Written by: Bakang Baloi
The Kuru Dance Festival is an annual cultural event where different San groups from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa come together to celebrate and share their rich cultural heritage of storytelling, song and dance.
Dancers gather at the Dqae Qare Farm in the village of D’kar just outside Ghanzi in Botswana. The heat, the dust, the clapping and the rhythmic stamping of feet all add to an intensely spiritual experience.
Different dances are performed to tell the life story of the San people. There are hunting and gathering dances, rite of passage, puberty and courtship dances and, of course, trance healing dances. Hunting dances are dramatic renditions of the hunt – from spoor recognition to the ultimately slaughtering the animal. They celebrate a successful hunt and pay reverent respect to Mother Nature.
Rites of passage dances welcome a young woman into adulthood and marriage. A young woman experiencing puberty for the first time is said to be suffering from the ‘eland illness’ and is secluded. The eland symbolises femininity, fertility and good health. In her seclusion the young woman is ritually painted in red ochre, wood ash and charcoal, all mixed together with animal fat and plant pigments. Puberty dances are demure, coquettish and playfully seductive. Males taking part in the dances enact the mating behaviour of eland bulls by sniffing the female folk, grimacing in mock ‘Flehman display’ and emulating the mounting action of bull animals.
Khoi-San healers or shamans are spiritual custodians for the community who intervene with the ancestral spirits and other venerated forms on the community’s behalf. They intercede with all of creation to heal the community, to request good weather and successful hunting trips or to foretell future events. They perform trance healing rituals to propitiate the ancestors. Even though performances of healing dances may be done during the day, a real healing ceremony is conducted at night. Night time is the mythical part of the day when the universe vibrates with sacred energy.