Historical Events

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A traveling band of Bushman of the Kalahari Desert in Africa ask for help while thirsty and starving and describe how they were walking towards the lightning but were afraid to approach the Land-Rovers because the police had arrested someone for hunting a giraffe.

January 2, 1961

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The Heart of the Hunter

Laurens Van Der Post

Hunter-Gatherer

Meanwhile we had learnt something of their story. They came from a plain called after a fabulous kind of sweet potato dug up there three years ago. Their arms were not long enough to demonstrate the size of the potato to us. The plain was, as they put it in their tongue, ‘far, far, far away’ to the east. It was lovely how the ‘far’ came out of their mouths. At each ‘far’ a musician’s instinct made the voices themselves more elongated with distance, the pitch higher with remoteness, until the last ‘far’ of the series vanished on a needle-point of sound into the silence beyond the reach of the human scale. They left this ‘far, far, place’ because the rains just would not come. Their water was gone; the tsamma – melons which meanwhile sustained them and the game on which they live – were soon eaten up. The roots and tubers we compared to potatoes and turnips were more and more difficult to find and in any case not enough for survival. The game had moved away first. Only snakes, lizards, scorpions, spiders, and some ants were left. Then one night lightning flashed over the horizon in the west. They knew at once what to do. Since they own nothing permanently which they cannot carry, they could act at once. The men just took up their bows, poisoned arrows, and spears and left the plain behind them; the women bundled up in skin shawls their water-flasks of ostrich egg-shells and their stampingblocks – the wooden pestles and mortars which are their most precious possessions and badge of womanhood. Grubbing-sticks in hand, and for long hours with the youngest children on their hips, they followed their men. They made for the quarter in the west where the lightning flashed most. They had forgotten how many days they had walked towards the lightning, but they were ‘many, many, many’. The awful part was that, though the lightning went on flashing along the horizon every night, they seemed to get no nearer the rain. Their condition steadily deteriorated, the country became increasingly desolate, yet they had endured this sort of thing so often before that they took it entirely for granted. They seemed to think it hardly worth the effort of remembering and certainly not that of talking about it. Yet despite the lack of detail and Dabé’s difficulty in coping with their dialect, we gathered that on this cloudless day without the least hint of rain their desperation was nearing its climax. They had just left the old father and mother behind, not expecting ever to see them again, when they heard the sound of our Land-Rovers. Yes! they knew about motor vehicles and avoided them because they connected them only with police patrols. No! they themselves had never seen any police, but some kinsmen of theirs had been taken away from their family once and had never come back because the police had caught them roasting a giraffe they had killed for food. But afraid as they were of police in particular and white men in general, they needed help so badly that they made straight for the place where they heard our vehicles.