Screams from
the kavango

BY Pauline Buhlebenkosi Ndhlovu

on beauty as method

In her essay Beauty Is a Method, Christina Sharpe interrogates the concept and

aesthetic of beauty, outlining a framework within which beauty emerges as method. Sharpe asks the question of what beauty is, and in response, answers thus: 

“What is beauty made of? Attentiveness whenever possible to a kind of aesthetic that escaped violence whenever possible.” 
 – Sharpe, 2019

Of the images in the essay that stay with me most, one comes from a reference Sharpe makes to Toni Cade Bambara’s novel, The Salt Eaters. In her dedication of the novel, Bambara “thanks her mother, ‘who in 1948, having come upon me daydreaming in the middle of the kitchen floor, mopped around me’” (Sharpe, 2019). She mopped around her. Sharpe ties that to her own mother’s making of space for her to dream. 

For me, the enduring power of that image is in that making of space. Sharpe’s essay invited me to significantly consider: What is beauty? What is the ethic of beauty? What is beauty as method? From the quote above, another question emerges: What escaped/escapes violence?


Throughout these border crossings, I have often wondered what it means to take on beauty as method in the everyday, in the mundane. What does employing beauty as method mean for my disposition, and for my responsibility for the way I show up? Every day and every single moment of this trip has been an opportunity to consider that. To consider what my body and presence within a space means, and how my body and presence can acknowledge, honour and invite or embrace cooperation with the presence(s) within a space. 

The Screams from the Kavango that follow mark my own tensions with these questions, with these considerations, and ultimately represent my own ruminations on beauty and my own offering to the presences. 

For me, beauty is in honouring the presence of a space, it is instructive in that regard. On the road, one of the places/spaces that most epitomised this, in my opinion, is Tsodilo Hills. Tsodilo Hills is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, nominated onto the World Heritage List in 2001. The site, nominated for its outstanding universal value, meets three of the ten criteria necessary for inscription. It contains one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world, with more than 4 500 paintings preserved in an area of 10km2. Lastly, archaeological evidence from Tsodilo Hills bears testament to over 100 000 years of human habitation. 

While a certain kind of imposition of the space now prevails; among the Hambukushu and Ju/hoansi who still reside there, there is an enduring relationship to the space, and rock engravings. Personally, one of the greatest evidences of honouring the presence of the space at Tsodilo Hills, is in the naming of the mountain, “The Mountain of the Gods”. I see that as an acknowledgement of the presence of/within the space, and as an honouring of that presence. That naming signifies a knowing that there is something in this s p a c e place prior, superfluous to, exceeding the presence and experience of humans.


Beauty creates space.
Beauty creates the space of encounter.
Beauty honours the space of encounter. 
Beauty is attentive to presence. 
Beauty is constituted by attention to.

Pack beauty.

Christina Sharpe taught me. 


feed me the sun
effervesce comings and goings
of a sea of light

undulating plasmic irradiance
being about light and being about life


In Maun, the heat overtakes you first. It’s a sensorial adjustment. Once you land at the airport, you become aware of the heat, of its constant presence, an ever-present neighbour. 

The air here is populated. Its occupants transmit messages of their occupancy through the atmosphere. Along with the heat comes not a chorus, not a medley, but a presencing of sound. 

The arrival of the heat cloaks and spells out sonic habitus. Like the land, the air is teeming with life, and many species claim it for living. 



Listening means that we strain from one moment to the next, splitting and stretching the
listening subject into the grounded opening of experience itself.
– (Gallope, 2008, p. 158)3

Listening. St r a i n i n g from one moment to the next.
Arriving without preconception of what we might encounter.
Opening ourselves up to the processual.
O p e n i n g.


Are you splitting? Are you stretching?


Through participation in this grounded opening of experience, we give ourselves over to the process and evolution. Straining. Splitting. Stretching. Are you evolving?

Listening signifies more than the actual sensory experience of hearing with our physical ears; rather, it extends to the meta-physical exposure to and negotiation with what cannot be accessed only through the objective study of material reality (Gallope, 2008). This process of going beyond what is accessible in the material reality, is the work of engaging the tangible and intangible, material and immaterial, visible and invisible archives which exist beyond materiality.



