From Signal Hill to the Kamiesberg

This is a journey of understanding, from Signal Hill, in Cape Town, where the voices of our enslaved and exiled ancestors bid us well and offer protection on the journey …

… to the Kamiesberg, in Namaqualand, where our indigenous ancestors have dwelt for more than a thousand years …

… as we follow the path of an 1865 expedition to the Land of the Amacqua, led by Simon van der Stel, Commander of the Cape, under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company …

…  for these three strands – enslaved and exiled, indigenous, and European, are inextricably linked in the history of this country.

I travel in the Company of the Wandering Womb, on the first leg of a journey of return towards Angola, the home of an enslaved ancestor who birthed her children in the slave lodge in the Cape. I join the journey because I am curious about the Kamiesberg, the mountain that bears my name, and what it means in terms of a heritage denied by the Company that traded people and spices – the Dutch East India Company.

This project encompasses four parts:

  • We were Here: In the Footsteps of the Enslaved and Exiled
  • A Mountain without a Name: The Erasure of Indigenous Names on the way to the Land of the Nama
  • To the Copper Mountains: A Journal kept on the Expedition to the Land of the Amacqua
  • My Name is Kamies: Genealogy of a South African Surname

Read preliminary musings on the search for the name Kamies in an article published by Reclamation Magazine.



Fieldguides for a Preternaturalist

deep histories fragile memories is an artistic research cluster based at the LUCA School of the Arts in Brussels. It aims to bring together like-minded researchers, practitioners and projects to create a collaborative body of knowledge that will be accessible to a wide audience. One of its projects is the Fieldguides, a series of essays, each written by practitioners/researchers from diverse backgrounds.

I am excited to have been invited by Wendy Morris, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art at LUCA and Leuven University to contribute to this project that is part of her Nothing of Importance Occurred: Recuperating a Herball for a 17th century enslaved Angolan Midwife at the Cape. I believe that this project answers a need to recuperate our histories and to tell them in a multiplicity of voices.

Fieldguides for a Preternaturalist is intended to be an ambulatory library of ten chapbooks that mark a return from Cape Town to Angola. Volumes 1-3 (2022) mark the first leg, from a shrine on Signal Hill to a village in the Kamiesberg, Namaqualand. The guides are Nadia Kamies, Rachel O’Donnell, Joshua Cohen and Johanna Lot.

My essay, UNPICK, RESTITCH Doilies, Medorahs and Labouring Plants, draws on an archive of the ordinary – family photographs, my grandmothers’ craftwork, rituals and traditions – to narrate the story of where I come from. The essays are intended to be read aloud at gatherings in order to generate further collaboration.

The featured image is of the Rose of Jericho or Flower of Maryam, a plant that emerges as an analogy for midwives, birth and labour, travelling and displacement, rebirth and resurrection, with deep connections  to disempowered voices throughout generations. The plant was brought by returning pilgrims from Mecca to be used as a visual aid during labour.

Read more about  the Fieldguides and the guides and the latest post by Wendy Morris here. The first three issues of the Fieldguides are available from Berlin-based publishing atelier, K. Verlag.