We have found what seems to be the best place to have an unpretentious interaction and experience with these amazing people. Having experienced a few of these I was sceptical as usual as to how genuine/ happy and traditional these people were going to be in terms of the customs and activities they were going to “perform” while we were with them.
I was so pleasantly surprised and humbled by what I saw… this was not only being put on for tourists but seemed to be a legitimate way of passing down knowledge and skills that are thousands of years old in a fast-changing, modern and largely globalised world. We witnessed some amazing tracking proficiency in very sandy conditions; saw one of the younger men shoot two reed-arrows from the traditional San bow which flew about 70 metres into a strong breeze and stuck hard into the ground less than two metres from each other (anyone who knows a bit about shooting will tell you that a good grouping of shots is the true test of aiming); although none of us could even see where the arrows had gone the young man walked straight to them without a second guess.
We were then shown which toxic beetle larvae are used to smear on the arrow head shafts to make them potent enough to take down an 800 kg eland! It took some time to find these relatively rare grubs which look just like the tiny clumps of the sand in which they live. The poisonous insides were collected and stored for later use. Our walk with this group took just over 3 hours and apart from what I have mentioned; we were also shown the run-of-the-mill fire by friction (which never ceases to amaze me) and traditional games and songs.
It was a humbling and slightly saddening experience as it was made clear by chatting with the elders in this group (through an interpreter) that this culture (arguably the oldest in the world) is being lost at an alarming rate.
Traditional hunting has been outlawed, meaning that much of that ancient knowledge and skills are being lost within a generation; they are being forcefully moved from their traditional home ranges by the majority cultures and where ever they are remaining are assimilated into the westernised populations as quickly as possible.
It’s easy to forget about this state of affairs when we are sitting comfortably at home; basically I think we all just felt privileged to have spent this time with these people whilst they are still culturally intact.