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Preserving the planet's oldest living culture

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In March 2020 I have the huge privilege of being part of a cultural exchange with the Ju/'Hoansi, one of the last groups of the Kalahari San bushman and women, with Wildwise in association with The Old Way  and Cybertracker .  I am asking you to support both an employment and education programme to help with the survival of one of the ‘oldest’ human indigenous communities on the planet.

This group of bushman and women, and their community, are unique as they have the some of the last 'trackers' left among the traditional hunter gatherer groups in this part of Africa.  The numbers have diminished from 100 over 20 years ago to 15.  Over the years, particularly since the europeans settled in southern Africa, the lands and customs of the San have been disappearing, they have been persecuted and exploited by settlers and their own governments.

One of the solutions to this 'crisis' of extinction is through education, which is the purpose of our trip, and another is through supporting the bushman by paying for living with the community - camping, food  craftwork and boosting 'employment' commensurate with the Ju/'Hoansi culture and immense 'skills', namely 'animal tracking' . The money raised will go both into the community for hosting us and payment for permits from the conservancy which protects the Nye Nye land, the preserve in north east Namibia.  This trip is very different from other ‘ecotourism’ exchanges as we will be living and exchanging cultural perspectives on land based culture.  It is worth emphasising this has been on the invitation of the San people, who have kept tourism at arms length until now as they realise that they are on the brink of extinction BUT have found a way of keeping their culture intact and ‘valued’ by visitors that understand and will ‘live’ alongside the San people while visiting.  All the money raised goes directly into the community, there is no middle person.  Our trip will raise the equivalent of at least 2 months work picking devils tooth claw plant that is, in effect, ‘slave labour’.  The plant goes into medicines made in Europe.

We will be teaming up with Louis Lieberman, our primary guide, who is a renowned anthropologist, scientist and founder of CyberTracker - an acknowledged tracking accreditation.  Louis, has been working with the Bushmen and women in the Kalahari since 1985, and being a true master tracker himself, is highly respected and trusted.  He was asked by the elders in 1990 to help them to pass on their cultural practices to the younger generation of San before they are lost forever. Cybertracking combines technology with the tracking skills in order to collect data on animal movement and behaviour, for example. and has currency with employers like national parks.

Having read Laurens van der Post’s book ‘The Lost World of the Kalahari’, over 40 years ago, I have always been fascinated by indigenous communities and their relationship to the earth, land and ecological communities in which they live.  More recently reading about the San people in Namibia I have realised that we are about to lose one of the oldest human communities on the planet.  This is the place and community that saw the transformation from Homo-erectus to Homo-sapiens, it is where persistent hunting began.  We need to realise that this is as important as the extinction of the many other species we share the planet with.
While I am excited by the thought of picking up new perspectives on tracking and reading the land in new ways, and working alongside the San craftswomen and men, one of my main motivations for travelling to the Kalahari is to witness a community that has no concept of ownership.  I have always felt that our western idea of ‘owning’ things and people is one of the key reasons we have plundered our planet so drastically in recent times.  The idea of non-ownership and reciprocation with the land and community is something I feel we can learn a lot from and as such I have always been fascinated with this concept in so-called ‘sustainable development education’.  I look forward to bringing some new perspectives back on how we as educators can include this idea into some of our work and life in order to challenge the conventional way of ‘seeing’ and ‘being with’ land and all it gives us.

It’s time to recognise the threshold we are on – the cultural crossroads to decide the fate of the most ancient people on earth.  In a way, the choice we need to make can be put simply - do we wish to preserve this culture or not? We think it’s time to sit at the feet of these elders, and to listen to their ancient voices speaking about the old ways that have so much to offer our corrupted contemporary world.

Please help in whatever way you can

N.B. If this is something you would like to personally experience and support yourself then it is possible to join a similar trip journeying into the Kalahari with The Old Way which is a year-long program exploring hunter-gatherer life ways and takes place in Devon and the Kalahari.


Jon Cree

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