It hasn’t rained here for months. Everything, as far as the eye could see from a lone highway that cut through Namibia’s seemingly endless savannah, is brittle and dry. I arrived in this southern African country in September, in the midst of a severe drought during the region’s final weeks of winter. My driver tells me about the social and agricultural impacts of the water shortage and the region’s arid climate as we drive over a small bridge with nothing but sand and a few lifeless bushes beneath it.
Little did I realize at the time, that my visit to this amazing country was, in fact, perfectly timed…
The Namibian landscape is without a doubt unforgiving to those of us who are unfamiliar with it. Water is hard to come by, the terrain is rugged, and it’s home to some of the most dangerous snakes on the planet (including cobras, vipers, and Black Mambas) and of course, the rest of the country’s majestic wildlife.
“If I were abandoned here, would I survive?” I wondered quietly, as I often do when I first arrive on unfamiliar territory. I thought I would somehow manage, at least for a little while, as I entered Ecuador’s lush Amazon jungle. But here, in Namibia, my odds, I assumed, were much slimmer. It’s at that moment that my already heightened degree of respect and admiration for the people I was about to meet, escalated to a whole other level…
The San People, also known as “Bushmen”, are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa. It’s believed that they’ve lived here for about 20,000 years; they’ve lived, struggled, and survived, through it all – from extreme environmental conditions to invasions, colonialism, oppression, slavery and murder, to today’s governmental, corporate, and societal disrespect and neglect towards indigenous communities. There are many great publications, academic research and historical references to the San Peoples’ history which I strongly encourage everyone to read.
It’s estimated that there are about 100,000 San People living in southern Africa today. While a few communities still live according to their traditional lifestyle, the majority have now established contact, or have embraced some form of coexistence, with the so-called “western” world. This, however, wasn’t necessarily done by choice. The San People thrive, just as they have for thousands of years, when living according to their native practices, customs and culture, namely, their traditional way of life I’m told.
I had the privilege of meeting with the Ju/Hansi Tribe (please note that the “/”, “//”, and “!” are the established symbols used to represent the various phonetics and ‘clicks’ of the San dialects). The Ju/Hansi Tribe considers itself “mixed” given that the community now lives on a plot of land offered to them as a place of residence by a Namibian farmer. The community moved there, I’m told, after it was banned from hunting which, as most can imagine, means a ban on their traditional method of survival.
/kunta, an English-speaking member of the tribe, told me that his community accepted the offer and now uses its presence and accessibility as an opportunity to raise awareness about San culture and the reality of what’s truly at stake. The young man learned English after being offered an opportunity to go to school, which he did, clearly with great success given his excellent linguistic abilities. That opportunity, although appreciated he says, also threatens the future of his culture’s overall survival he added.
He fears that the combination of hunting bans (in other words, a ban on traditional and natural methods of survival) and the intermixing of cultures (particularly that of indigenous peoples being forced to embrace “western” ways) could lead to the extinction of the ancient San culture in less than 20 years.
Here’s my conversation with /kunta…
THANK YOU FOR WATCHING!