Visiting San Bushmen in Namibia
Unlike the Maasai in Tanzania, having a semi-authentic experience with the San Bushmen in Namibia is possible. Sure, they have a small curio area where you can buy items they have crafted with their own hands, but the money is being used to help support their community and way of life.
The skies were clear, the sun was shining and as we reached the area where the San Bushmen live, we were all feeling a tad hot. The sun in Namibia can be very unforgiving and as I trotted (you would trot too if you were in that kind of heat) through deep sand, following our San Bushmen guide, I wondered if wearing my running shoes was the best idea. I clearly should have been wearing my flip flops.
Our guide (I forget his click name) was dressed in traditional San Bushmen attire. That is to say that he walked around wearing a loin cloth g-string with no shirt and bare feet. He slight and about 5’5 in height. As we walked behind him, most of the group (myself included) started acting that giggly elementary school kids and snapped photos of him as he walked in front of us (don’t scold, I know you’d do the same thing!).
We were led down a sandy road, they guided off the road and into the bush. I (nor anyone else) had no clue where we were going. I just followed and tried to not think about the intense midday heat that seemed to be grabbing hold of me.
When Ian spoke of the San Bushmen (when I was still in Zimbabwe) and practiced some of their clicking languages, I, along with everyone else, was excited to have an opportunity to meet some of them once we entered Namibia.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the San Bushmen, and as both Ian and George started to explain more about their history and culture, I was making mental notes on what I wanted to Google once I arrive home. We all know that controversy is like a magnet with me. I hear of or even sense that there is controversy and I immediately want to know more.
Without going into a lot of detail (I promise to re-address this later, after my trip, when I have time for proper research), the San Bushman culture and way of life is on the verge of extinction. Where there were once thousands of San Bushmen, there are now only hundreds. As part of their culture, they are not to marry outside of their race. This makes it very difficult as the gene pool is dwindling. Once the gene pool (as I understand it based on a convo with Ian) has diminished, the San Bushmen will either die off, or they will have to marry outside their race and their culture dies off. It’s a very precarious situation and an incredibly sad one.
As our guide led us into the village my eyes slowly swept over the scene unfolding in front of me. We were standing in a clearing, the barren trees and shrubs surrounding us. In front of us were 3 small huts made from dried thrashing grass. In front of one of the huts was a San Bushman sitting on the ground, attempting to make fire. To our right were 2 women (one was very pregnant), bare chested with small skirts around their waists.
I stood in the hot sun and watched as one of the village elders made a few attempts to create fire using two sticks, some sand, and dry grass. Although it took a couple of tries when the fire finally ignited, I (along with the others) were thrilled -you’d think I was a cave woman who had just discovered fire they way I reacted. Once the fire was ignited a village elder began to speak to us using the bushman clicking language. It was utterly fascinating -just watch the video below!
For the next hour or so we were led through the bush by our guide and the elder. The purpose was to educate us on the various plants the bushman use, as well as hunting techniques. As the men spoke to and guided us, the women walked ahead and watched over us -never speaking a word.
When our tour of the bush was completed, we were taken to the curio shop where our truck was waiting for us. The idea was to look around (possibly shop) and eat lunch before heading to our campsite. Unfortunately, I didn’t last very long in the curio shop. The heat was super intense and it affected me a lot more than I thought it would. As I felt a case of heat stroke come on, my body started to feel very sluggish. I had no desire to eat, instead, I filled my water bottle with salt water and walked to a group of Bushmen (women, men, children, and babies) on the other side of the truck.
I have to admit, I was super shy as first. I had no idea what to say or what they would understand. After walking around for a little bit, I decided to sit down in the sand and try to interact with the Bushmen that way. As I sat down, I became aware of a very small baby girl to my left. She was completely naked (all the very young children were -it’s a cultural thing) and completely adorable. I reached out my arms towards the Mother and baby, motioning to hold her. Imagine my delight when the mother complied and handed her baby over to me. She. Was. Adorable. I could have held her all day. Actually, I was trying to figure out how to bring her home!
Although the heat got to me, I still really enjoyed my time with the San Bushmen. Their life is so very different from my own and their challenges are mind-blowing. If you find yourself in Namibia, I would check into visiting the San Bushman -or if you’re nervous about solo travel in Africa, take a Classic Journeys trip with Intrepid. I never thought I would be an advocate for group travel, but there you have it!
Thinking of traveling to Africa?
Traveling in Africa, solo, can be a scary thought -especially for solo female travelers. I’m not saying it can’t be done, it can. What I am saying is that there is nothing wrong with joining a group tour.
For 45 days I traveled from Kenya (Nairobi) to Cape Town with Intrepid Travel. This was my very first group travel experience. At first I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into, but as time progressed, I began to relax and fall in love with this type of travel. In fact, I would definitely travel with Intrepid again.