Water, in various forms and shapes, flows through the streams of this world, creating and sustaining life of all species. In the cracks of the surface, where the reflection breaks, you see that the water is filled with cloudy particles, threatening to soon to seize the entire stream. This grey cloudy water will be flooding every river bed, every current, flux, every creek. Trickling down to the roots of the oldest tree. Turning its branches into dead wood and its fruit into hollow shroud.
The San of the Kalahari Desert, Namibia
The San, also known as Bushmen, have hunted and gathered on our planet for over 40,000 years, making them the oldest population of humans on Earth. Their ancestors laid the base of human and cultural diversity. Once inhabiting the entire African subcontinent, today the San live a life far removed from that of their nomadic ancestors. They survive the harsh conditions of the Kalahari Desert, scattered across Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and southern Angola in gated conservancies.
Still, even within these designated territories, the Bushmen face eviction, discrimination and legal disadvantages. The San also carry with them an arduous past, tainted with slavery, genocide, resettlement, and victimization. For centuries, the San were victims of slavery and genocide by colonial settlers, who declared the hunting of Bushmen as a sport. Throughout the entire 20th century, the already dwindling San population experienced evictions from their ancestral territories in order to make way for private property acquisitions and game hunting reserves. Still today, the game is sold to paying visitors from foreign countries, while the San themselves are restricted from hunting for their survival. Instead, the San are turned into tourist attractions. „Bushmen-experiences“ are sold to tourists, while the reality shows a community of hunters and gatherers, exploited by private land owners, that control their water supply and prevent them from hunting.
The group of San native to the Namibian Kalahari Desert is called the Ju/ ́hoansi. In the 1960s, anthropologists described their population as „completely untouched from the outside world“. By the 1970s, this was no longer the case. The South African Administration under Apartheid created Bushmenland, a conservancy in the Kalahari Desert. Its capital Tsumkwe hosts a school, administration camp, and church. Introducing a catholic church in their capital was part of the governmental political program and contradicted the San’s spiritual belief. At church, the San were told to refrain from practicing their culture as it was deemed to be haunted by evil spirits. Hence, the consequences of the forced resettlement of the Ju/ ́hoansi proved disastrous. The injection of modern structures and monetary systems into their daily lifestyle resulted in identity loss, substance abuse and complete nutritional shift from plants and game to cornflour pap and sugar. Having lost the freedom of their nomadic culture, the Ju/ ́hoansi found themselves vulnerable to any form of power that would enter into the Bushmenland conservancy. The traditional culture of the San was being oppressed and similarly their access to modern life advantages denied: leaving them in a vacuum between their traditional identity and the modernization of the life around them.
In addition to the problems of resettlement and encroachment, is the necessity of money as a means to survive in our modern economy. Although contradicting the traditions and culture of the San, legislation nowadays imposes the need for money, whether that be for access to medical services or for legally mandatory burials. Hence, the value of their genius, regarding nature and survival, is enshrouded by labels like ‚poor’, ‚uneducated’, and ‚unemployed’. In a community where sharing replaces the need of money, currency has no function but a destructive one. Once a member of the group makes an income, he is expected to share it, just as members of a community used to share their caught game. There is an understanding and a sense of solidarity which is impossible to replicate in our current multiaxial urban society, merely because of our vast population size. If the San’s way of living had remained pristine and untainted, they could ensure their survival and richness of their life themselves.
What is failed to be celebrated and cherished is the San’s presence as teachers: teachers of nature, spirits, and balance of life. Aside from their impressive mastery in archery and expert knowledge of flora and fauna, is their peaceful and respectful interaction with our planet. They hunt as little as they need to survive and replenish the land with new seeds when roots are consumed. The San’s precise and vast knowledge of their surroundings allows them to thrive in what most consider one of the most forbidding areas on Earth. They follow the virtue of the elements, communicate with the animals of the bush, read the healing power of the plants, enchant the rain and fear the sun.
Tracks written in the sand by wild animals are being read by the Bushmen like we read news headlines. They know when, why, and which animal went where and in what speed. Hunters carry a short bow and a quiver of arrows with an efficiency range of 25 meters. The arrow is tipped in deadly toxin which is derived from a beetle. The perfect blend of poison counts as the highest achievement of San technology. The arrows are a forge of solidarity, a sign of being able to sustain your own community, rather than a sign of power or superiority. Once a child is able to hunt or carry his siblings on his back, he is considered a grown up and acts as a constitutive member of the community. Age doesn’t exist, neither does time. Knowledge is not transcribed, just remembered. By virtue of their complex language, the San have an astonishing capacity for memory. The Klick language contains 141 different sounds, while the English language includes only 31.
Culture and moral education is delivered through stories told by the elderly. As the elderly prevail as the keepers of culture and wisdom, they are also the most respected in the families. Each group of people is led by one traditional healer, who stands as connection between the spiritual and actual world. During traditional healing ceremonies, dances and songs are celebrated whilst the healer summons the spirits of the ancestors from the earth into his feet and then releases them through his hands into the world, and towards the ill person. A healer’s spiritual power constitutes the San’s belief. The belief that one can call on the spirits of the ancestors and they will come to guide you in the medium of dreams.
Guarding a culture so peaceful, self sufficient and respectful of nature and all form of life, the San are a fragile force compared to the harsh power of modern civilization. Their survival is threatened by the growth-orientated world we live in today. The prevailing accumulation and mono agricultural use of land in our civilization is a factor that proves the instability and unsustainability of the economical model in the long term, as modern development will always remain in the need of new land, a source of capital. Ultimately resulting in the banishment of the San, the carriers the beginnings of evolution and diversity, who protect and share their environment as their sole supply of food and life. The pure beauty of the customs and interconnection between the San and their environment is a reminder of the diversity of our planet. And at the same time it confronts the modern strive for quantity and improvement, consuming all its resources and homogenizing diversity, that is slowly but surely compromising the variety of life.