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Traditional skills of the Bushmen - Part 3: Preparing for the hunt
By Koos Moorcroft and Raphael Gunduza
Prior to the start of a Kung hunting session, a fair amount of preparation and planning must take place before the hunters can set off on their expedition.
The hunter will have equipment with him to harvest as many as 30 species of game, from a meerkat to a giraffe. He might decide on a specific species to hunt, although he is prepared to take on anything he may encounter during the excursion.
Regardless of whether a hunting excursion lasts for one day or a few days, planning, preparation and information forms a significant part of the hunt.
The aim is to provide food for the families, and hunting for sport is unheard of in the Kung community. Various methods are used, such as the setting of traps and snares, and hunting while on the move. The search for animals can be above or below ground, the latter being the blocking of burrows and digging out animals. Above ground the Kung rely on searches, animal behaviour, tracking, stalking and close-up stalking.
As discussed in a previous article, snaring is practised mostly by the older men and young boys. Snares are more effective in winter because the hunter can concentrate on specific waterholes that hold some water during the dry season. Snaring during the rainy season is not easy because there is an abundance of waterholes and the rain also has an adverse effect on the trigger mechanisms of traps and snares.
The evening before the start of a hunt or snaring expedition, the hunters sit down and inspect all the weapons to be used to ensure that they are serviceable and ready for use. Arrows are inspected for straightness, and link, collar, arrowhead and main shaft for a tight fit. Arrows to be used on the hunt are selected and sinews dipped in poison are placed on the arrowhead shafts, ensuring effective knock-out power. Bows are examined for serviceability and correct tension of bowstrings. All other weapons, like the springhare stick, axe and spear, are also examined and additional necessary equipment is checked, including knives, material to do field repairs on weapons, fire making kit (either rolling fire sticks or flint and steel kits), pipe and tobacco, carrying bags for meat, and rope for snares and to tie up meat to be carried back.
Once all the hunting equipment has been inspected it is packed away up a tree or inside the hut ready for the next morning.
The next phase consists of long discussions held well into the night, where information on suitable hunting areas as well as that picked up by the females and young ones while gathering fruit and vegetables is compared. Information that the gatherers have on tracks and animal movement is important in the hunters’ planning and preparation. Everyone takes part in these pre-hunt discussions, and other topics discussed range from the amount of game in previous hunting terrains, localities of waterholes still holding water in the winter months, whether there were rain clouds and where it actually rained and the location of good grazing areas.
These discussions not only take place the night before a hunt, but also throughout the year. Based on final discussions before the actual hunt a strategy is then formulated by the group to determine the direction that will be taken, and the size of the hunting and back-up groups.
The hunters then settle down for a good night’s rest so that they can be ready for the hunt the next day.
Reference material: The Kung! San – Richard Borshay Lee