to look back. This was a general rule when leaving an extraordinary place. Refusal to show deference towards Haitsi Aibeb was equal to provoking misfortune or an accident.
According to the belief of the Nama, Damara and several San (Bushmen) peoples, Haiseb was a deity who lived in primeval times. Haiseb the bull calf was born after his mother, a cow, had eaten some magic grass. He was known for singing wondrous songs out of bushes and trees. Thus he was referred to as Haiseb, which means “he who is like a tree”.
He saved the world from a monster called ?Gâ?g?rib, or Plunge-into-the-Hole, which had caught many a traveller in its pit. According to oral tradition the demon sat beside his pit and mocked anyone who passed. He challenged passersby to throw a stone at him. Usually they could not resist the temptation. But the stone always bounced off ?Gâ?g?rib, hit the person who had thrown it and catapulted him into the pit. There the monster pounced on his victim and devoured him. Only resourceful Haiseb managed to overpower ?Gâ?g?rib. However it is unclear exactly how he did this.
The sun, the moon and the stars rose from Haiseb’s breast. He died several times and arose again – supposedly always in a different shape. This might explain why his graves can be found in many places in Namibia and why scientists have not as yet unearthed any mortal remains beneath the piles.
After an attempt to murder him, Haiseb sorted out the animal world. The story goes that he removed fish from the desert and stopped lions from nesting in trees. The world evolved as we know it today. Haiseb disappeared from earth and his presence was reduced to that of an invisible deity.
So if you ever come across a Haitsi Aibeb, don’t forget to show your respect. And whatever you do, do not look back!