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I Dream Africa

I Dream Africa

The San People


The San (Bushmen) are the oldest ethnic group in Namibia having inhabited Southern Africa for an estimated 20.000 years. The South African "homeland" policy forced them to settle in remote "Bushmanland", a desert-like area between Kaudom Park and Omaheke. It can be accessed on the C44, which turns off the B8 north of Grootfontein and leads 250 km to Tsumkwe, the former district capital of Bushmanland.

Every now and then, narrow sandy paths turn of the road and lead into the bush. Following them one gets to spread-out bushmen settlements. The friendly people still live a traditional life as hunters and gatherers. Whereas the women collect wild fruits, berries and wild onions rich in starch, the men pursue hunting. The San have a deep understanding of nature and ecology. They are able to identify hundreds of plant species and are known to be excellent animal trackers. An estimated 30.000 Bushmen live in Namibia, but only 2.000 of them still follow a traditional way of life. Not only land shortages, but problems - especially alcoholism - pose a huge threat to the San culture.

Tsumkwe doesn't make an inviting impression. However, in 1998 a very interesting communal project was launched south of the town. Here, the Ju/'hoansi San themselves have created the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. The game reserve (roughly 30 km x 35 km in area) surrounds a pan, which collects water after heavy rains to form a lake. Nyae Nyae is very rich in wildlife. But the real attraction is that the Ju/'hoansi let you take part in some of their traditional activities. You can go hunting together with the men for springhare, go elephant tracking, or watch the women gathering and preparing seeds and plants. For overnight stays, two plain camps have been erected in stunning locations.

The San are expert archers. Although the bows are relatively small and thus, the range of an arrow tends to be below 25 metres. For this reason, the San have to approach and shoot their quarry at very close range; a skill that requires the greatest patience and nimble feet. If an animal is hit by an arrow, it has no chance to escape, because the tips of the reed-shafted arrows are coated with a highly toxic poison, obtained from the larvae of a certain beetle. The poison, which, even in tiny amounts is fatal to humans, is made using a recipe known only to the San. Various plant ingredients are added in order to intensify the effect. As of yet, no one has found an antidote against the San's arrow poison.

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