A brother from another mother

A buzzard circled low and then landed on the flood plain, and Neville told a story from the Dreamtime. Neville Poelina is an Aboriginal Australian who runs his own tour company. He was in Namibia’s Zambezi Region with WINTA, the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance, where he met Alfred Chedau, a Khwe San: Neville’s “brother from another mother.”

In the story, The Aboriginals did not cook meat at first. But then a tree was hit by lightning and caught fire. A Chicken Hawk, hunting for lizards, picked up a burning twig, and dropped it on the earth to burn the dry grass in order to make the lizards easier to find. Like October in Zambezi, the rains had not come and the land was dry. It caught fire and all the animals were cooked. When Neville’s ancestors ate them, they tasted good, and since that time they have used fire to prepare their food.

Neville was on a ‘Pre-summit Adventure’ as part of the Adventure Travel World Summit, and was keen to meet Bushmen – Khwe San - like Alfred. Other indigenous peoples were part of the group, including a Sami from the north of Sweden and native Indians from Canada and the USA. Tourists to Namibia are often entranced to watch San people make fire, and Alfred, as a Khwe, wanted to know how other indigenous people made fire.

Chief Campbell of the Indian Squamish Nation told how they used the inner bark of the Cedar tree, which is very dry, to rub with a stick. Neville described how a hardwood stick is twirled in softwood; and then he went on: once alight the fire must be carried and not go out until the end of a journey, otherwise there may be a problem before the destination is reached.

Eyes lit up as three nations understood each other. Then the conversation turned to practical matters. Benson Kupinga, another Khwe, explained how burning of the earth is now controlled in Bwabwata National Park. Alfred and Benson work for the Kyaramacan Association, which represents people who live inside the park and have rights over wildlife and tourism in some of its areas. Income from tourism enterprises like the camp site, where the group stayed on the Okavango River, goes to the community, members of which  work as game guards, assisting the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Rangers in the park.

Benson explained that parts of the park are burnt before the grass becomes too high and dry. This prevents widespread bush fires and it promotes the germination of fresh grass for wildlife.  As he was talking, Neville was creating a fresh sheet of sand with his foot for drawing, and when Benson had finished, Neville explained how burning was done on his land. Using a stick he drew strips of land, and explained that some would be burnt, while the strips in between would remain safe for wildlife. As the burnt land regenerated, wildlife would move in.

Indians, an Aborigine and San people were sharing ideas about culture, land management and also tourism. Neville has a small family business, showing tourists how to recognise medicinal plants, and how to follow tracks in the bush. His brothers from another mother, Alfred and Benson, are teaching young San people to track. The spin offs will be jobs in tourism and hunting, because youngsters will be able to follow tracks into future jobs. A renewed sense of self-esteem is equally important for the Khwe, as traditional knowledge of wildlife and plants is recognised as important.

The WINTA group are travelling to Windhoek for a workshop in advance of the Adventure Tourism Summit. On Friday 25 October they will meet with representatives of Namibia’s 79 communal conservancies. On the agenda will be indigenous tourism: how to increase the possibilities for tourists to visit communities and understand their ways of life, and how communities can sell themselves to the world.

The N//goabaca camp site is managed by the Khwe San. Revenue from the camp goes to the community. That’s the cash value to the Khwe. The greater value of the WINTA trip to Australian Aborigines, north American  Indians and indigenous Namibians is the understanding that tourists worldwide are looking for something new – for contact with communities – the real world, which is here and how in Namibia.

Steve Felton
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