First shelter of Henno Martin at Kuiseb Canyon

Two German geologists, Dr. Henno Martin, and Dr. Herman Korn, went at the beginning of WW2 in 1940 for 2,5 years into hiding around the Kuiseb Canyon area, Namibia, to avoid internment by the South-African Union government. During that time, they lived mainly off the land. Herman Korn died in 1946 in a traffic accident and Henno Martin was after the war Professor of Geology at the University of Cape Town and later on at Göttingen, where he died in 1998.

Henno Martin published 1957 the book ‚The Sheltering Desert’, which was based on their experiences of this ordeal and was also the basis for the same-named movie in 1991.

Shelters of Henno Martin and Herman Korn

During these 2.5 years both, Martin and Korn lived at three different shelters. The first one was an overhanging rock, which they called ‘Karpfenkliff’ (‘Carp’s cliff’), due to a pool in the Kuiseb river below them, which was full of fish. The second and third shelters were stone and wood shacks. The function of all these three shelters was never to keep out rain or cold temperatures, but for shade, protection against strong winds, and as a first line of protection against hyenas. The first shelter is now protected by the Namibian government and is part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

Location, advantages, and disadvantages of the first shelter

This first shelter is a typical place, somebody would initially choose when under pressure. It is a natural given place. The overhanging and south-facing rocks provide a whole day-long protection against the sun; in front is a good overview over parts of the canyon below and both sides can be easily closed by stone walls.

Behind and above them is a large flat plateau with plants and grasses, which will attract mountain zebras, oryxes, ostriches, and springbuck for grazing. And mountain zebras will move daily from the canyon to the plateau and back again. Klipspringer and Steenbuck will use gramadullas (local expression for the wild, void, carved-out mountainous landscapes) and canyon side walls. It is a good place for hunting.

Water is available down in the canyon at pools or holes dug out in the sand. The disadvantage of the first shelter location was, that the distance to this water was too long, and long hikes were necessary to get back and fro.

Hyenas were never a problem, as they also had a dog with them, who was alerting the men in case of danger. Most disturbing for Martin and Korn was the nearly constant clapping of mountain zebra hooves on the rocks during nighttime.  

Lessons learned from the first Henno Martin shelter:

  • Finding initially a location with an overhanging rock, which provides shade the whole day long is most important
  • The second priority is the availability of a nearby water source, which was not the case at this shelter
  • Location however was good for hunting. The biggest game they shot however was not an animal at the plateau, but a feral cattle bull and they had to carry the whole weight of meat from the canyon bottom up to their shelter on the plateau rim.