The voices of the Kalahari

Jana von Hase/Bruckner

2016 - Ongoing

I shot these images in November 2016 while on a project trip to Tsumkwe, Otjozondjupa region, the so called ‘Bushmanland’ in Namibia. The trip took place to record a truly groundbreaking musical research project called ‘Kalahari Encounters’. It coincided directly with the election days of Donald Trump in the United States in November 2016. Everything about the trip was just as cataclysmic as seeing the world plunge into a darker moment - via our entirely sporadic and often unattainable wifi signal. A dry storm accompanied us a we travelled from village to village with the aim of bringing western rhythms to the San communities and during the interaction trying to learn the highly evolved ancient clapping and singing rhythms of the San tribe, creating a powerful and highly complex musical dioalogue in the process. An almost impossible effort at bridging the incredible cultural divide and profound gap that has stubbornly sat between the voice of the indigenous people of the world and the the so called civilised and technologically evolved first world till this very day.

As a child of the Kalahari myself, a fourth generation German descendant living and working in Namibia, Africa, the indigenous people I encountered during this trip have captured my heart and my photographic eye. Their joy and enthusiasm for music and and an entirely intact family fabric within their tribes is directly connected to the ancestral spirits who are believed to dwell amongst the living. As a storyteller and photographer I recognise that in the light of the World's oceans polluted, glaciers melting and the Amazon (as well as numerous jungles around the world) burning, we have to pay attention to the indigenous tribes from around the world coming to the forefront imparting their ancient wisdom and warnings about the immediate catastrophe of climate change. Therefore it is time that the San people of the Kalahari are becoming heard and visible too.

At the peak of the South African apartheid regime, which had taken governance of Namibia (then South West Africa) after the second world war, it was noted in the regime’s Odendaal Plan’s objective in 1962/63: “as far as it is practicable a homeland must be created for each population group, in which it alone would have residential, political and language rights to the exclusion of other population groups”

The San, nomadic hunter-gatherer people of southern Africa who have often been referred to as “Bushmen”, are the oldest continuous population of humans on the earth and have been called the “Children of the World.” This project aims to capture the beauty and strength of the San people, celebrating their musical culture in new ways. We have met with different communities of San people, and are now working together with a Ju/’Hoansi community from a village called //Xao /oba near Tsumkwe in the Kalahari Desert. We seek to showcase the wealth of their traditions through an exchange and collaboration with our acoustic quartet ‘Namibian Tales’. The San have many ‘tales’, profound and ancient. They are bearers of centuries of experience and knowledge about the natural world.

In our constant race towards modernization and endless accumulation, they still try to live in harmony with nature, using only what they need. Although they are seen and portrayed as primitive and poor people, they posses a connection and rootedness to nature we have long lost. We embarked on a voyage into learning more about this culture, their history and music.

With a national population of around 30,000, the San constitute less than two percent of the total Namibian population and have the lowest per capita income of all language groups in the country. Many communities rely on a variety of support and are challenged by social disintegration, alcohol abuse and poverty. Only around 15 percent of San in Namibia have resource utilisation rights to land. The literacy rate is low at around 20%, with school attendance at only half the national average. The few opportunities for formal employment are thus further inhibited by limited levels of formal education.

We have been working together with the Museums Association of Namibia (MAN) on this research and collaboration. We are grateful for the support of the Goethe Institute Windhoek, UNESCO’s IFCD Fund, KLM Airlines, Netherlands Embassy in Namibia & South Africa and the National Arts Council of Namibia and Fonds Podium Kunsten (FPK) in the Netherlands for making this project possible.

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