There are many stories of those who assume other shapes, other forms. In many times and many places, there has always been a knowing, that people can be many, multiple, plural.

To know it for yourself, you have to look for the evidence. Or listen rather. Yesterday, I met a man who told me things about birds I wondered how he knew. What they saw, from where they saw it. How they knew who friend or foe was, how they knew to warn others to leave.

He spoke of an alliance, an accomplice between nature and those who remember that they are tethered to her and to each other, those who stop, pause often to offer libation.


Listening to him speak, it occurred to me that this man is a shapeshifter. It’s his voice that betrays it. The way it emerges, perches, takes flight – like bird song. The vantage point. The expanse of breath. The wingspan. I realised that this man is at once many. Eye. Wind. Air. Form. Current.

He can be in two places at once. In the place of the happening, and in the space of the after. In the space of the after, and in the space before. He described his journey along the Kavango Delta, in a mokoro, and spoke of an incident where a hippo entered the water and made for the convoy of mokoros he was travelling in. He said that despite seeing the boat before him capsize, he knew he would be fine. He was safe in the knowledge that he was born in water, into water, into formlessness, in shape shifting. Water is his home.

He knows no fear when he slides like a fish under the skin of the water. A familiar silkiness greets him. In the silkiness of the water, a joyful agility awaits him. The litheness of no separation. The suppleness of formlessness.


Tsodilo Hills

I saw a whale at Tsodilo Hills. A whale. A what? A whale.

I saw a whale at Tsodilo Hills. A what? A whale. A what? A whale.

How did you get here? 
How did you travel? 
Who brought you?

By night, I swam across the sky.

by night across the sky

Greeting stars. Visiting. Telling stories of kin below. 

star greetings  stories   kin below

I swam across the night sky. 

by day on foot  on land  shape of a man

By day, I walked. On land, on foot. In the shape, of a man, I travelled. 

in the mind of a man  carried

In the mind of a man I came. 

in the mind of a man he swam

someone’s imaginaire brought me here.

someone brought me

someone carried me.

someone carried me

Thank you to you who carry me still
Thank you  to   you    who     carry      me       still




Mushaandja taught me. Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja, Namibian scholar, artist, performer and theatre practitioner outlines the concept of Oudano wit regard to his performance “Dance of the Rubber Tree”

Oudano is an African concept of performance. Loosely translated, Oudano refers simultaneously to play, performance and performativity. Oudano is conceptualised within the lexicon of indigenous African performance, and what it attempts or achieves. Drawing on the methodology of performance, play and performativity highlights the fact that temporary objects and formations are useful and meaningful. 

As a metaphysical meditation on temporality, Oudano highlights that presence can be singular now and plural eternal. As a metaphysical conception of space, Oudano is simultaneously site-specific and aspatial. This dualism is inherent in the fact that Oudano is ephemeral, existing everywhere and nowhere, simultaneously all at once. Singular – plural


Thero Phomolo Sello taught me. Bring your gaiety. Bring your ability to play.

At some point, I fell asleep in the car. Someplace after Epupa Falls, between Divundu, Makwe and Rundu. I awoke to see Thero and Moks had joined a football match they saw some people, some young men, playing. Thero had been hankering for a football match. He spoke about it along the way. It’s only fitting that they spotted one. It’s only fitting that they joined in play.

In this instance of play, Thero and Moks weren’t just looking. They were participating. I find it interesting how play/ the football match undoes the rules of social convention. It accelerates and facilitates. It invites. It invites you to share your presence. It invites you to share your intelligence. It invites you into the presence, into the intelligence of others. It invites learning.

No gaze. Just play



I ask for the ability to see at night.
I ask for the ability to move at night.
I ask for the ability to know what presences occupy the night.
I ask for the ability to communicate with those presences.
I ask for the ability to form community and cooperation with the other presences.


[I ask to not be alien here].

