Living Village keeps San culture alive

It was silent in the bush. The Ju/’hoan San hunter blew into some grass in his hand as the dozen tourists around him held their breath. Then suddenly the grass burst into flames and everybody started clapping.

This was Grashoek, a small village on the road to Tsumkwe, just past the veterinary fence. Ten years ago the San villagers started the living village to earn money from tourism, and have never looked back.

Today, an overlander bus had arrived with visitors from Europe, keen to see the real Namibia. The tour operator always makes a turn at Grashoek, because the welcome is warm and the villagers make certain that the visitors are engaged in everything.

Within minutes the Europeans were stripping branches with knives to make bows, and threading ostrich shell discs on threads, under the expert guidance of the Ju/’hoansi, in the area once known as Bushmanland. For many years, the San peoples in the area have lived under oppression by settlers and exploitation by farmers. Now, in control of their own land – Grashoek lies in N≠a-Jaqna Conservancy – there are new opportunities to earn a living.

“I don’t want to preserve a living zoo,” was the concern of tourist Hermann Müller, from Switzerland, “but I am impressed. It looks real.” The fire certainly was, and the tips of the arrows were razor sharp. These days traditional hunting is not allowed. The Conservancy earns hard cash from trophy hunters, and shares in the meat. As a local once said: “These hunters are stupid. They kill the animal and only take the horns!”

Khau Morris, the San guide, looks on the village as fair trade and not play acting. By showing off their culture they keep it alive for themselves and their children. The afternoon of bow making and craft sales netted N$765. Money from crafts goes to individuals, and money for the show – N$150 per person - goes to the common pot. Morris says it will help to pay for school and clothes.

Before the craft sale, G/ag’o Xao, the hunter, led the men to a clearing where a straw target had been set up. It has to be said that the modern San have one thing in common with European tourists, they are lousy shots. Everybody missed, but all had fun.

Hermann Müller had the last words: “We are not treated as common tourists here – more like friends. That is very special.”

Steve Felton
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