The humble life of the Bushmen
Around the corner of the big boulder field near the Erongo Mountains, there they were, making ostrich egg jewelry and hunting arrows. They lift their head up, quietly smiled, and showed interests to the strangely dressed visitors. There was no border that indicated their property, but it felt like we were intruding their safe ground, work place, and home. We were almost invisible to them, but somehow, I felt the warmest welcome. Women were wearing a few of ostrich egg jewelry, some were with babies. Their clothes, that were protecting only necessary areas, were made with animal skin.
I asked a few people if I could take photos of them. Some indigenous tribes are sensitive at cameras, and I wasn’t sure where they stand on the issue. I spent some time with a few elders and ladies. The genuine laughter from an old man who probably didn’t know what he looked like until looked at the camera LCD screen made me quite happy.
Then we went on a walk with Master Kutu, his son, and a young man who spoke fluent English. We hiked around the boulder field for a couple of hours, and he passed along some of the wisdom. It was a memorable experience that I didn’t expect. They were giving us a tour of their home.
The land looks dry and pretty much lifeless to me, but there were plenty of lives in between rocks, sands, and thorn bushes. Bushmen use trees as medicine, build small traps for small animals and go hunting for bigger animals like springboks and elands. They can make quivers and arrows with tree roots, and make a concoction of poison to put on the neck of arrows. They build a fire using two wood sticks and bird’s nest. We learned that this way of living has been continued for a long time by looking at the several thousand years old rock paintings of animals and hunters. It’s important to be a good hunter because it feeds the whole tribe, and good hunters get pretty wives.
Master Kutu was a great actor. He demonstrated how the small animals got caught in their traps, and also showed us the real act of hunting. We all enjoyed seeing the very much alive act, but hard to imagine they are hunting in real life only with hand made bow and arrows, animals much bigger than all of us.
We came back to our camp, humbled. The San people literally have to find something to eat from the ground, fight with live animals to survive, and live in the twig-weaved hut. In our standard, they are not doing well. Nonetheless, they were the happiest people I’ve ever met in a long time. I asked Master Kutu if he likes living in the desert (what a stupid question). He said they would all die if they didn’t. They came back because this is their home, and they are free here. Happiness is state of mind, I’ve realized it again.
We couldn’t communicate much (but many of them can speak fluent English), but they were enjoying our little group’s curiosity. A young girl dragged me into her group to let me take photos her family. They had such a genuine facial expressions. They looked straight into the lens, with 100% innocent eyes. They were not trained models, but the energy from their eyes was more powerful than ever.
The treat didn’t end there. When we were resting our full stomach after the ‘Bushmen fondue’ with Oryx meat, we had a surprise visit from even bigger Bushmen tribe. They came by to sing and dance for us. It was beautiful. Under the bright southern Milky Way, the whole Bushmen family shared their part of the world with us strangers. The night continues with their marriage story. Turns out, Bushmen are great hunters, craftsmen, and storytellers.
‘We all came from here.’ The thought struck me. Bushmen (also known as San tribe) are one of fourteen known extant ancestral population clusters. Which means, all modern humans are a descendant of these people. This is where everything started for all of us. This simple scientific fact and their humble attitude toward life touched me deeply. They were beautiful inside and out. They are not trying hard to protect their tradition; they just truly believe that is the right way of living for them. In this era, when everyone trying to follow the trend, seeing the several-thousand-year-old tradition breathing by the oldest race on the planet Earth, there are some lessons we don’t have to speak out loud.
21 thoughts on “The Humble Life of the Bushmen (San Tribe) of Namibia, Africa”
Beautiful account of one of the most ancient of clans in the human family. It really shows how connected we all are. I especially loved how the man who probably never saw his face before reacted upon seeing it for the first time. Shows what great sense of humor they all have! Thanks for sharing this one, Juno.
Thanks for your great words. I really liked this experience too. They met tourists before, and I’m sure they encounters many other experiences themselves, but everything was quite genuine.
Loved it! And beautiful pictures to boot! Hats off to you for an absorbing and interesting account, both enlightening and entertaining! Good show! Only nitpick: jewellery, wisdom, springbok remain jewellery, wisdom and springbok even when they are in plural. Just an aside! I also liked the way you have subtly covered the ‘necessary areas’ of the ladies at the upper torso when you have taken their pictures. Great!
What beautiful people and beautiful photos of them. Thank you for sharing this lovely experience, Juno. I hope I can meet them one day.
Thanks Jenna. It certainly touched me deeply. They were so happy, and we didn’t have any boundaries. It wasn’t one of those ‘authentic culture show you have to pay for’. They genuinely wanted to share their stories with us.
Hey Juno! I really enjoyed reading your account on this – thanks for sharing 🙂
Love the night sky picture. This was a great post. Thank you for sharing with us!
Wow, I think this is my favorite post of yours ever. The photos are out of this world, and what a fascinating experience. I’m sure you will treasure it for the rest of your life!
Thanks Alex! Great experience made great blog post, I guess!! 🙂 I felt really grateful to meet them.
AMAZING shots, you really managed to capture the essence of the tribe!
Juno, this is such a beautiful story — probably one of my favorite posts of yours yet. This is an experience I would truly LOVE to have. You are so fortunate to have had this. Beautiful photos, too!
Nice account of the encounter, and you got some nice portraits too.
I found it surprising that they were so approachable with the camera. I have come across similar situations where the people will ask for money in return for a photo. It’s something I don’t like doing, but it’s totally understandable from the viewpoint of the locals.
What are your secrets for approaching and photographing indigenous people? and what do you do when they are not so open?
Hadn’t heard of this tribe but found your portraits and photos interesting. Also curious just as the commenter above (Francis Cassidy), about how you approach people for portraits. I think it’s great you showed them the portraits on your camera screen as you took the photos, though! I always wanted to travel with a Polaroid so I could take 2 photos: one for me to keep, and one for them!
My second comment here actually, I am still so much fascinated by this post that I cannot help coming back to it again and again. I love that part where you talk about the fascination of the bushman after seeing his photo on your camera LCD screen!
I first heard about these bushmen in the 1980s movie ‘The Gods Must be Crazy’. It was a laugh riot all the way! There was a later sequel to that movie, I cannot remember the name of the second part now.
I forgot all about them until a couple of years ago when I picked up a 5 CD set about a photographer’s journey through Africa, where he briefly touches upon the bushmen in one of his episodes. He shows ostrich jewellery making, their huts which they no longer live in but have preserved them as part of their heritage (those two chaps at least), how they gather sticks to use as spears and to knock fruit off trees, and how they extract water out of an underground yam like root vegetable.
Amazingly, the lead bushman in The Gods Must be Crazy and the fellow dressed in shorts and safari jacket in the above CD seem to have the same face! And the face of the bushman in your first photo on this post seems to have a similar face as well. What a co-incidence!
Back to one’s roots is the message your post brings up. Thank you so much for this once again.
Just curious, which dSLR do you use?
Great portraits and interesting insights into this tribe, thanks for this
What I love about traveling is you get a chance to see different people and culture. I so love your post Juno. I find it a big privilege for you to get a chance to mingle with them(just my opinion). This is my most favorite travel post, so far.
I have traveled Ghana, Togo and consult other African countries people in 2008 to 2010 social work for health and piece. I want to social work for tribales people.
I love African people becouse AFRICAN people nature has peacefu when I traveled Ghana and Togo. I love it.
What beautiful people and beautiful photos of them. I hope I can meet them soon, in this mont if I can find the tour. Almost fully booked.
I will be in June 2020 in Namibia.Can you help me to visit a Boshimen village?Can you write me the way to erongo mountaia?Please.