Who doesn’t know the English classic comedy of 1980, The Gods Must be Crazy? The innocent, credulous, and curious face of Xi only brings smile on our face. 🙂 The Namibian actor late Mr. N!xau Toma, had played the character of Xi, a man from San community. The actor himself was a San bushman. We were fortunate to meet his grandson Dao when we visited San villege.
Ju/’Hoansi-San is the first living museum of Namibia. Run independently by its own, this living museum displays traditional hunter-gatherer culture of San, one of the oldest cultures in Africa. San are the first people living in Kalahari desert since last 1,00,000 years. Out of more than 90,000 Sans existing in Africa today, only 3,000 Sans are following their traditional lifestyle.
Sans move around places in search of natural resources such as water, resourceful plants, and game animals. They speak Khoisan language in which some consonants are spoken with clicking sounds made by tongue. It sounds so rhythmic! 🙂 San people wear just adequate clothes to cover the waist. They are mostly made of antelope skin.
The San men prepare bow-arrow, traps, and spears for hunting. They flay animal skin and season it by sun-drying. They also make bags and belts out of the seasoned leather. Recently, they have started helping the academic visitors by being forest or poacher trackers. The San women look after their kids and gather natural resources such as water and firewood. They use beads made of ostrich eggshell and various wild seeds to make ornaments. Sans eat ants, various other insects, mice, squirrels, as well as large antelopes.
Our guide Steven was a man of 30 from San community of Grashoek village. He had learnt up to grade 10. He spoke flawless English. He changed his dress to a waist-wrap and joined us. First he took us to Dao, the senior man and the medical healer of the community. When we asked Dao about his late actor grandfather, he proudly said that he knew his grandfather was a regarded actor of Namibia. Dao himself was too young then to understand his grandfather’s acting skills, and movie picturizing. We asked Dao how old he was then. He told that he doesn’t know his current age but only remembers that he was born in summer.
We started out tour with Steven and Dao from a place where they had made a San hut. The hut was very small. It was made of dry sticks, which provided a very basic shelter. Just in front of the hut, Dao took two straight sticks of Mangetti tree, one of which had three holes in a line. Dao demonstrated how to create fire with those sticks. He first took a bunch of dry grass. Then he held the stick with holes horizontally on the grass gripping it with his big toe. He placed one end of another stick into a hole and swirled it hard in a whisking action. While doing so, he was speaking to invoke their fire-God. He said he never used firestone for creating fire. Soon we could see some smoke and then the fire came in full flames. He lit up his smoking pipe filled with dry local tree leaves used as same as tobacco.
Steven and Dao then lead us to bush-walk. They showed how various medicinal plants that cure common illnesses such as cough, cold, fever, toothache, and common wounds as well as blood pressure, any problems with eyes and ears, tuberculosis, and even infertility. Steven showed a Ration Berry plant on which ladybugs go through their life cycle. He also mentioned that the ladybug larvae are so poisonous that they can kill an animal as big as an adult giraffe. Their poison was very resourceful in hunting. They applied it on spearheads or arrowheads while hunting large game animals.
Dao showed how they find out the sweet water collected into the tree trunks and drink it with the help of hollow hey straw. Soon we came out of the wilderness and Dao started creating a bow and an arrow. Seeing him make it traditionally was very interesting. He took a couple of long leaves from Sisal plant, which provides fibers. He tore the leaf into small parallel portions with a sharp blade. He went on breaking those portions of Sisal till they came out as thin strings of fiber. Then he took small bunch of fiber and rolled it with the support of his lap. When it was half done, he joined another bunch of fibers. Thus he made a long seamless string that was as strong as a nylon string. He selected a thin and flexible stick for making a bow. He then chiseled its bark away and made the bow.
While Nishant and Arun were taking bow-arrow-making lessons, I sat next to a San lady, Naomi, who was busy making ornaments from beads. San people make disk-like beads from Ostrich eggs. They break the shell into pieces and rub each piece against stone to make it roughly round. Then they pierce holes into them.
They roll the beads into ash or soil to color them brown and heat them directly on fire to color them black. That is why, their collection of ostrich bead jewelry had so beautiful earthly colors! They also collected various colorful seeds and made beautiful neck-pieces, bracelets, headgears, and anklets. I learnt to make beads, string, and bracelet from her.
Sans follow a few hunting rules religiously. Steven told that there are few words of wisdom shared in his community. San always considered quick and quiet hunter to be successful. They never hit a human being and consider that such kind of act always would bring pain and bad luck to all involved. They also believed that after death the soul of a person is transferred to the supreme God and continues influences the mortal lives.
Shortly we arrived at an open area to view their traditional dance. They dance at the time of wedding ceremony and at the end of the effortful day. They also dance while seeking guidance on medicine from ancestral spirits. I joined them in dance, which was a very joyous experience. 🙂
San have so small dwellings and wear so little clothes… They eat limited variety of food and are happy with their bare possessions. These warm-hearted people believe that God has provided plenty for them. 🙂 They are most close to Mother Nature. They don’t know about any soaps or expensive face creams; yet their faces glow. They are the perfect balance of aggression required for hunting and cordialness needed to stay together harmoniously. They lead simple lives years away from civilization, free of any law, complications, or speed… It’s not that everything is wonderful with them. Average lifespan of Sans is just about 45 to 50 years. Today they find it difficult to maintain their traditional lifestyle because of land enchroachment by local farmers; still they are contented.
After spending around half a day with them, we took leave of the community seniors and other members. On the way back, Steven’s words were lingering on my mind. As he said, “Nothing or none is really good or bad here. Everything or everyone just is in its own form. Created by God.”
The Sans are truly living by this statement. 🙂