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Last of the Hunter/Gatherers. And an anecdote about empathy...or the lack there of.


On July 17th, I had the great honor of meeting an amazing, but endangered group of people who rightfully lay claim to being one of the oldest lineages on the planet - the Ju/'Hoansi-San, better known as Bushmen. The last of the hunter/gatherers, it is said that only 55,000 Bushmen remain in Botswana, and less than 27,000 in Namibia. This experience for me was just like becoming a character in an H.G. Wells novel and being shunted back thousands of years into prehistoric time. I was completely awe-struck.


Only one of the family members were able to communicate in English and his name was Johan. A very sweet natured man with a cute, gap-toothed smile, he'd had a decent education, but instead of allowing himself to be swallowed up by the barrelling freight train called 'modernity', he had returned to help his clan. He eagerly shared his cultural knowledge with me and I found myself enthralled with everything that he had to say, but nothing moved me more than the following conversation...

(Special note: My campsite was situated very close to his village.)

Johan: Did you hear the Baboon Chief swearing this morning? Ruh! Ruh! Ruh! Ruh!

Me: (Wide-eyed) Baboon Chief? Uh...Yes! It woke me up and I checked the time...

Johan: 4:30 am.

Me: Ha! Yeah! You checked, too.

Johan: No. I have no time piece. I just know.

Me: Oh, I'm sorry...a...a...of course. What was wrong?

Johan: The Baboon Chief was warning his 'people' that a leopard was near.

Me: Really?!?! (Jaw hits the ground)

Johan: Yes. Then did you hear his next 'words'? Whooou-aaah! Whooou-aaah! Whooou-aaah!

Me: (Heart thumping) Yes! I did. What did it mean? Johan: (Looking downcast) It meant that the leopard killed one of his 'people'. Me: (Mouth a perfect 'O') Johan: Then all his 'people' making little sounds, did you hear it? Me: (Recovering from shock) Yes, it went on until nearly 8:30...

Johan: 9 o'clock, actually. His 'people' were in mourning. They were crying.

Me: (My heart swelled into my throat and my eyes watered) That's so sad. Johan: (He shrugged) Yes, but that's life.

He shared other amazing things with me and before I knew it, it was time to go. I said farewell and returned to my campsite where I let loose a torrent of tears. I was in mourning for my culture and our inability to hear other people speak...our lack of cultural empathy...our ethnocentric selfishness. I let it all out and then I dried my tears, knowing that there was just no stopping it - that relentless, barrelling freight train.

Yes, eventually it will run us all down.



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