I have slept little. I wasn’t able to sleep through the night. For most of the night I made negotiations with the dark and the patches of light, to understand the dimensions of the space. I made a request to the night bird brother bat to teach me how to see at night. I threw out my sight into the space, and in return hearing returned to me. Sound. A concord of sound.

I spent the time awake negotiating my relationship to the sounds I heard, above me, beside me, beneath me, and beyond the trees. Beyond the trees, the voices of Moks and Jameson laughing through the night carried over to me, as well as the sounds of brother hippo in the water sister river. These sounds were my companions through the night.Blessed be the emissaries who come to make contact, and who know my name. Blessings to night bird for communicating that my safety was assured. Blessings to brother bat for his constant presence through the night.

Blessed be the emissaries who come to make contact, and who know my name. Blessings to night bird for communicating that my safety was assured. Blessings to brother bat for his constant presence through the night. Blessings to brother bat for always letting me know he was there whenever I fell in and out of sleep. Blessings to the night bird for keeping me.




The light arrives in patches. Little patches of light gather to each other, accumulating space and acreage until eventually the light is present everywhere.

The light arrives in patches 
The light arrives 

Oh dear Light
Oh Light

Who is stitching 
the patches? 

Who is stitching me?

brother bat

brother bat
night brother
winged brother
brother hippo
sister lake
thank you for
your kinship
your assurance

in the flap of your wing
brother bat
in your rolling, mirthful laughter
brother hippo
in your wide, gliding stride
sister river

echo locate
echo locate
echo locate

I am here




What is the breadth of your breath?
What is your conception of kinship?
What is your notion of relation?

The trees, the air, the sun, the water, the earth are here. The trees, the air, the sun, the water, the earth is here too. They were here before. They will be here long after. And they offer us their kinship. They offer us their presence. They open us up to a new kind of being, a new kind of openness, oneness, singularity, multiplicity, plurality.

Who are your kin? How do you be in relationship with them? How do you participate in kinship?


I didn’t realise before coming on this trip how much my relationship to nature has been structured by fear. So much of the terms on which I move through nature are dictated by fear. Fear of the night. Fear of things that sound too close. Fear of connection.

I don’t know where to trace this opposition to. Where did I learn the fear? Where did I learn that I am separate? Where did I learn unbelonging?

Everywhere I was, everywhere I am, I am surrounded by presence, eternal presence. I am surrounded by kinship. I am surrounded by the invitation be here, to play.

 across time across space across difference


All the presences surrounding us. They move with a knowing movement. They know. They’ve been here before. Tomorrow is another day, a new day. They’ll be here then.


Anita taught me.

Everywhere we go, Anita moves through the space like a riot. Ungoverned. Ungovernable.

She calls herself mother nature’s baby, and everywhere we go she returns herself to mother nature. Barefoot on the earth, pensive and meditating on the rock, body hugging the Tree, nearly naked and submerged in water.

Take back your kinship.

Anita taught me.



“What does it mean to be present with each other across time and space and difference? Presence is interpersonal and interspecies and intergalactic, in some ways eternal”

– Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Be in relationship with.


What is your frequency?

What is your vernacular? Do you speak the language? Does your language construct borders or facilitate relationship? Language reaches, what does your language reach for? To offer language is to reach. Who does it reach for?


Keamogetse taught me. Listen for the laughter of the hippos in the Kavango River. Listen for the laughter. Laugh with the hippos. Laugh the laugh of the hippos. Give your laughter over to the air, the trees, the water, the hippos. Return laughter to herself, give yourself over in laughter. Be carefree.


This that returns me to song.
Returns me to song.
Sing, the river instructed me. Have no fear. Have no fear.        I heard what the water said.

Swarm the air.

I make this shift. This border crossing.


Laugh the hippo 
Dance the impala 
Flow the river
See like the bat

So much beauty in the world.

Dance the impala
Fly the bat
Giggle like the river
See like night brother

Oh my love for the first time in my life
My eyes are wide open
Oh my love for the first time in my life
My eyes can see

I see the wind
Oh, I see the trees
Everything is clear in my heart
I see the clouds
Oh, I see the sky
Everything is clear in our world

– Cécile McLorin Salvant4


The tourism industry changes our relationship to land. It changes our access to and engagement with land. It changes how frequently we inhabit, move walk through the land. It changes how often we acknowledge kinship with, talk and listen to and meditate with it. It changes our imagination (of ourselves, of time, of space, of being) and our land imaginaire.

