by Lee Dormer
To journey into the wild affords not only the opportunity to converse with the earth but to cast light on the inner self. With this anticipation, I travelled into the Kalahari, a place of intense silence and magnitude in which you sense no boundaries.
The desert is a theatre of life and death, a venue for the inner self to talk with the conscious mind. It is so expansive that the view seems like a portal into the universe and yet, when you stare at the ground in front of you, a multitude of life appears in focus. The wilderness offers so much more than a wild place of diversity. It affords a privileged opportunity to travel within and hold dialogue with yourself about who you are and what you are doing with your gift of life.
My companions were a mixture of English visitors to South Africa, a young Zulu man from Kwazulu Natal and three Bushmen colleagues who live on the edge of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. These people, although from diverse worlds, rapidly formed into a cohesive family unit that could not have been engineered more successfully.
I experienced the group to be thoughtful, caring, articulate and willing to converse on factual realities whilst simultaneously exploring spirituality. I found myself in the unusual role of a spectator. I had no need to act in any other way but to be present and listen. Intuitively I knew that this trail would evolve organically.
My only concern related to Toppie (G#HARAGAAB), our lead tracker. He seemed detached and only a shadow of his usual charismatic and witty self. I sensed an underlying issue was troubling him and decided that whatever he was wrestling with would become visible in its own time. In the late afternoon of our first full day in the desert we walked to a particular red-brick-coloured dune that had been formed in the shape of an arena. The wind had been blowing fiercely earlier in the day which had eradicated any spoor and the rippled sand combined with the soft light of the setting sun presented a surrealistic image that was pristine and picturesque.
I dismissed the cold shivers and gooseflesh erupting on my arms to the cool evening breeze on this late winter’s day. Hastily making our way back to the dune we designated as camp we were greeted by the single flame of a fire and a kettle of boiling water prepared by Oupa Dawid, (the traditional leader of the Khomani) who had opted to stay behind. We all settled onto the sand with a mug of refreshing rooibos tea and engaged in light banter, mostly surrounding Oupa Dawid’s announcement of his impending marriage to the Puff Adder coiled under a bush a few metres from the fire.
At this point, Toppie announced in perfect English that he wanted us all to be quiet. Silence fell as Toppie stared into the fire and gathered his thoughts. Positioning himself with his feet firmly planted and his legs doubled in the characteristic sitting posture of the Bushmen, Toppie started to speak:
“Seven years ago I had a dream, a prophecy dream. In this dream a young Zulu man came to me and brought with him a gift of healing between our peoples. When I saw Sphiwe I recognised him as the man in my dream and I became afraid. Today I walked us to an ancient dancing site that my ancestors named Dancing Dune (!EI XOPAS). Here I heard voices that told me I must tell you of my dream.
In this dream, the Zulu man said that for seven years following our meeting the Bushman will witness much change for the better, man will learn to respect nature and all people - black, brown and white – will learn to grow in spirit and oneness. This is my prophecy.”
Silence followed as each person internalised the message and the emotionally charged atmosphere evoked more than a few moist eyes. Sphiwe stood up and in a gentle tone offered an apology to Toppie and the Bushmen ancestors on behalf of himself and the Zulu ancestors who had persecuted the Bushman people. The two spontaneously embraced and held each other for some moments when a sudden gust of wind kicked up a light sprinkling of sand followed by a light shower of rain. With this Toppie returned to his familiar sitting posture and commenced singing a series of traditional Bushman songs, finally breaking the emotional tension with a wicked grin and his rendition of the Afrikaans folk song “In die ou Kalahari”.
On the last afternoon of our trail we were surprised to see Toppie and his brother followed by Sphiwe, dressed in loin cloths, bare foot and carrying traditional Bushman digging sticks. They strode out and away from camp to head in the direction of Dancing Dune. We quickly followed behind and watched spellbound as the three of them danced in the traditional manner of the Bushman. Toppie led them in a hunt dance, a rain dance, a family dance and a healing dance. They danced as one, the Bushmen and the Zulu, singing and clapping the rhythm, completing the circle of healing. Toppie’s closing words were of recognition of the love the trail group felt for the earth and her creatures. In a final act of praise he referred to us all as Bushmen – as he could think of no better name to describe those who honour the earth. He asked that we take the message to everyone – white, brown and black – to tell all people that the time is right to look closely at the earth and hear her call for salvation, so that everyone may take on the name “Bushman”.