Those of you who have read our DEATH OF THE MANTIS or some of our blogs here know the esteem in which we hold the Bushmen of Southern Africa. The research we did opened our eyes to the remarkable skills they have, not the least of which is the ability to survive in the harsh Kalahari Desert.
Three aspects in particular impressed us. The first was their knowledge of flora and fauna. They understood the medicinal properties of many of the plants that eked out an existence in the hot sand. For example, they used hoodia to suppress their appetites when embarking on long treks in the desert or running after a dying prey. Today they earn a small royalty from western pharmaceutical companies, who use hoodia extract to help large people become smaller.
They also discovered that the larvae of a beetle found in a particular tree could be turned into a lethal poison, the antidote to which has still not been found. What’s more, they realized that shooting an antelope with an arrow tipped with said poison would kill it, but still leave the meat fit for human consumption. How fiendishly clever.
The second thing that impressed us was that Bushmen respected both the environment in which they lived and the other people who lived there. If they came across a water source in the desert, they would never drink all the water. They would always leave some for the next group who needed it. They would never take all the tsama melons, when they found them, and food would be shared with anyone who needed it.
The third attribute, which we as a society could learn from - except it is too late - is that they believed that the earth belonged to everyone. No one had a right to own part of it. And it was this belief that got them into trouble. It is easy to see a Bushman clan coming across a cow – which, of course, belonged to a farmer who owned the land - saying: “Hey fellows. It’s our lucky day. This is easy. We don’t even have to run for days until it dies. We’ll just cut its throat and eat it.”
The outcome, of course, was incomprehensible to the Bushmen. They would be shot, beaten, or enslaved.
And this is when the persecution of this amazing people begun.
Those of you who have read what we have written will also know the sadness we feel, both in how they have been treated in the past and in how the current Botswana government is treating them now.
Regarding the Bushmen, there is some interesting news from Botswana. Recently an old Bushman was found dead at the side of the road to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park in the south of Botswana. At first authorities thought it was a natural death, given the age of the man. However, a closer inspection of the very wrinkled skin revealed bruising on the wrists and evidence of a blow to the head.
|Old Bushman - photo Frans Lanting|
Consequently, an autopsy was performed. The forensic pathologist, a Dr. Ian MacGregor, was astonished to find that the man’s organs were similar to a man in his thirties, not those of a very old man. Even more astonishing was the discovery of a bullet in his thigh for which there was no entry wound or scar. Puzzled by all of this, MacGregor did two things: he sent the bullet to a ballistics expert for analysis; and he sent tissue sample to a laboratory in Denmark, the only one of its kind in the world, for an estimate of the age of the man.
The response from the ballistics lab was that the bullet was German in origin, typical of those used by German forces in German South West Africa (now Namibia) in the late 1800s, early 1900s.
The response from the Danish lab was that the tissue was between 120 and 150 years old.
So, who was this man who apparently was well over a hundred years old, on whom scars healed so well that they were invisible?
How long would he have lived had he not been killed.
And what was the plant he chewed incessantly?
Watch this space for more.
Stan - Thursday