A Revival of Ancient Bush Skills in Caprivi

Imagine a school without desks and chairs, without walls or a blackboard. Imagine learning skills that have been learned over thousands of years, passed down through the world’s most ancient culture. Imagine being able to identify dozens of species – from an ant to elephant – without ever seeing a single one.

Children learn in Bwabwata, Namibia

The real-world San classroom. Photo: Friedrich Alpers of IRDNC

To those of us unfamiliar with life in the bush, this seems like an impossible task. But for the San (also known as the bushmen), with thousands of years of accumulated wisdom and a lifetime spent tracking wildlife, the knowledge is innate. For millennia, their ancestors lived throughout southern Africa as hunter-gatherers with a subsistence lifestyle that made little impact on nature. Over the last thousand years, however, the San have suffered social disintegration and the erosion of their traditional values and skills as a result of oppression, persecution and loss of their land.

But in Caprivi – the small strip of Namibia sandwiched between Angola and Botswana – a group of San elders are determined to work with their youth to regain some of the skills they have lost. They hope that this will renew pride in their identity and culture, as well as creating opportunities for the youngsters to obtain employment in tourism.

The elders have developed the Tekoa Training Program in collaboration with Namibian NGO, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), with funding from WWF and USAID. Locally-employed community rangers, who have worked in the region for two decades, impart their bush skills to San children during the program, which takes place in Bwabwata National Park.

San trackers in Bwabwata

Newly-qualified San tracker-trainers in Bwabwata National Park. Photo: Friedrich Alpers of IRDNC

As the school kids, aged between 6 and 14, set off in single file down a fresh elephant track; the San tracker trainers, Alfred and Benson, point out millipede tracks, trapdoor spider hideouts, evidence of a scorpion’s nocturnal activities, tracks of a sable antelope rounding up his herd, and the footprints of a hunting leopard. They show the youngsters see where a tree squirrel leapt, a puff adder writhed, a gecko caught a moth and an impala marked his territory – all without spotting a single animal.

The kids are beaming with enthusiasm and eagerness to continue the exploration: the endless knowledge; the skills development of tracking; the learning of animal behavior; and the monitoring of endangered wildlife, such as cheetahs, wild dogs, roan antelopes and other rare species found in their park home.

These children are being given the opportunity to develop tracking and ecological management skills that are critical to preserve our natural system and the environment. Over the next few months, more than 200 rural children in Namibia’s remote north-east will learn the skills of their forefathers, and be able to apply these skills when looking for work and to contributing to finding sustainable solutions to the environmental challenges our planet faces.

This post is based on original article by Karine Nuulimba of IRDNC

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