The tourism industry, which functions as an enclosure of space and value. This imposition enclosure of space and value, excludes and dispossesses. It structures relationships, delineating designated roles and access, embedding power hierarchies and asymmetries, and imposing a transactional ethic which disrupts the indigenous land ethic.


We are dispossessed.

We no longer see ourselves as tethered, as kin. Now, we purchase the right to occupy, to use.

Our relationship changes from one of inhabiting/ relating to one of use/domination.

How do you live without your inheritance?

Liquidate the concentration of power.


set fire


Invite the presence of fire.


We encountered fire many times along the way. And many different technologies for the making of fire.

First at Tsodilo Hills.
Then at Ndonga Linena.
And finally at the Mbunza Living Museum.

Fire participates in world making.

Know the uses of fire.

Adapt your technologies.

Assume responsibility for your fire making.

Tend your fires.

Tend your fires.

Emeka taught me.

All along the road, you invited and defended the space, the potential for a renewed perception of difference. For a stretching of encounter. For St r a i n i n g.
Listening.                                                                                                 O p e n i n g.

Lelilungelo ngelakho


Pack well.

Bring your tools.

Bring your potencies.

Bring your curiosities.


attune your frequency
find the poem
the poem

Thank you for the invitation.

Thank you for the space of encounter.

Thank you for teaching me that my being here is not in trespass.


Lelilungelo ngelami

what the way made


Thank you Andreas.

For your youthfulness.

For sharing your aspirations, your dreams of this place.

Thank you for sharing what your father taught you. Thank you for sharing the gaps in your. knowing. Thank you for sharing what you know. Thank you for the patches of light.

Thank you for giving us an elevation, a vantage point from which to look. Thank you for showing us where the river winds, what it reaches for. Thank you for showing us how the river reaches for light, for trees, for air, for earth, for you, for me.

Thank you for sharing your desire. Your agitation. Your willingness to play.

Thank you of opening up promise.

Thank you for accompanying us.


“If we could choose our deathbeds, mine would be a Mustang.
For its speed.”
– Andreas

I wonder why Andreas spoke of death. I find it queer that he did. Everything about him is so youthful.

He has already imagined how he wants to go. And he has chosen that if he must, if he should go, he would like to arrive there in a Mustang. with Speed.


This opposition between me and the river, between me and the trees, between me and the air, between me and the earth; this opposition is constructed. This is not my opposition. Nor is it the river’s, or the tree’s, or the air’s, or the earth’s.

And so I come to the river, I give my body back. I give my body back to the river. I give my body back to the trees. I give my body back to the air. I give my body back to the earth.

I give back my body to the river. The river takes my fear and my resistance. The river tells me have no fear. Have no fear. Sing. Sing. The river tells me sing. And so I bring my song.

I give back my body to the trees. The trees tell me use your intelligence. Offer shelter. Offer shade. Stand. Tall. Defend.

I give back my body to the air. The air tells me ride. And so I take shape. I take on formlessness. I dissipate into ceaselessness. And as the air I join the wind in song.

I give back my body to the earth. The earth welcomes me back. Home. Home is my name. Home is my name. Home is my name. And so I walk softly here, in the sanctuary.


I love you with a love of screams
with a love of screams
with a love
of screams

of screams
of screams
with a love


take only what you can carry


[INSERT RAIN SOUND RECORDING]                                  

1 Christina Sharpe. Beauty Is a Method. e-flux Journal. Issue #105. December 2019.
2 Tsodilo, UNESCO World Heritage Convention. Available: [Accessed 28
November, 2022].
3 Michael Gallope. (2008). Review of Jean-Luc Nancy. Listening. Translated by Charlotte Mandell. Current
Musicology. 157 – 166.
4Jacky Terrasson feat. Cécile McLorin Salvant. (2012). Oh My Love.

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