"If a Bushman killed a giraffe, an eland, a gemsbok, or even a bird like the giant bustard for food because he was dying of hunger, and the police discovered it, he was taken away to prison and often never seen again."
January 11, 1961
The Heart of the Hunter
Laurens Van Der Post
So gradually in these and other ways a natural pride in himself came alive again. Once it nearly had serious consequences. Jeremiah tended to have a noticeably superior manner with his companions, particularly Dabé. For long he never called Dabé by his name, referring to him simply as ‘Massarwa’. This term is used by Africans to describe not only the Bushman but all the mixed peoples in the Kalahari living the Bushman way. No one suspected how much this hurt Dabé until one morning, after having been referred to repeatedly as Massarwa, he could bear it no longer.
‘How would you like it if I called you not Jeremiah but Kaffir?’ he asked sharply. Kaffir is the term used by Europeans to describe all black people in Africa irrespective of their race and origin, and has come to be used as a deadly insult among Africans themselves. Dabé could not have hit on a more accurate or provocative parallel. ‘Massarwa!’ Jeremiah exclaimed, putting down the saucepan in his hand, while John, his chief assistant, stopped working too and looked as injured as he did. ‘Massarwa. You must not call me Kaffir.’
‘But if you call me Massarwa, why should I not call you Kaffir?’ Dabé insisted, the fiery Bushman temper of which my grandfather had so often spoken, for the first time visible.
‘You must not call us that!’ Jeremiah and John said together now, both their dark faces paler with emotion. They came belligerently to their feet and looked tall over Dabé’s sturdy little figure.
Luckily I was near and stopped the argument before it became a fight by sending Dabé away on an errand, while I told the others they were never again to call him Massarwa and I would see that he never called them Kaffir. But to me, slight as the incident was, it was a shining example of a truth I have always believed – that one of the great hungers of the human spirit from the earliest to the most contemporary level is the hunger for honour. I am certain Dabé, Jeremiah, and John had been prepared to fight to the death because the matter appeared to concern their honour. I am certain, too, that no one will ever understand the complex and desperate situation in Africa unless he realizes first that at bottom it is an affair of honour. But besides the hunger for honour there are other great hungers as well: that for justice, for forgiveness, and the one that sums up all – the hunger for love. Some of those too showed themselves a little that day I left ‘Bushman’s Reprieve’ with Dabé at my side.
When he had been silent for some time, I remarked cheerfully, since his old melancholy seemed to be joined to him again like his shadow, ‘Well, Dabé. It looks as if the rain is really coming to your people back there. They ought to be all right now.’
‘Yes. They ought to be all right now.’ He answered without any great conviction, as if he and I inevitably must have different notions of what ‘all right’ was. He hesitated for a brief moment, his brown eyes going black with shadow from within; then he began speaking not so much to me as to that immense glittering overlordship of the day in front of us. His voice was flat, unemotional, and so without anger that I thought my stomach would turn.
Had I noticed, he asked, how everything in life had a place of its own? For instance, the springbok had their pans; the eland and the hartebeest their great plains; the jackal, the hyena, the lynx, the mongoose, and the leopard had each a hole of his own: the lion could come and go and eat and sleep where he liked. Even the locusts had their grass, the ants their mounds of earth – and had I ever seen a bird without a nest? The black man, the Herero, the Bastaards, had kraals and lands of their own, and the white man houses of stone. But could I tell him what and where was a Bushman’s place? The echo of the New Testament cry about the birds having nests and the foxes holes but the Son of Man no place to lay his head, rang out so loudly in my head that I would have suspected Dabé of having heard it, had I not known otherwise.
Moreover, he went on, many of these animals were protected by the white man. If a Bushman killed a giraffe, an eland, a gemsbok, or even a bird like the giant bustard for food because he was dying of hunger, and the police discovered it, he was taken away to prison and often never seen again. Yet, if the Bushman killed his own desert animals for food, he was punished. No one punished the white man, the black man, and the Herero when they killed their animals, their cattle and sheep for food. But if the Bushman killed the cattle and sheep that came into the Kalahari to eat the grass of his animals, again he was hunted down and punished. How could such things be? Did I know that, when the first white men came to the Kalahari, they would have died if it had not been for the Bushman? The same was true for the blackman. The Bushman showed them where the water was, took their cattle to grass and helped them to live. Once the Bushman walked the desert like a lion from end to end with no one to trouble him, but today every man and every lion was against the Bushman. He alone had nowhere to go, no one to protect him, and no animal of his own. Again, was that how it was meant to be?