The decision to provide talks on the Bushmen Walks arose when it became clear that most people will never have the privilege of participating in the walk and I felt a need to share what I have experienced as I believe that all could benefit from the Bushmen wisdom.
Why I feel the need to share can be expressed as follows:
For Parents and Teachers concerned with the ‘Bigger Picture’
Rain-child belongs to a Bushmen clan in Botswana and was born during a Kalahari rainstorm, which is considered lucky, hence his name
Many friends who have joined me in the Kalahari for a Bushmen cultural experience have remarked on the behaviour of Rain-child and the other children of the clan as they never seem to need disciplining and never appear to be unhappy. The children seem to take pride in helping the adults in their domestic duties and when not helping the adults they will happily amuse themselves with a dry Tsama melon, guinea fowl feather, or similar. It does not take long for visitors to become aware of this ‘unusual’ child behaviour prompting the question “how can these children always be so happy and content even though they have nothing?”
When the question is posed to Bushmen parents, they express surprise, replying “but why should they be unhappy, children only need to be given love and safety as they are already happy?”
Does this suggest that in our modern world we have in some way taught our children how to be unhappy? Have our children been taught that happiness can only happen in association with a destination, event or reward?
As a parent and ex-teacher I have always had an interest in child development and it is with special interest that I have tried to study the interaction between Bushmen adults and their children in order to try and establish an answer to this question. Making this study even more relevant are two other factors regarding the Bushmen: Firstly, that they are considered the most successful society in human history, and secondly, that their remarkable survival lasted for tens of thousands of years, until the arrival of modern man – so what are the secrets of their success?
Trying to understand their education methodology is therefore of ongoing interest to me and what has become clear is that child raising involves the entire community, and at a very young age inculcates the philosophies which shaped the Bushmen culture of survival.
Parents concentrate on providing love and making their children feel safe. This love is demonstrated through their caring, empathetic and compassionate relationship with others and through their respect for animals. The rest of the community helps with general education and survival skills with spiritual leaders contributing to the understanding of love by developing the understanding that all thoughts associated with love contribute to the most powerful energy in the universe, the life-force, which they call N/lom.
Details of their education processes are not necessary for the purposes of this article except for one practice of special significance which incorporates most of the principles of the Bushmen culture.
This practice is called the “Healing Dance”, which was/is practiced at least once a week and/or when the need arises. I originally considered this ritual to be aimed at healing ill individuals until its real purpose was made clear to me.
The ritual can better be described as a preventative and holistic healing process aimed at maintaining physical, psychological and spiritual health, as well as to maintain community well-being, the health of their environment, and connection with the natural world.
This description provides some insight into Bushmen behaviour and practices which form the basis of their culture. The healing dance purpose basically encapsulates what could be considered the ‘mission statement’ for the education of Bushmen children.
From a very young age children soon learn about the benefits of egalitarianism, sharing, giving and serving community – in essence, how to be human.
- They learn to love the natural world, and as they explain, “you cannot harm what you love”.
- They learn to suppress ego in order to avoid the social and environmentally destructive effects associated with superiority, power and greed.
- They learn to connect with the energies of the universe and to benefit from universal intelligence.
Dare we compare the education of children today with that of Rain-child? While today education focuses on what children can be in the future, how much focus is placed on ensuring that there will be a future? I share the story of Grace which illustrates the effectivity of our education system in terms of preparing children for the future.
Grace, not her real name, was 13 years old at the time and a pupil at a very prestigious UK School when a teacher asked the class to create picture boards of what they wanted their lives to look like in twenty years time. Grace’s board displayed the typical big house, cars and exotic holiday’s but one thing that caught the teacher’s eye were the words “no more climate change”. When the teacher explained that all her wants were not compatible with ‘no climate change’, she went silent, and asked “why, is there no way around it?”
‘Grace’ represents an average child who could be attending almost any School on the planet, so the question which needs to be asked of any person involved in education, from assistant teacher to senior education planner is “How is it possible that a child who has been in the conventional education system for approximately 8 years, does not understand that having a surplus of material possessions as well as ‘no climate change and environmental degradation’ is impossible?
How is it possible that Rain-child’s predecessors in 50 000BC understood this better than did Grace in 2019 AD? Is it because this truth would conflict with the modern global economic system dependent on growth and consumerism? Do children believe that it is possible for all 7 billion people on the planet to achieve what appears on their ‘picture board’? If not, who must be excluded and why?
One of the ‘costs’ of todays consumer driven society is the lack of quality time parents are able to enjoy with their children.
We are told that this is the price of progress – but progress towards what?
What is the ‘deemed goal’ towards which humanity is supposedly progressing?
Without knowing these goal/s, how is it possible to say that progress is being made?
Parents, are you educating your children to achieve goals which celebrate humanity, the environment and the sustainability of both or do you consider this the duty of educational institutions?
Teachers, if you had to write your ‘mission statement” for humanity on your classroom wall, one which cuts across all curricula and addresses the sustainable well-being of all humankind, what would it say? How much of your mission statement would be addressed by your current subject curriculum?
