Theophilus Hahn, a nineteenth century philologist, linked the name 'Haiseb' to a tree in his much under rated work Tsuni-||Goam: the supreme being od the Khoi-Khoi (1881: 132-3)
'Consequently the only correct translation of Heitsi-eibeb is, "the One who has the appearance of a tree," and this tree is the magnificent Dawn-tree.' (Hahn 1881: 134).
Hahn's Dawn-tree equates to the rising sun: 'beautiful beams and rays shooting up from a central point like the gigantic branches of a magnificent tree'.
Hahn, like my recent contact Samson Awaseb, determines that Tsui ||goab and Haiseb are the same. As the sun rises in the East, they come from the East and both are invoked as 'Father' or 'All-Father'.
A link with wood and trees seems to run through a number of Haiseb tales. This link also seems evident in the placing of branches and leaves on Haiseb graves, which was a common practice. It is mentioned, for instance, in the context of Gamkarab featured on the site.
At the very least Haiseb's link with wood and trees seems to reflect a fundamental and powerful 'going together quality' , if not absolute equivalence with Hahn's Dawn-tree.
As we tease out the meaning of Haiseb we should, however, resist trying to pin Haiseb's identity down to specifics. Haiseb is about many things webbed around sun, rain, growth, life, death, trees, food, safety, predictability, good living and danger. Haiseb does not belong to any one persons's or one group's ideas.
Haiseb and trees
"..the shorter name of Heitsi-eibeb is Heigeib, Great-Tree (from hei, tree, and gei, great) forces us to translate Heitsi into tree-like." (Hahn 1881:133)
Among the Haiseb tales I recorded in Sesfontein was one that typically remaps and reconfigures familiar themes. Many contexts link Haiseb to holes, either as a place where he lives or as something dangerous that he encounters:
A story from the Hoanib River Culture Group, Sesfontein:
'Haiseb went to the next place. He saw the woman dancing the |gais next to a big deep river. He stands on the edge. Later on the women try and pull Haiseb into he river, but Haiseb realises that they are trying to kill him.
So the women dance closer to the river but Haiseb is careful. Haiseb thinks, "how can I get these ladies into the river". He takes the sun in his hat, the stars on his cheeks, moon on his bottom, now when he dances around the ladies are blinded and he tries to get the group together. Then he pulls all the ladies into the river.
When Haiseb pulled the ladies, two held onto the roots of a tree. That day the ladies became the baboons. There is some place in Franzfontein where the ladies became the baboons. The God made all these [things?]. That sign [of the things god made] is sometimes there.
In Franzfontein there was a tree that looked like a woman and the local people burned it. These are the signs made by God.
John Taniseb: "I heard that when they cut the tree up blood came out".