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’.