Survival Skills 101 with the San Bushmen

Trip Start Nov 05, 2010
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Flag of Botswana  ,
Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sasha and Dasha met many indigenous groups over the last year and a half. The Haida, the Hawaiians, the Maori, the Aborigines, the highlanders of Malaysia, the Hmong, the Tibetan nomads live in different parts of the world yet have a lot in common. All these communities have changed little over millennia. They all see themselves as custodians of their land, taking only what they need, not more and not less. Their knowledge of the ecosystem is phenomenal and all those cultures are at risk. The Kalahari Bushmen are perhaps the most endangered of them all.

Camping in Africa is little different from camping in Australia. However, we would not advise to sleep at roadside rest areas when it gets dark. Muggings are not common in Namibia and Botswana, visitors are not likely to see many locals on the highways. In fact, those are the countries with healthy populations of some of the most dangerous predators known to man. The campgrounds are all wired and gated, therefore leopards, cheetahs and lions are kept on the other side of the fence.

And here they come. About ten men and women wrapped in gnu antelope skins. One of the men was carrying a bow with arrows made of ostrich bones. Other carried spears. They were accompanied by an interpreter. The bushmen language is extremely difficult to learn as they have seven clicking sounds that sound the same to outsiders. Here we are on our walk. The man and women are equal in that culture, however, they have entirely different jobs. The men are the hunters and women are the gatherers. We were shown different medicinal plants that cure ailments such as coughing, impotency and food poisoning. They are all boiled and served as tea. Even dried elephant poop has a medicinal value. The ostrich eggs are used to carry water. We were shown how fire is made by rubbing sticks against one another.   

Sasha had many questions. How big are the tribes? Do the children go to school? Are the groups self-sufficient? What happens if there is a drought? Do they have remedies in case of a snake or a scorpion bite?

The groups are fairly small, about ten individuals in each, both male and female. They are led by an elder, revered for his wisdom. The more respect he has, the easier for him is to recruit the best hunters. The groups rotate every several months when the bushmen get together for festivals. When animals were captured they were utilized in full. There might not be any water in the desert, however, the people are aware of water holding plants that are dug out when the waterholes go dry. When someone is bitten by a snake the community humbly accepts their departure from this world.

"If you go with me you will survive" – the elder promised Sasha. “The trouble is over there” – and he pointed at the bar. “The young generation is gone, and alcohol is the curse”. Just like in any other aboriginal community around the world.

For better or worse, the Bushmen are not allowed to hunt is Botswana anymore. They are relying on food aid from the government and various NGOs. Most children are now enrolled at school and their language is being preserved by an introduction of an alphabetic script. We will keep our fingers crossed for survival of their communities.  

Next stop, Namibia.

Take care,
SD
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