Letter #3

February 11, 2011

Today we're off to find the bushmen and treated to a demonstration-and even a lesson-in archery. Our special guide, whose job is to work with and also to keep track of the various bushman groups, is Edward.

A man of dignity and warmth, he has spent many years studying and getting to know these bushmen, and has a way of introducing them and aspects of their live that avoids the pitfall of voyeurism. These are people of considerable skill and resourcefulness, and our hours of keyhole viewing their completely nomadic way of life makes that clear.

Can you imagine hunting a mouse with a bow and arrow? That's what they did to show us how they live. They know where the mice are likely to be, and some of the younger men or boys shot them with bow and arrow at point-blank range. They missed a number of times, but finally raised a triumphant arrow with the furry prize impaled. The first time they surrounded a bush where they'd discovered the mouse. The second time they chased the mouse underground with the same result.

 

 

 

 

We also went out with the women to see how they dig for food. They use a stick and kept going until they located a small sweet-potato-like root, and something closer to a radish. This particular tribe is monogamous, and they intermarry among themselves, which means their gene pool is pretty limited. It shows. When asked if the men and wome ever switched roles Edward said the women, are the gatherers, because they have much more vulnerable skin. But the men are able to run through thorny country with less damage, and so they are the ones who hunt game. The tribe eat mostly baboon, birds, impala, the occasional kudu, and of course, mice and birds. A majority of the children die before the age of 5 from malaria and pneumonia, but if they make it past those years, they may live to 50 or so, an age they actually look only at the very end of their lives. The rest of the time, no one looks to be over 25.

Before we left, anyone who wished got the chance to watch them do target practice (very impressive), and then try out a little archery ourselves. Some of us looked pretty good, but I'm no better at target practice with arrows than I've proven with a pistol. I'll have to count on the mercy and skills of generous warriors if it ever comes to that-or bluffing in a pinch.

We take our leave of these remarkable people. We, lugging all our cameras and clothing, our do's and don'ts live in a fair bit of confinement. By contrast, they have nothing. They need very little, to their way of thinking. A little money for arrow tips and some beads. Perhaps enough for a bit of beer, and they're set. When the food starts getting scarce, they move on, without notice to or permission from anyone. A few attempts to bring them into educated life (by our standards) have been marginally successful for them. One man fled back to the land and has never been seen again. There are about 2500 remaining in this area, with populations shrinking steadily.

Next we see a blacksmith, a member of a separate tribe. With the most primitive arrangements, he fashions brass and copper bracelets, rings, arrow tips, and knives, with nothing more than a few goat or cow bladders for bellows, some sand to hold water for cooling, coals made from firewood gathered from the land (no live trees), and a couple of molds made out of iron. He has three wives, two of whom we met. They showed us how they grind corn and gave each of us a chance to try it out.

We are are invited into the blacksmith's home and introduced to two of his three wives with an explanation of how this tribe marries: Nothing happens without the groom's father's approval, but if the father approves, then he will give permission for the son to look for a wife. If the groom has money, he will go to see a girl, but not speak with her. Instead, he will go to a neighbor to ask if she is a hard worker and willing. If the answer is yes, then he will get a necklace, hide in waiting for her when she is going to fetch water, and then leap out and put the necklace around her neck. He then returns to his father to say, I have given the necklace. Then the girl wears the necklace until the boy's father goes and dickers for a proper bride price, which may be as much as 20 liters of honey, a goat, and 10 cows. Once a bargain has been struck, then the wedding is set three months from that day, and preparations go into high gear. The cows are exchanged and during the three months, the bride's trousseau (clothing) is created. Preparation involves all the women of the tribe

One of these pieces of clothing is a cow-skin skirt with a very long fringe-perhaps 18 inches, reminiscent of some of the northern native American costumes. In addition, there's a tunic that goes over the skirt, and a variety of brass and beaded jewelry. There is also a pot and three stones on which to set the pot for cooking. When all these things are in place, the wedding, which lasts a week, takes place.

The bride's fringed skirt is the marital skirt, and once the bride has it on, it doesn't come off unless the couple divorces or the bride dies. Divorce? If the bride complains three times to her father that she's not being treated well, and the father has done all he can with no success, she can return home. If the husband then straightens out, she can go back or not. Sounds pretty smart to me, and I like fringes.

On our way back to the Farm House, we cross the same boulder soup terrain, only now it has rained, and the closest thing I can remember is a 3-day horse-back ride up and over a glacier in Montana. All you want is to lie down on something straight and unmoving-and soft. Even as I write, Ellen is enjoying an African full body massage to deal with the aftermath of the ride. Four wheel drive passage for 2 hours makes home and hearth a heaven.

Water, or rather lack of it, is Tanzania's greatest challenge. I look around the Rift valley and see enormous fertility, but also enormous, overwhelming erosion. During the rainy season, the area we are traversing can be under as much as 20 feet of water, which sweeps away a great deal of whatever structures have been built over the last year. I keep thinking, If there's enough water to create erosion, there must be enough water to quaff the thirst of the land and its inhabitants. I want to bring the Israeli water geniuses and challenge them to design ways to preserve this land for abundant living for all its inhabitants, people, animals. Mganja and I talk about what it would take. Perhaps he'll have a brainstorm and we'll see the desert bloom in our lifetimes.

Time to get this to the internet room and off to you all. Please forgive the lack of individual personal communication. As you can gather, it's a busy trip-either traveling or recovering or packing, and whatever I repeat is time taken away from telling the story.

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