Meeting the People of the Past
Cooridor 13, Namibia, 2009-11-12 12:00 by Martin
Saying an almost tearful goodbye to the Batswana people, we headed south east, almost into Botswana. Here in the midst of nothingness, thirteen “corridors” have been set aside by the Namibian government for people from the different tribes to settle. The land is dry and wildlife is scarce; water is pumped from boreholes more or less reliable. Here we found a small community campsite belonging to a group of people that stems from the first inhabitants of Southern Africa – The San.
Finding the campsite proved much easier than with the Batswana in Boiteko, but as we entered the sandy grounds, everything was rather deserted, but not derelict. We called out, honked the horn and made noise, but the only one to great us were some donkeys roaming about…well, some life at least.

We ate our lunch and played some cards, hoping for the receptionist, or anyone to come by. After waiting an hour or so, without seeing a soul, we began to wonder if we should drive on, or simply settle for the night regardless. But then we heard voices in the distance; walking out into the bush we stumbled on a small house and what seemed to be a small hamlet. Asking the sole person in sight, a San lady, we were directed towards a big tree. Underneath we found more inhabitants and a girl who knew something about the campsite, and even spoke relatively good English! We were told that the manager was out of town, but she was the secretary and that of cause we could stay. The hamlet and campsite was without water, which was why the campsite was semi-closed. Their water pump was broken and had been so for more than a month! Yes, the entire community had absolutely no water, but they managed, collecting water from the nearest village, 10 km or so away.
Showing us around, we were ensured that we would be well entertained. And so we were…

At sunset the ladies and one of the elder men of the village came, dressed in what can only be described as a loincloth, some ornaments and a few necklaces – bare-breasted and in high spirit they lit a fire and started singing, clapping and dancing. The whole scene was enchanting. We were in the middle of nowhere, with a clear starlit sky, a roaring fire and song and dance, which could have been performed a thousand years ago. Afterwards we chatted with the group, about their dreams and their reality – how they now lived a life as small scale cattle herders, with little means and little opportunity. As with the women in Boiteko, they dreamed that their community campsite could bring in some money, so they could build a school where the San language was taught and maybe even give some stability and safety to their somewhat difficult lives.
The next morning we were met by two of the elder men from the community. Again dressed in clothing of their past, we were taken on a walk into the bush. Here they showed us which plants could help cure toothache, how to make poison used on their arrows when hunting and other lore (such as how to use an ostrich egg as a watercontainer), that the San have known and handed down through generation after generation. Now, they told us, these traditions and this knowledge was being forgotten. Hunting was forbidden and even if it wasn’t, most animals had disappeared from the area in the last 20 years. Traditional medicine was replaced by modern and food was bought in the shops instead of found in the bush. Just as well as sources for bushfood had almost disappeared, just as the animals, because richer farmers had taken over the fertile lands and the San was left with what no one really wanted.
Depressing as some of the stories were, the elder men seemed proud of their skills and knowledge and when talking to the manager of the campsite, a young guy from the community, we agreed that a project like theirs, was one way of keeping this knowledge while also earning some money to develop their community and keeping the San people from migrating to towns, where they often end up in poverty and alcohol addiction.