Years ago I saw a documentary, "The Living Edens," broadcast on public television about Etosha National Park in Namibia, in Africa. I was enthralled by the show. Africa's Etosha is a vast and ancient land of seasonal paradox. During the blooming of the wet season, spring boks, elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jackals, zebras and giraffe thrive. It is also an Eden that slowly disappears when heat, drought and thirst put all life at risk, except for the opportunistic vultures.
Etosha National Park is one of Southern Africa's finest and most important Game Reserves. Etosha Game park was declared a National Park in 1907 and covering an area of 22 270 square km, it is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, one species of fish. The Etosha Park is one of the first places on any itinerary designed for a holiday in Namibia.
Etosha, meaning "Great White Place," is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin, the floor of which was formed around 1000 million years ago. The Etosha Pan covers around 25% of the National Park. The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River. However the course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up. The pan now is a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time. This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts thousands of wading birds including impressive flocks of flamingos. The perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds.
A San legend about the formation of the Etosha Pan tells of how a village was raided and everyone but the women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about the death of her family she cried until her tears formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up nothing was left apart from a huge white pan.
It's now clear what fascinated me about Etosha. It's a variation on a schizoid fantasy. The park represents symbolically the schizoid child's fantasy of emotional plenty in the midst of his family's emotional desert.
In The English Patient, the novel by Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, the Cave of Swimmers—-the most important of Count László de Almásy’s discoveries—-was a cave in the midst of the desert with prehistoric drawings of figures swimming. This proved to Almásy that in Tassali, 6000 years ago, there had been a lake where now there is dryness. The desert is turned by him, in his imagination, into a plentiful sea. This is what a schizoid child does in the midst of deprivation.
In some symbolic sense the Cave of Swimmers is the equivalent of Klingsor's Magic Garden in Wagner's opera, Parsifal.In the second act of the opera, the desolate realm of Klingsor's domain is transformed magically into a luxuriant garden, inhabited by flower maidens. At the end of the act, the garden suddenly vanishes, and is replaced by a barren desert. This is, once again, a schizoid fantasy.
Fittingly, Christoph Schlingensief’s production of Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival in 2004 transplanted the opera to Namibia, with the singers attired in African costumes, wearing blackface makeup.
Here is an excerpt from the Flower Maiden scene in Klingsor's Magic Garden: