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Meeting the Bushmen
Passionate about the wilderness and only 16 years old, here Zeki Basan shares tales of his unique experiences with Namibia’s Bushmen. He and his mother Ghillie travelled to Namibia with Imagine Africa on what was the first of many trips to this fascinating country for Zeki. He has since returned a number of times and has built a good relationship with the Bushmen.
I am 16 years old and my passion in life is to learn about the ancient skills of our ancestors and the traditional skills and knowledge of indigenous peoples around the world. To lose these skills would be like losing our soul, as we have become obsessed with technology and the stresses of the artificial world that we have created. In my quest for knowledge I had the opportunity to visit the San in Namibia, organised by Matt, one of Imagine Africa’s Namibia specialists. Referred to as Bushmen by early European explorers, the San are small and slight in stature and physically adapted to the dry, arid terrain of the Kalahari Desert. Unlike any other culture, they have mastered the skills of animal behaviour in order to survive, but throughout history they have been the target of persecution by other African tribes and by the white man. Today, the predators are the governments of Botswana and Namibia, which deprive them of their ancestral land and the right to hunt, forcing them to integrate in urban communities. Like many of the Australian Aborigines or the Canadian Inuit, some Bushmen have lost the will to live and have turned to alcohol and despair. How can the teachings of their ancestors help them when trapped in walls of concrete with the restrictions of urban social life?
To me it makes no sense to deprive people who were on this Earth long before us from practising their hunter-gatherer culture, whilst rich, foreign trophy hunters come and shoot what they want to get a picture for their wall. The concept of hunting for money and ego is alien to the Bushmen. They believe that a disrespectful hunter will go hungry. Their respect for the hunted animal is so outstanding that they believe in order to find the prey you must think like it. Getting into the mindset of the animal enables them to easily act out the physical motions of all wildlife. It is this understanding of nature that makes them the best trackers. Of course they don’t know that – it’s just their way of life – a life that is rapidly changing, the lessons of which we are on the brink of losing. There are only a few places left where tourists can spend time with the Bushmen and learn about their culture in a noninvasive, natural way. On my first trip to Namibia I was able to visit a San family, the Jul’haansi, facilitated by a white Namibian, Joern Gressman, the owner of Fiume Lodge near Grootfontein. Joern’s family farms a vast area of land in the dry terrain of eastern Namibia where some Bushmen still remain. As a boy, Joern played with the Bushmen and picked up the complex !Kung language punctuated by a series of tongue clicks. As a fluent !Kung speaker and defender of the Bushman way of life, Joern arranges village visits for tourists to enable them to learn about their hunter-gatherer way of life and to give the Bushmen a means of earning, as well as retaining pride in their culture.
On this first visit in October, Imagine Africa’s Matt had arranged a special visit for my mother and I to spend two days on our own with the Bushmen, walking in the desert and learning about the edible and medicinal plants and their way of life. From my experience with other cultures, I have learnt that it is important to take an offering of value – not sweets or money – but something the other culture can use or appreciate. So I filled my rucksack with chagga, a fungus that grows on birch trees and was traditionally used for carrying fire; amadu, which is the inner layer of a tree fungus and, once worked with the hands and smoothed, it feels like velvet and can be used for sharpening and polishing; a bag of flint and several steels; natural cordage from juniper trees; sharpening stones; and bush knives donated to me by Mora Knives. The Bushmen were so delighted, they could barely contain themselves, and the hunters immediately stuffed their pipes with the crumbly chagga instead of their usual rabbit and porcupine droppings – a gift for the pipe was the best gift for a hunter! In return, they taught me about their edible and medicinal plants; how to make a quiver, bow and poisoned arrows; how to track and hunt; and even how to find myself a wife!
From my first trip to the Bushmen I realized that these people are so special because, although their worries are different from ours, they realise that nature is the biggest cure of all. They are so in tune with it, they could teach us many important lessons in survival and preservation. I have since returned to the same group of Bushmen to spend longer and learn more, and I have now established a good relationship with them and with Joern, so that I can come and go often in the future. On my last trip I took them fish skins that I had tanned and bags that I had made with them. The Bushmen were delighted – they also couldn’t believe the tanned skins were from fish as they didn’t think that fish actually had skins. As a mark of acceptance, they gave me the name Kunta Ma, meaning ‘Little Hunter’. One day, I hope to make a short film to highlight their plight and their skills. One day, I would like to make a difference. For now though, I would urge you to stay at Joern’s newly completed bush camp and arrange a day with the Bushmen to help him to help them preserve their way of life.