A meeting of minds in the Kalahari

November 5, 2018

Part of the vision for The Old Way yearlong course is enmeshed in a bigger picture to support the preservation of traditional skills, in particular tracking and bow-hunting, among the Ju/Hoansi San Bushmen.  Louis Liebenburg, our guide on the Kalahari element of our course, author of The Origin of Science, and the brains behind the San Tracker Project suggests that professional bow-hunting in the Kalahari has dwindled to perhaps only 15 hunters. This is a critical situation: as co-founder of The Old Way course, Robin Bowman points out, when we are down to the last few rhino there is justifiable global outcry, yet here we are, down to the last few humans living a time-honoured tradition and there is only silence.  Or worse, "Well why do we need bow-hunters anyway?"

Inherent in bow-hunting are the ancient skills of tracking and stalking, skills that have literally shaped us as human beings over millennia.  Louis believes that tracking is the major contributor to the scientific reasoning that modern culture is based on and one of the reasons why our brains are significantly different from those of other primates.  Both skills also involve a large degree of sensory awareness, imaginal thinking and intuition: a great recipe for a balanced mind.

No doubt there are easier ways to procure meat, but the experience of a real bow-hunt drops you in like nothing else to a primal mindfulness, absolutely in tune with landscape, plants and animals via every sense, an original way of being human. 

All hunting equipment can be crafted entirely from local natural materials, hence the longevity of the practice, it's resilience and it's sustainability, as long as there is game to hunt. 

This feels like something worth holding onto, both for the self-reliance of Kalahari people for the next 100,000 years and for the reminder it offers us that there is an alternative life-way to what has become the global urban culture.

 

Our group of 18 were welcomed wholeheartedly into a village of 50 or so Ju/Hoansi: we hunted, crafted, danced, sang, played games and shared food with our friends.  A beautiful moment for me was on returning at sunset, hot and tired from the hunt, to find some of our group sitting in a circle of Ju/Hoansi kids playing a game that some of us who work in the field of nature -connection call "Firestalker".  One person in the middle is blindfolded, guarding an object, and people take it in turns to stalk in, pick it up and get back to their seat without being pointed at by the blindfolded one who is listening for their footfalls. 

To see Ju/Hoansi kids playing a game I've played with British and Kiwi kids countless times almost had me in tears.  For our kids it's fun, arguably educational, and ​​definitely has myriad health benefits...but for the Ju/Hoansi, who are on the brink of losing the hunting tradition entirely, this and other games, played with them with so much joy and excitement by Westerners, could be a fertile seed to help the next generation retain pride and love for their unique culture, and perhaps even encourage a new generation of bow-hunters.

 

Our two groups seemed to have many similarities.  The Ju/Hoansi have a mixed economy which includes hunting and gathering: they live in grass and ​​earthen huts, grow some vegetables, ride horses, sell their crafts, the women wear beautiful clothes and have the ​​essentials they need to cook with, they party together most nights, they are multi-lingual, there's a doctor up the road, some have mobile phones, several act as tour guides or travel to Europe for conferences on tracking or indigenous archaeology. ​​

The Old Way year has been about re-discovering the gifts from the past that we can take forward into a workable future, given the global situation as it is.  Louis calls it Creative Culture. The modern Kalahari lifestyle isn't a far cry from our own aspirations to live simply on the land, doing work we love but with greater spaciousness in our lives, and in closer connection with our food source and our community. 

The Ju/Hoansi undoubtedly face many challenges as the global urban-industrial culture encroaches more and more into their ancient life-way. However, judging by the way they are melding the best of their traditions with those of the dominant culture it seems they may have a workable solution. Their smiles and infectious happiness suggests we’d do well to pay attention.

 

References:

Liebenburg, L. 2013. The Origin of Science The Evolutionary Roots of Scientific Reasoning and its Implications for Citizen Science, Cybertracker, Cape Town, South Africa

 

For more information on The Old Way Yearlong Course which runs from April to December 2019 and explores hunter-gatherer lifeways and indigeny please contact Emily Fawcett: elf.emily@gmail.com or visit our website: www.theoldway.info.  

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