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Walking with the Bushmen of Namibia

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“The orange glow from the flames of the fire bathe the old man in a benevolent light and reveal a wise and purposeful face. He is the healer; the pivotal figure of the healing dance to which I have been invited”.

Steppes’ Product Director, Jarrod Kyte, travelled to Namibia recently and spent time with the Bushmen of the Nyae Nyae conservancy. He felt privileged to be invited on a hunt and was moved by what he experienced at a healing dance. Here we share a few of his powerful photos and an excerpt from his travel journal. 

“I sit on the ground close to the fire at the end of a row of young men all dressed in shonas, the traditional bushman loincloth. Opposite stand the ladies of the village with an assortment of children- some on the breast, others glued to their mothers’ sides. The women clap and sing in high pitched tones, and a couple of the young men sitting near to me jump to their feet and urge the women to clap and sing with more gusto.

The old man lifts his head to the stars. As his rheumy eyes lock onto a distant constellation he raises the palms of his hands and whispers an invocation. The stars have been the custodians of this ritual since time began, and he greets them with a reverence reserved for ancestors long passed on. They twinkle like brilliant halogens in the blanket-black sky, and as the clapping intensifies the old man’s body begins to shudder.

Two men join him, and from a small jar, they take an ointment – a mixture of earth, water, ash, and mashed up plants, which they dab onto the old man’s naked torso. As his leathery skin absorbs the balm his body shakes so hard, it seems as if every sinew, muscle, and bone is vibrating with the intensity of a tuning fork. He shimmies his tall, slender frame along the line of young men sitting by the fire and lays his hands on the shoulders of one of the hunters I had met earlier in the day. The young man bows his head and as the clapping and singing reaches fever pitch, the healer removes his hands and looks skywards, as if seeking celestial intervention. He moves on, trancelike, body still convulsing, laying his hands on an old woman, before returning to the fire where he drops to his knees. Nonchalantly, he cups his hands and puts them into the embers of the fire, gathering red-hot coals, which he rubs onto his chest and midriff. He sits for a moment, hands on his hips, contemplative and subdued, before rising to his feet to be met by a visceral clapping and singing that shakes him from his reverie”.

“My dumbfounded gaze meets the eyes of a young girl, no more than six years old, standing on the opposite side of the fire. She clings to her mother’s leg as the flames leap high into the star-filled sky and cast an ethereal glow across her cherubic face. Underneath the innocence there is an understanding that I am far from able to summon. She looks at the stars and then looks at her mother, before fixing her eyes on the old healer and clapping her hands in perfect time with the tempo”.

Talk to our Namibia Travel Experts to start your privately guided tour of Namibia, call us on 01285 601 753  or email inspire@steppestravel.com