Jul 232014
 

Sunset Bushman

Sunset Bushman

Haina Kalahari Lodge

by David Bristow

In the 1950s it was estimated there were around 60,000 people in Southern Africa living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, people who – then as now – we commonly refer to as “bushmen”.

In the mid-1970s that number was recalibrated to around 6,000. Then came civil wars across the region, with indigenous people caught in the cross-fire; after that came veterinary fences that blocked natural migrations across the arid interior where these people lived. Then boreholes, rag-tag villages, necessary employment on cattle ranches, ready alcohol and all the social pitfalls that followed.

Today the number is, maybe none at all. The sun seems to have set on the Earth’s oldest human culture and way of life – the oldest line of human DNA on the planet, living very much as humans did at the dawn of time. For a lucky few, however, a small door of opportunity has opened at various private game reserves and lodges across the Kalahari. We were extremely lucky to visit one such place, Haina Kalahari Lodge, adjacent to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and not far from Deception Pan and Deception Valley where we also spent a night.

The “bushmen” who work at the lodge (including the women), previously worked on cattle farms in the Ghanzi district, but were given a chance of at least partly recapturing their subsistence way of life. They like nothing more than to share what they are and what they know of the land with visitors, who go there to be a part of that sharing. Some of their veld food is not immediately to every visitor’s taste, but to our guides, each item dug up or plucked was consumed with relish and joy.

Haina Kalahari Lodge

Haina Kalahari Lodge

Surely you wouldn’t go all that way (and pay all that money to get there) and not at least try some veld food. The grewia or brandy-bush berries were tart and bit like blotting paper. The bitter-tasting bi (milk) bulb, Raphionacme burkei, which provides large quantities of liquid in dry times, did take some getting used to.

But what to call these people? Dutch settler-explorers who were the first Europeans to make contact with them, coined the word bosjemans, bushmen. Academia declared that a derogatory word, and substituted it with the word San. But some researchers believe “san” was used by stock-herding Khoikhoi as a slur for people who had no stock, i.e. poor people, so maybe not the best appellation for the world’s “first people”.

In truth they have no collective name for themselves. There are many bands, or clans, each with its own language. If you are Naro, or Khomani, or Khoenkhoen, everyone else is simply a stranger. The last pure hunter-gatherer clan of the Kalahari were the /Gwikwe around the Tsodilo Hills. /Gwi means bush, and kwe people, so they called themselves the Bush People.

That seems to be as good a name as any, and so it is the one we will use in African Icons to describe all hunter-gatherers of southern Africa. Even though, technically speaking, there are none left.

Haina Kalahari Bushman showing their craft

Haina Kalahari Bushman showing their craft