Namibia’s Fairy Circles – Nature’s Greatest Mystery
Fairy circles are circular patches of land, barren of plants, though often encircled by a ring of stimulated growth of grass. They typically appear in the arid grasslands of the western part of Southern Africa. Fairy circles are particularly common in Namibia, but also occur in parts of Angola and South Africa.
Like the causes of heuweltjies and Mima mounds, the origin and history of fairy circles have long been a puzzle and their investigation has proved challenging. One controversially favoured suggestion is that the activity of the sand termite Psammotermes allocerus is adapted to create locally favourable ecosystems that improve the supply of moisture and food.
As of 2014, Namibia’s fairy circles are still considered “one of nature’s greatest mysteries”.
In the oral myths of the Himba people these barren patches are said to have been caused by the gods, spirits and/or natural divinities. The region’s bushmen have traditionally ascribed spiritual and magical powers to them. Of specific beliefs, the Himba people note that their original ancestor, Mukuru was responsible for the creation of the fairy circles, or that they were the footprints of gods.
Another myth put forth, believed by some scientists to be tied to tour guides, is that the circles are formed by a dragon in the earth and that its poisonous breath kills the vegetation.
The Himba people use the fairy circles in their agriculture. Because fairy circles support grasses in otherwise barren land, they provide grazing. Sometimes they erect temporary wooden fences around the circles to corral young cattle for overnight protection against predators.