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Bushman Culture at Kalahari Plains

At Kalahari Plains Camp a guided Bushman walk offers guests a glimpse into the life and culture of the San people. The walk is led by Khanta Ganagohuduga, a member of the Bushman tribe based at the camp, together with members of the camp staff who are descended from Bushmen. Understanding the San language, the staff are able to interpret questions and answers for guests.

Some people are polarised by the idea of cultural experiences, many are contrived and inauthentic, and just done to make money. However, where there is an opportunity to observe the skills and knowledge of an ancient culture, and it is done willingly and observed respectfully, there is a lot to learn - we can expand our appreciation of humanity.

During the Bushman walk, Khanta, together with fellow Bushmen, Xhayaha Xhwekhwe and Keeta Sego, show guests how to hunt for and gather food, store water in ostrich eggs and make fire with sticks.

Having lived in the harsh Kalahari for 20 000 years, the San, or Bushmen, are no strangers to survival. While not technically a desert, the Kalahari’s temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius in the hottest months. Water is scarce and vegetation and wildlife are naturally sparse too.

The Bushman walk takes place after a much-needed siesta, but while the hottest part of the day has passed, the temperature is still severe. Guests are advised to make use of an invaluable trick: wetting a kikoy (a traditional garment consisting of a length of cloth that can be wrapped around the body) and draping it across the shoulders. It’s really the most effective way to stay cool in the heat.

The animated trio begin the journey by sourcing a scorpion, which can be used as bait in a snare, or to extract poison for an arrow. A small opening along the dry and hardened soil suggests the home of a scorpion, and the burrowing begins. Thereafter, carefully a scorpion is handled for all the guests to see, before being gently placed back on the ground, where he’ll have to burrow a new hole.

As Khanta, Xhayaha and Keeta re-enact scenes of hunting and snaring animals, guests are awed by their theatrical ability. Storytelling is a vital part of their culture and one of the ways they’ve passed knowledge down from generation to generation.

While the trio have escaped schooling, Qomanase Kebangaletse, one of the interpreters descended from the Bushmen, has been to school and chosen to train and work at the camp instead of following a more traditional life.

“Culture is constantly evolving,” says Sue Snyman, Group Sustainability Manager at Wilderness Safaris, adding that she doesn’t think it’s right to try to stop this process. While the Bushmen at Kalahari Plains Camp still choose to wear their traditional dress of animal skins and beads, many indigenous people across Africa are choosing to break with these traditions.

For this reason Snyman says it’s important to educate guests, who might be disappointed to see tribes in Arsenal T-shirts, or speaking on cell phones. “I don’t think it’s right to say you must stay like you were because we want to see it.” Snyman adds that it’s important that communities have a say in how their culture is portrayed for tourists. “It must come from them.”

Check out our trips to the Central Kalahari where you will find Bushman cultural experiences on offer.

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