As we are in an age of multiple crises, fake information and questionable leadership, is it not time for each and every person to use their own logic, reasoning and freedom of choice to make the changes necessary to ensure sustainable well-being for all humankind and planet.
When I called Xhigae to help me identify an animal spoor it was not because I did not know what antelope it belonged to, but because I was testing his knowledge, not sure what effect the banishment of him and his people to resettlement camps had had on their knowledge and abilities.
Xhigae took a brief look at the spoor and then called the other two men in the clan to help him with his response. The three of them proceeded to examine the ground in the area, the bushes and all other sign. I became concerned that the delay and conferring was because they were uncertain of the answer, but the response I got was much more than I had expected and left me embarrassed and humbled:
“The spoor belongs to a Gemsbok, it is a female which has seen many moons, and it stood under this tree just before midday yesterday.”
The accuracy of their answer, together with those to all similar questions subsequently, have proved to be astonishingly accurate.
Before day one of my first trial walk was over, I was able to understand why the Bushmen claim that the seemingly inhospitable Kalahari was all the pantry and pharmacy that a man needed to survive. Their deep understanding of almost every plant made it clear why they are considered the greatest botanists of Africa.
In addition to being witness to their amazing knowledge of the fauna and flora, there were more revelations that made me question my previous understanding of the Bushmen culture.
I witnessed seed planting, contrary to what I had been taught about hunter gatherers, and when asking why, they told me that: “This is for those that follow”.
I saw roots, prized by Bushmen women, being replanted, in line with what I later found out to be described as their “one third rule”, but as fascinating as all these discoveries were, I became aware, over the course of the following week, that something else was happening that I find difficult to articulate.
There existed within the band a sense of humanity and level of well-being that I had never encountered before. There seemed to be continuous happiness and laughter. There prevailed an amazing community spirit within a group of people where there was no hierarchical structure and where each member seemed to be of equal importance to the group regardless of age or gender. The tactile and loving relationship between grandparents and grandchildren seemed to work as the children always appeared content.
I also became exposed for the first time to the spirituality which exists within authentic Bushmen communities. Although it is ever present, it becomes almost tangible during their dances. No matter how cynical one may be, to sit and watch the dancers circling a fire under a starlit African sky, while the women clap and sing, stirs something deep within.
To see evidence of the dancers ‘blood beginning to boil’ and ‘spiritual’ hands lifting glowing coals out of the fire to rub over their heads, speaks of energies of which modern man has no understanding. To feel calloused healing hands vibrating against my body created confusion within me as I battled to understand what was happening.
My ‘walk’ became a life changing experience and motivated me to try and find answers to the many questions which had arisen. In my subsequent research it became evident that the Bushmen had survived in the Kalahari for tens of thousands of years. Anthropologists are describing them as “the most successful society in human history”.
How have they managed to survive, particularly in an environment so harsh that twenty moons might pass without seeing water?
Must man experience suffering in order to understand life?
How have they managed to enjoy such happiness?
How did they manage to have zero negative impact on the environment in which they live?
The end of my first ‘walk’ proved to be a profound moment for me.
I had watched the group of thirteen little people climb onto the back of a truck, now wearing their worn-out civilian clothing, to return to the resettlement camp to who knows what future. With them were all their worldly items, all packed into one small truck, a seemingly pathetic picture to a casual by-passer.
Xhare, the oldest male member, approached me and fixed his penetrating gaze on me. Although not threatening it did prove to be rather unsettling as in the context of the past week, I had developed a feeling of guilt at having been associated with a modern society responsible for the genocide of this culture, and I would not have been surprised if he was looking into my soul.
Translated, all he said to me was: “Thank you, you let us live again”.
As the truck with the Bushmen clan disappeared into the distance, I felt a flood of emotions and promised myself that I would do all that I could to help these amazing, harmless little people.
The image of the disappearing truck has remained in my memory, but with it another vision, the vision of the disappearance of more knowledge of life, love, the natural world and human survival than is contained in all the libraries of the world. A wisdom that would benefit modern man, a wisdom of knowing “What Is”, which only comes through awareness and consciousness.
The question that arose in my mind was “how is it possible for humans with no wealth, possessions or status to be so content and happy, particularly as their future looks so bleak?”
As a result of my Bushmen experiences, I have asked myself:
How can I help these people? At the same time can I do anything to save Africa’s fast disappearing wildlife?
Will I be able to share my thoughts with modern man in such a way that all may benefit?
Will I even be able to influence those many who do not yet realise that humanity faces a crisis? The crisis became very real to me when I realised, without the evidence from scientists, that almost every ‘rule’ of survival practiced by the ‘First People’ was being broken by egocentric modern man.
I decided that the best way for me to start achieving any of the above, was to share what I have learnt through talks in the hope that the message may begin to resonate with those who have not been fortunate enough to share my ‘walk with Bushmen’.