A New Approach in Bringing Botswana to Life for Visitors
Gudigwa's cultural program is designed to immerse guests in Bukakhwe culture through demonstrations of traditional living as well as singing and dancing. This ancient culture of the San bushmen has centuries-old respect and understanding of the balance of nature and man. To round out safari itineraries, the aim of the camp is to provide travelers with a better understanding of how the people of Botswana live - something previously not offered to tourists to the region.
The cultural presentation began with the offering of bush snacks: dried mopane worms and homemade bush beer. I reasoned that mopane worms are meat, so I avoided trying them. Lani, much braver than me, popped one in her mouth, pointing out that it tasted like chicken. After scrutinizing the pulpy texture of the bush beer, and deciding that liquids shouldn't have a texture, I also passed on the beer. I'll stick to bush tea.
||"One of the aims of the project is to re-acquaint the youth of the village with the traditional customs that have been lost"|
Snack-sampling was followed by lessons in the practical aspects of life in the bush. We were taught "moraba raba," a game similar to mombasa that serves to not only pass the time, but also teaches youngsters how to count. But Bushmen can't afford to spend all their time playing games and enjoying African sunsets like we were. It's important to keep one's hunting skills fine-tuned, and to that end we also learned how to make spears and knives and other useful tools for catching critters in the bush.
We also learned traditional methods of making jewelry and weaving baskets, handicraft trades that are being revitalized by the Gudigwa project. Guests can buy souvenirs from their Gudigwa experience at the camp, from the people who make them. Demand is so high, that the craftspeople have a hard time keeping up.
Song & Dance
After bush school, we cozied up to the fire for songs and storytelling, each told in the local Bukakhwe language consisting of clicks and guttural tones. Thankfully, Zero, a villager employed at the camp, translated for us.
||"I asked the camp manager if the healer was for real, or if he was an actor playing the part for the guests."|
By this point, I was really hungry especially because the cooks were preparing our dinner on an open fire right behind us. In addition to skewered meats and vegetables, we ate pumpkin cooked inside the shell, along with a porridge that resembled the southern American delicacy, grits.
While we dined, the performers sang and danced to the hypnotizing rhythm of drums. One notices immediately that the dancers are older than the staff at the camp. One of the aims of the project is to re-acquaint the youth of the village with the traditional customs that have been lost in only a decade of exposure to modern influences. It's clear that Lets, the camp administrative manager, and Zero are committed to their heritage and are excited to be part of its revitalization. Everyone at Gudigwa is proud to present their customs to the guests of the camp.
After a couple of songs led by the women, the traditional healer arrived,commanding great respect from the dancers and staff. A question and answer period was offered and through Zero's translations we learned that community members can bring all manner of complaints and inquiries, from health to social issues, to the attention of the healer - for a price. He even plays the role of private detective if you are unsure who stole your cattle or killed your relative. After hearing the problem, the healer mediates on the matter with the help of the dancers. Through song and dance, the gods reveal the nature of the malady or crime. If you're sick, he might offer a remedy. If you are seeking justice for a murdered relative, for an additional price he'll take care of the problem for you.
I asked the camp manager if the healer was for real, or if he was an actor playing the part for the guests. Liza insisted that he's the real deal, relating accounts of staff attitudes when he's around, and on one occasion seeing a staffer go into a trance after getting on his bad side. I definitely noticed a change in the demeanor of some of the villagers when he was around.
When you plan your trip to Gudigwa, make sure you arrive with an open mind and an open heart. You're certain to fall in love with the place, as I did.
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