The 3 days we spent with the ǂKhomani Sa, better known as Bushman, have been the highlight of my guiding career. Before everyone jumps to the conclusion that I am being politically incorrect, this is the name they choose to be called. The reason for this is because these amazing people believe that they are a part of the bush, even the name San has been changed to Sa as they feel that they are separate from these groups. The sign before the name is an indication of a click that forms part of their language.
If any of you have seen the movie “The gods must be crazy”, the actor in the movie is the father of the two Bushmen that came to explore our amazing piece of Africa.
For the duration of their stay they were as observant and inquisitive as children. We watched as these minute people explored the bush around them, touching, observing and listening to all that was going on around them. The smallest details were never overlooked and always treasured the most. They would sit on their haunches and observe before talking away in a range of clicks that make up their language. They would confer for at least 10 minutes before giving their insights into what they had observed. When they eventually conveyed their understanding it was fascinating to hear how similar it was to my scientific knowledge of the subject. The only difference was the simplicity with which they understood all that they had observed.
Their humility and connectedness with the environment was so intense that I do not have the words to describe the feelings that I felt while listening to them recounting stories and viewing all this new bush. These specific Bushman are from the Kalahari Desert and the lush bush here at Sabi Sabi left them gawking at the greenery that surrounded them. They looked at the trees that had been pushed over and after mulling it over for a bit they explained how the elephants had so much to eat here that they were not worried about wasting and that this would never happen in the desert as there were so few resources.
The stories they told were not just spoken, but acted out leaving us giggling like school children. One story that left me out of breath from laughing was told about a Bushman boy who was out learning about the bush from the elders. They found an elephant lying down and the boy exclaimed with excitement how there was a dead elephant and they should go get some meat. The elders however explained that the elephant was merely sleeping. The boy, as all boys are, believed he was right and slipped off to go fetch some meat. He climbed into the anus of the elephant so as to access the soft meat inside without having to worry about the thick hide. Whilst filling his collection bag with meat things started to become a little dark and before he knew it all light had disappeared as the elephant closed her anus. The boy was so confused at how quickly it had got dark but none the less carried on filling the bag with meat.
Finally the elephant stood up and felt discomfort in its tummy and began to push so as to relieve itself. Suddenly the boy was holding onto his collection bag for dear life as he was being moved back toward the exit through which he had entered. With a push the elephant pushed his head out, finally leaving the boy with the realisation that night had not set in but instead that the elephant was still alive. Yet another push and his shoulders were out and with the last push the elephant evacuated the boy onto the ground. She turned to examine what had caused such discomfort and saw what appeared to be a baby and she immediately thought she had given birth. The boy looked up from his foetal position and saw the elephant looking down at him and was convinced he was about to be killed. His immediate reaction was to run for his life and the elephant was left chasing after what she thought was her baby.
The actions to this were too funny to even describe! They recounted many different stories during their stay and as we explained different plants they would tell us about plants that they use for the same purposes in the Kalahari Desert. We all sat watching a massive thunderstorm rolling in and they were so happy to just sit and watch.
At one stage they asked us to try keep up with them as they walked at the pace that they would in the Kalahari Desert. Their little bodies bounced up and down as they motored across the bush with us almost jogging to keep up. By the time we had completed about a kilometre and returned to the vehicle, all of us were panting, sweating and muscles were burning from the exercise, however they didn’t even break a sweat, they will keep that pace for up to 3 days and heat that can sore to 50 degrees Celcius. When hunting, they will even run their prey to death just through their endurance and not allowing the animal to rest.
Another highlight of their stay was taking them through to some old rock paintings that must be more 1500 years old. They arrived and squatted on their haunches, examining the ancient art to try and decipher it. They spoke to one another as they tried to figure out what message had been left behind. After more than 20 minutes discussing it between themselves they finally concluded that the message left was very different to those that they would leave in the desert and that they were not able to properly describe it. They also did not want to upset their ancestors by making something up. It is this humility that struck a chord with me and left me loving every moment that we spent with them.
These amazing people and their culture are rapidly disappearing and with only 52 authentic ‡Khomani Sa left and only two of these able to speak the original language, I feel honoured to have spent this time with them. I have no doubt that their culture will eventually be lost but I hope that what they taught us will be passed on to all that we guide. I will never forget this amazing time!