Namibia is an incredible country. I still have much to discover, but already I have been romanced by it’s rugged open plains and the feeling of wild freedom these expanses stir within me. It’s certainly an unusual kind of beauty.
At first glance, much of Namibia can seem dry and lifeless, yet it really isn’t! No one understands this as well as the bushmen (Namibia’s first inhabitants). Traditionally, they lived a simple, nomadic lifestyle, getting everything they needed from the bush around them. As part of Go Big Namibia we enjoyed a guided bushman walk from Treesleeper Camp at Tsintsabis. Our bushman guide, Erik, shared some fascinating (and surprising!) insights into traditional bushman life…
‘The love bow’
How would you feel about having an arrow shot at your bottom by your future husband? Personally, I’d prefer flowers, chocolates or kisses! Yet, in the traditional San culture, when a young man has his eye on an eligible woman, he signals his intention to marry her by doing just this. Fortunately, the special ‘love bow’ he uses is small, and made to bounce off her gently. The girl then has a choice to make (talk about being put on the spot). If she loves him, she will pick up the arrow and place it on her heart – but if not, she will leave it lying on the dusty ground.
Left alone to die
Because the San are traditionally nomadic, a problem arises when a man (or woman) is too old or feeble to journey with the rest of the clan. This is especially troublesome if he/she is blind. After the tribe’s elders have met and decided that the time has come for one of their members to pass on, they organise a special evening where the whole clan gathers to listen to his last words, which are greatly treasured by both young and old. The following morning, he is left alone in a small grass hut with only a small amount of food and water (enough to last a day or two) until he dies and his body eaten by lions and hyenas. This was an accepted and natural practice, necessary for the survival of the whole clan.
The great termite rush
Because it seldom rains in Namibia, when it does, it’s a reason to celebrate! Juicy termites grow wings and take off, flying out of termite mounds in their thousands – a cause of great excitement and pandemonium! These nutritious insects are a great treat, caught by making a fire (which they are attracted to) beside a hole to trap and catch them. About 50kgs of these delicious treats can be collected in just one evening. The termites are then stripped of their wings, cleaned, cooked and feasted on. A clever trick to for surviving in the bush!
‘Tracks can talk with the hunter’, said Elvis, pointing to the ground earnestly. He expertly drew three kudu-track shaped marks by cupping his hands and pressing them into the sand. Each track he had drawn was slightly different – one was a ‘wounded animal’, another ‘a running animal’ and the third a fresh track, perfect for a hunter to follow. Erik’s intimate knowledge of tracking and animal behaviour made me very envious. Sadly, though, today there are only about 27 000 bushmen left in Namibia and only a few small pockets of land where the old way of life is still practiced.
Where to go on a Bushman Walk?
Treesleeper Camp in Tsintsabis is a community-run project focusing on the culture of the Bushmen (San) people. The name ‘Treesleeper’ is a translation from ‘Hei//omn’, the local Bushmen tribe in the area; the traditional inhabitants of Etosha National Park and it’s surroundings.