Africa is full of vibrant and interesting cultures, yet my clear favorite is the San Bushmen of the Kalahari. DNA studies have proven that all people originate from the Bushmen, they are the true First People and I am always fascinated to learn from them the things forgotten by my ancestors as we became further removed from our African heritage. Some times in my western world I see things that evoke the spirit of the bushman. Our separation from the natural world has left a void and unknowingly we create ways to fill it. One example is the popularity of running in general and specifically marathons. Why do people choose to undertake such a grueling endeavor? Some answers I have heard are the challenge, competition, and to stay in shape. Another possible answer is to fill the void as humans evolved to run great distances as a hunting technique and in some the unfulfilled drive may still be there. In fact running a marathon is just a small demonstration of our former capacity as many Bushman can track and run after an animal for many hours in the broiling Kalahari desert. This incredible video details one such hunt:
Unfortunately the way of the Bushman has virtually disappeared. It is possible to experience and learn about the culture in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. I highly recommend a stay at Grassland Bushman Lodge for those who want to discover this amazing culture. The lodge is owned by the de Graff family who have lived in the Kalahari and worked side by side with bushmen for 120 years. Members of the family speak fluent Naro bushman and thus can translate real conversations between you and the bushman in their language. Here you also have the opportunity to interact with women and children (in most tourist settings you only meet men).
Another remarkable experience can be had at Deception Valley Lodge. Here there is an excellent educational walk with two bushmen. Beyond that though you have a bushman tracker on all game drives and you can witness their mastery as they read the spoor (tracks) and attempt to track down the magnificent leopards and lions in the area. It is remarkable when they find a leopard track and can explain that it has walked on top of mouse tracks and they know this mouse would have been out at the break of day and thus this leopard passed by in the last two hours and then he proceeds to track you to a gorgeous leopard concealed in the thick bush that would never have been located by just driving around.
I have the great privilege of working with the First People on my predator/livestock conflict research project. In an age of satellite tracking we have the great honor to do some things the old way, working with the Bushman trackers. Their unrivaled ability developed over 100,000 years in the harsh Kalahari desert is astounding. Our research project and safari tourism help to keep these ancient skills alive. Time spent with the Bushmen is humbling and invigorating, an absolute must for anyone who wants perspective on the foundation of being human.