Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: The Bushmen of the Kalahari
The older I grew the more I resented that I had come too late on the scene to know him in the flesh. For many years I could not accept that the door was closed forever on the Bushman.
Sir Laurens van der Post, The Lost World of the Kalahari.
Bushman Sun Setting
What does one call the people of the Central Kalahari who call themselves only the “first people”? In more than a dozen San languages there is no word that describes them collectively. To the Bushmen there is an “us” who share a language, and all others are “strangers”. In fact it is only very recently in their own time line that they have become aware that any other humans even existed.
Dutch settlers at the Cape, the first Europeans to make contact with them, coined the word bosjemans, bushmen. Academia invented the term San, but in fact this might well be an old slur for those who owned no stock, i.e. poor people. The last pure hunter-gatherer clan of the Kalahari was the /Gwikwe. /Gwi means bush, and kwe people – bush people – which seems to be as good a name as any. Even though, technically speaking, there are none left.
In the 1950s it was estimated there were around 60,000 people in southern Africa living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, persons who – then as now – we commonly refer to as “Bushmen”. In the mid-1970s that number was recalibrated at around 6,000. Then came civil wars across the regions, with indigenous communities caught in the crossfire; then veterinary fences that blocked natural migrations across the arid interior where they lived.
In an attempt to mitigate the disastrous effects of these game fences, boreholes were sunk that led to rag-tag villages, employment on cattle ranches, ready alcohol and all the social pitfalls that followed. Some are of the opinion that it was the discovery of rich diamond pipes in the area that caused the Botswanan government to drive the Bushmen from their ancestral home, but the truth is a whole lot more complicated.
For a lucky few a small door of opportunity has opened at various private camps and lodges, adjacent to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Haina Kalahari Lodge is one such place.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Haina Kalahari Lodge while photographing and researching this chapter.
The Heart of the Hunter.
Situated on the northern border of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Haina Kalahari Lodge is a welcome haven in the arid vastness of this area. The ambience, accommodation and fare offered by the lodge reflect traditional Kalahari warmth and hospitality. Experienced guides are at hand to show you the wildlife and surrounding areas, but it is the glimpse into traditional Bushman culture that for us was the most remarkable.
The Bushmen who work at Haina previously worked in menial jobs on cattle ranches in the Ghanzi district, but were given a chance by the lodge 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.
They will invite you to their fire and demonstrate their various story-telling dances that give an amazingly adept imitation of animal movement and behaviour: there is almost always a humorous aspect to the dance. One dance that remains at the core of Bushman culture is the rain dance, rain being so vital to life in this waterless expanse.
You could not survive out here for more than a day or two, if you are not eaten by wild animals you will succumb to the heat and dryness. They know this, and will take great pleasure in showing you up, with no malicious intent. That is the Bushman way and long may it last.