Kalahari Desert


Kalahari Desert

Destination Information

The Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert

The people commonly known throughout the world as Bushmen, but more properly referred to as the Basarwa or San, have been resident in and around the Kalahari Desert for probably thousands of years.

Originally nomadic hunters and gathers, the lifestyle of the Basarwa has gradually changed (somewhat forcibly) with the times and they now live in settlements, some of which are situated within the southern half of the Central Kalahari Desert Game Reserve. The Botswana Government is, however, rather controversially encouraging these people to move to areas outside the reserve in order that they may be provided with modern facilities, schools, clinics, etc. and to integrate them into modern society.

Other fairly recent residents were Mark and Delia Owens, who spent many years in the Deception Valley area of the park undertaking research mainly on brown hyena. They set up their camp in the northern section of Deception in a prime “tree Falcon”, however tree Falcons are no longer used for camping in these days of more environmental awareness.

The Owens’ book, “Cry of the Kalahari” brought the attention of readers to this previously little visited area and even today many people refer to the Central Kalahari Desert simply as Deception. The name “Deception” comes from a pan, the dry surface of which sometimes appears convincingly full of water until one gets right to the edge.

Basarwa are believed to be the earliest inhabitants of Botswana and the surrounding areas, they are currently the second largest group of indigenous hunter-gatherers in Africa, second only to the Pygmies of equatorial Africa who number some 200,000.

Explore Further

More about the Pans in the kalahari desert…
More about the Central Kalahari Desert Game Reserve
More about the Bushmen people of the San…
More about the Bird Species found in the Kalahari Desert …

Visit our camps and lodges section to review the sumptuous accommodation on offer in the kalahari desert click here

Bushmen activities

As Benjamin Xishe, an English-speaking Ju’/Hoansi puts it:
“Tourists bring money. Without money we cannot keep the land, without land we cannot exist. For us it is a last stand.”
Bushmen activities that can be experienced by visitors include:
-Familiarisation Bushwalk
-The familiarisation walk identifying places of interest, including natural salt/mineral licks and caves.
-Identification of trees,bushes, spoor, birds and other animals, etc.
-Gathering of Veldt foods
This is a guided walk to identify the “salad and root vegetables”. All samples collected will be tasted by clients after they have been prepared in the afternoon. May be of particular interest to vegetarians, veldt foods can be sampled by clients at this time.
As part of re-education, the ‘Melon dance’ will be performed by the women of the clan to celebrate a good harvest of veldt foods, this is an opportunity for the younger women to learn the dance. Preparation of veldt foods, stamping, cooking and mixing of the salads and other foods gathered during the bushwalk.
Melon Dance
A celebration dance for a good harvest performed by the women of the clan. The women also take this opportunity to show off to the men they wish to attract. They also play the foot bow, and anywhere from one to ten women will play on one bow.
Bushwalk for Herbal medicines
An introduction to the plants used by the Bushmen of the Ghanzi district for various ailments. Works the same as the bushwalk, but with the walk concentrating on the identification of medicinal plants and their uses.
Trance Dance
A rare event, mainly because it is part of Bushmen Religion and not something to be put on. The Sharman refuse to perform this ritual unless someone is genuinely ill, so it is not taken lightly. A god alternative to the trance dance is the rain dance which is more of a celebration of a good hunt, for pleasure or for the pleasure of having a get together.
Rain Dance
Similar to the trance dance, although no religion or talking to the gods involved, a very light hearted affair.
Hunting Experience
A guided simulation hunt with two Bushmen, hunting traditionally. Basic Hunting and Survival skills (simulated hunting and tracking). Identification of tracks and a basic course in methods of tracking, hunting and if requested traps for various animals.
Myths and Legends of the Kalahari Desert
This takes place in the camp in the afternoon under the shade of a big Camel thorn tree or after the evening meal by the dying embers of the camp fire, to accompaniment of the sights and sound of the African night.
Traditional Craft Skills demonstration
There is a group of people resident at Kampoorra who spend their day making the hardware and traditional “jewellery” for the Red People. A chance to see how necklaces and bangles are made from scratch with Ostrich eggshells, glass beads and seeds, using sinew to string them. In addition to all this, male hardware skills; producing and repairing of hunting sets, tanning skins and curing hides. As well as the making of rope and glue.
Can only be described as ‘Bushmen Olympics’, a series of games played by children, that is a basis for the hunting skills necessary in later life. Visitors will be encouraged to participate, as the real element of fun is participation and group enjoyment.
Music of the kalahari desert
Mouth bow, foot bow and thumb piano. A soothing way to round off the day, although it is so much more enchanting if played at night.
These activities are offered on Our Bushmen Tours and at Deception Valley Lodge and Jack’s Camp only in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana.

History of the Basarwa

History of the Basarwa
Their earliest history and culture is recorded in rock paintings, folk tales and songs. The proper name for this group of people is San meaning ‘person’ but they are more commonly referred to as ‘Bushmen’.
Although they are increasing in number their traditional life-style has changed due to acculturation and inter-marriage. At present there are 3,000 Basarwa living predominately by hunting and gathering.
The Basarwa communities living in the traditional hunter-gatherer manner can be found in Northern Kweneng between Kunwane and Khutse, others ay Tshwaane pan between Dutlwe and Tsetseng. Some can be found near Lonetree Pan on the main road to Ghanzi or on the road from Hukuntsi to Nojane. A group lives near Tsodilo Hills and many small groupings live west of Qwangwa and southwards beyond Caecae .
y tradition Basarwa live in groups, which consists of a number of related families. They live entirely by hunting and collecting veld foods. As these people move frequently they have no established homes and make temporary huts using branches planted in a semicircle, interwoven at the top and covered with tuffs of grass.
Since independence the Government has embarked on a programme aimed at developing and integrating Basarwa into the mainstream of Botswana society. This policy has angered both the Basarwa themselves who in many cases have been forcibly relocated into bleak Government settlements, as well as anthropologists who are aghast at such an important culture being marginalized and traditional hunting and survival skills being lost.
Tourist Attraction
For the tourist, the bushmen of the Kalahari Desert are offering something different – the chance to participate directly in their hunter-gatherer life – stalking game with the men or helping the women dig up roots and tubers or climb into trees for wild fruit.
Old Bushmen 'Grandmother' in the Kalahari Desert
A Bushman “grandmother”
Little is hidden from the visitor; with the Nharo Bushmen of Botswana I joined the chorus of a clapping, singing full moon dance, watching as a woman with terrible swellings in her leg was attended by a healer in deep trance, who screamed as if in pain, frothed at the mouth and shouted at unseen spirits. To bring him out of the trance, burning coals were rubbed on the healer’s back, but neither man was burned and next morning, the woman’s swellings were gone.
As Andrea Hardbattle, a half-English, half Nharo woman who organises Tours with the Bushmen says:
“Most Westerners just don’t get these kinds of experiences, not unless they spend years in the bush.”
But it is necessity that has sparked the Bushmens’ new-found interest in tourism. Confined to ever-decreasing ‘Falcons’ of wild land by more aggressive cattle-owning tribes, the Bushmen have, over the past 20 years, seen thousands of kilometres of wire fences erected across their old hunting grounds, the game killed or driven off, and the wild foods grazed and trampled out. The arrival of tourists (mostly Europeans, though lately an increasing trickle of Americans) has provided a way to break that cycle.

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