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Traditional skills of the Bushmen - Part 2: Travelling and survival
By Koos Moorcroft and Raphael Gunduza
When it comes to gathering and hunting, the latter activity remains number one among men. In the traditional Bushman culture the man is always a hunter. Most of the Kung men owned a quiver and had to prove themselves as hunters, which was also how they obtained a wife.
Traditionally, Bushmen women did not hunt, although they did participate in the gathering process by collecting tortoise, lizards and snakes, as well as medium-sized pythons and various plants, bulbs and wild fruits.
Kung children were taught to play hunting games between the ages of three and 12 years. Boys were only allowed to accompany their fathers on a hunt after they had turned 12.
Before then they made their own bows and arrows and played games to determine who could shoot the straightest. Older men who could no longer hunt would pass on their tracking and hunting skills to the boys during these games.
Guided by the older men, shooting and hunting competitions were the order of the day for the boys. The tracking of game and acquiring of knowledge on plants and animal behaviour in their areas were also common activities among young boys.
Around the campfire, storytellers passed on hunting information by telling stories and re-enacting hunts. The boys would sit wide-eyed while listening intently to the older men tell of days long gone.
When accompanying their fathers on a hunt the boys were given a quiver made by the father. The grandfathers also taught them how to snare small animals and birds and the young boys hunted animals such as mongoose, game birds and rabbits.
The young hunter came of age after killing his first animal, which was usually a kudu or gemsbok. A special traditional ceremony was held after a young man’s first successful hunt. Afterwards an initiation took place where a boy acquired adulthood (this ceremony will be discussed in a future article).
The older men and boys who could not participate actively in mobile hunting set up traps and snare lines along an area after they had observed tracks, behaviour patterns and movements of game, small animals and birds. Learning about tracks and signs was an important part of a young boy’s life. The skill of identifying various bird and animal noises was also included in the schooling provided by the older hunters.
I remember once being part of a three-man team in a reconnaissance operation behind enemy lines. We approached an area near the river where locals always congregated. After observing them for some time, we suddenly heard a bird make a sharp, shrieking noise. Startled, we thought it was some of the locals approaching our position, which would compromise our position.
In a whisper, I asked Tango Naka what the noise was about, believing that a human had startled the bird. He replied that the bird usually talked in this fashion, but changed it when he spotted humans. Relieved, I realised once again how knowledgeable Bushmen were about nature.
Col. Delville Linford recalls a particular operation where his group was required to attack an enemy base camp. As they approached in the darkness a Bushman soldier tugged at his arm and told him they were headed in the wrong direction. Linford replied that as commander he knew what he was doing.
After another kilometre another Bushman told the commander they were not moving towards the base camp. Col.
Linford then asked where the base camp was, and the two Bushmen pointed out the direction. The colonel got on the radio and altered the route by about 30 degrees.
The group advanced and duly arrived at the camp. Later, Col. Linford asked the Bushmen how they had known where the base was situated. They replied that they had heard the cocks crowing. Only a Bushman’s sensitive ears could have heard these sounds at that distance, which shows how keen their senses are in the bush.
Being prepared as a hunter is an integral part of a bushman boy’s life while he grows up. When this phase is completed he is fully prepared for his first hunt.
Reference material: The Kung! San – Richard Borshay Lee