& occasionally about other things, too...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Witchdoctor's Bones - II

Continued from the post above

Marika sat with her hands tucked under her legs. “I read that the Bushmen’s tracking skills were so great that they were recruited by the army and also, that they have now been asked to go back to the Drakensberg to help track down poachers,” she said. “This, after they were systematically and officially killed, by both blacks and whites alike. If I am correct, the last official Bushmen hunt was organized by the Natal authorities as recently at 1863 and then in 1881, a tribe of Batloakoa people were allowed to settle in the Kubelu valley by Chief Letsie on the condition that they killed the remaining Bushmen, and from what I read, this was carried out with a lot of enthusiasm and great cruelty. And now, that very area is trying to get them back. And good luck with that, since there are so few still around.”

“You know a lot,” Jono commented. He had been eager to bring the evening to a close but when Marika spoke up, he changed his mind and happily seized upon the commonality of their knowledge to engage with her. “And you were right about the army, it played a big role in the lives of the Bushmen. In 1974 the South African Defence Force decided to incorporate two Bushmen tribes into the army; the Barakwena and the Vasekele.”

He laughed, a bitter sound. “This Africanization was good marketing material for the army because it could conveniently claim that race discrimination no longer existed and that blacks were now legally allowed to bear arms. Oh yes, the SADF was very proud of itself, and it announced that it had abolished race discrimination, that both white and non-white soldiers received the same wages and the same opportunities for promotion but this was clearly not true since the highest rank a Bushman could achieve was staff sergeant; so much for equality.

“And yes, their tracking powers were very good but a lot of the stories were urban legends, with some white soldiers claiming that a Bushman could ‘follow a faint spoor at a run for 30km or more, he can predict his prey’s behaviour as if he is clairvoyant—but he can also read and write.’

“Another story said that if a patrol has a Bushman in it, then it is unnecessary to post guards at night because even if the Bushman goes to sleep, he will wake even if the enemy is still far away and will raise the alarm. The SADF hoped that stories like this would create a psychological advantage for them, to their enemies who feared the Bushman powers.

“Now Marika,” Jono continued, “some of your love for the Bushmen probably came from what you may have read in the newspapers or maybe what your parents read and told you. Because, during this time, the white Afrikaner press was in love with ‘these beautiful people’ and the problems they had in adapting to white society were misrepresented in many newspapers. All the things that were in reality very shocking and terrible were recounted as if they were quaint and charming. The Bushman’s aptitude for mathematics, their athletic skills, their love of singing; all of that was presented as fairy-stories. It was considered charming how many of the students in primary school were married with babies of their own by the time they were fourteen. Yes, very charming.” Jono was sarcastic.

“So,” he continued, “the army claimed they were doing a good thing and the press supported them and it looked good but in reality, the Bushman was moved ever further away from his natural life. He drank more, alcoholism increased and soon the whites learned to track as well as they did, so their unique skills were not unique anymore. Also, they weren’t in their natural environment enough to keep their skills fresh. Their children were sent into the bush for few weeks every year, to help them train in their natural ways, as if it could be learnt like that, so quickly.”


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* books can be ordered (or pre-ordered) at Amazon.ca or from inanna.ca and can also be found in select bookstores. If you have any trouble ordering a book, please contact the author, Lisa de Nikolits, at lisa@lisadenikolits.com

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