I’m not quite sure where to start this blog. As usual I have several things in my mind, several ideas I want to write about, not as cleanly related as I would like, but rather knotted like old spaghetti.
So perhaps, as the famous king gravely said, I should start at the beginning and go on to the end. Then stop.
I’ve always wondered about the well known Biblical quotation “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5). It was the word “meek” that puzzled me. How could meek people inherit the earth? It didn’t make sense. So I dug around a bit and found something that helped me. Apparently the ancient Greeks used the word – in Greek, of course – to describe a wild horse that had been tamed to accept a bridle. So in the quotation above, meek has a different meaning to how we use it today. It didn’t mean someone who was timid or retiring or subservient. It referred to people who had brought their strength under control or, in the religious sense, people who had focused their efforts in the service of God.
In my last blog a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about two people who had died. The one, who had just passed away, Prof. Phillip Tobias, was a world authority in paleo-anthropology. The other, who died nearly 200 years earlier, Saartjie Baartman, a Bushman, was taken from South Africa and exhibited as a freak in England and France. The link between them was that Tobias was instrumental in bringing Saartman’s remains back to South Africa, where she now is a symbol for the women of South Africa.
Now I have to report a third death – that of another Bushman, Dawid Kruiper, who passed away last week in his mid 70’s. He was the leader of one of three main Bushman groups in Southern Africa, called the Khomani San (San being another word for Bushman – if you want to know the differences between Khoi, San, Basarwa, and Bushman – all of which refer to the same peoples, read the author’s note in DEATH OF THE MANTIS).
He became famous politically because in 1994 he addressed a United Nations working group concerning the rights of indigenous peoples. For those of you who saw the remarkable movie, THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, he played the role of a Bushman tracker.
In many ways, he was lucky to have had a life at all. His grandmother was wounded in one of the last recorded Bushman hunts – yes, as hard as it is to believe, Europeans sometimes hunted Bushmen rather than eland or impala or lions. She was pregnant with Dawid’s father at the time. Because his father survived the massacre, he was given the name Regopstaan – Stand Upright, because he rose up when others didn’t. Then in 1936, Regopstaan’s wife gave birth to Dawid.
Dawid’s family lived in traditional Bushman style as hunters and gatherers, but also sold their skills as hunters and trackers to farmers who wanted to attract a tourist trade. After a number of unsatisfactory and unsatisfying years, Dawid decided to put his efforts into getting land set aside for the remaining Bushman. Initially he lodged a claim in 1996 – in the new South Africa – for his clan, which numbered about 200. He asked for part of his ancestral land in the Kalahari Desert to be given back. Hundreds of other Bushman heard of his efforts and wanted to be included in the effort. The Department of Land Affairs thought that having as many people involved in the claim as possible would help the effort. It persuaded Dawid to accept them as part of his clan.
“We will not say no to our San brothers,” he said. “We would like to allow them on the bus.”
In 1999, 40,000 hectares (about 100,000 acres) of land with little or no water were set aside. Needless to say, the new government in South Africa made a great deal of this episode, trumpeting its responsibility and compassion.
Of course, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. The government, once the trumpets had stopped sounding, failed to follow up on its obligations. The little infrastructure that had existed disappeared or deteriorated, and whatever game that lived on the property also disappeared, probably through poaching or thirst. Furthermore, like what has happened in so many similar places, there was dissent among the Bushmen. Dawid and his followers wanted to live in the traditional hunter/gatherer way.
In an interview, he once said:
“Listen right now, while I am talking, to the sound of that weaver bird. As the leader of the San people, I do not want to be living like a millionaire. I do not want that life, it is not me. I just want to live the natural way. I am most comfortable like that, like that weaver bird.
Even if his nest falls down or is burned out by lightning, it is easy for him to gather grass and rebuild his house. I can move anywhere, anytime. I can collect my home, my grass, and rebuild my home. And that is the way I would like to be. On the other hand, like that bird, if I can just have freedom and rights, I would be happy.”
Others, however, wanted to enjoy the comforts of a more modern lifestyle. To quote Chris Barron, who wrote Dawid’s obituary in the South African Sunday Times, “(The outsiders) outmanœuvred him in meetings and were soon steering the bus he had invited them to board.”
He continued to try and make the government meet its obligations, but was largely unsuccessful.
He was also a well known traditional healer, whose knowledge of the healing attributes of indigenous flora was widely known. He managed to make some money by selling potions and remedies to people across South Africa. He was also the inspiration for a profit-sharing agreement with the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, which developed an appetite suppressant drug from the hoodia cactus – something that the Bushman had been using for tens of thousands of years. He had long argued that the specialized knowledge of the Bushmen should not be taken without compensation.
|See how well hoodia works!|
|I tried to find a picture of me next to the pool, but ...|
Dawid was a remarkable man – meek in the original sense of the word. A man who focused his energies to try and inherit back that part of the earth that had been stolen from his people. He succeeded at one level, and his clan received part of what had been taken, but what he was given was largely uninhabitable. In many ways it is easy to say his energy and focus ended in little gain for the Bushmen. On the other hand, he helped make the plight of the Bushmen visible on an international stage and never ceased arguing that the Bushman approach - that the earth belongs to all - was better than the western concept of people owning parts of the earth.
Hamba kahle, Dawid. Rest in peace. I will look for you amongst your ancestors in the night sky.
Stan – Thursday
PS. There is fine tribute to Dawid at http://www.osisa.org/indigenous-peoples/blog/dawid-kruiper-bushman-returns-earth
PPS. In researching hoodia for this blog, I came across a weird website selling hoodia-based pills (http://www.dietpillhoodia.com/). It’s worth a quick look. Its English is atrocious and one paragraph reminds me of how we once learnt that Columbus discovered America: “Hoodia was discovered relatively not long ago. Bushmen living in Kalahari Desert (a tribe of hunters with rich culture and history) have been using it for a long time. They have been inhabiting Africa fore more than 100000 years.”
PPPS. I am getting tired and bored of my prolonged seriousness in blogs. Will amend my ways!