When you visit the Makgadikgadi pans and Jack’s Camp Botswana, you can tag along on a San experience to learn from the Zu/’hoansi Bushmen about their culture and way of doing things.
The San experience
The San experience is something different, a chance to learn about the culture of Botswana’s first people. Jack’s Camp in Botswana has been working with the San on this cultural tourism project since 1993. You can also join this cultural experience if you're staying at Natural Selection’s other Botswana lodges near the Makgadikgadi pans – Kalahari Camp and San Camp.
In the past, we’ve been tracking wildlife across the Kalahari with the Khomani San, but this was nothing like that. Although the experience on the edge of the Makgadikgadi pans was described as a bush walk with the Zu/’hoansi, we barely walked 100m, just enough to give them a chance to show how they trap birds, make fire or ‘tame’ scorpions, and how important a digging stick can be.
They found a scorpion burrow and two young men started to dig it out. I’m all for leaving nature untouched, but they seemed excited to show it to us. It wasn’t easy, because scorpions are clever; they make a zigzag burrow to confuse predators and slow down the passage of rain water into their burrow.
While the digging continued and sand flew, the rest of the clan sat in the dust a few metres away and started to make a fire. They use acacia wood for their fire-lighting sticks. One stick has a sharpened end that fits into hole in the other, which is laid flat. The idea is to create enough friction by quickly twisting the vertical stick between your palms to create a spark at the point where they meet.
Three people took turns to keep rubbing the sticks together, taking five or six minutes of hard work to get a small spark. Once there was a whiff of smoke, they sprinkled grass and dried zebra dung on it and blew gently until it grew into a small fire.
At last the scorpion was dug out. A self-appointed ‘scorpion wrangler’ grabbed it by the pincers with one hand and the stinger in the tail with the other. Then he started licking it – ‘washing its eyes’, he told us. A scorpion has eight eyes, eight legs and two jaws. Two small wings on the underside are used to feel vibrations in the soil, so this creature would have known something was digging to find it and have tried to outmanoeuvre its opponent.
The Zu/’hoansi demonstrated how they would set a trap for a bird like guinea fowl. Plant a flexible twig, about three feet long, in the soil and bend it over, attaching a rope made from the fibres of a plant called mother-in-law’s tongue. Use either a piece of gum or a few berries as bait in the centre of a small noose, with short sticks to hold it open.
Fire lit and ‘bird’ caught, it was time to play a game around the fire. To my eyes, it seemed a bit like rock, paper, scissors. Much more dangerous, though, because the concept was that they were throwing lightning from one to the other. There was lots of laughing and singing until it was almost too dark to see.
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