Monday, January 17, 2022

Are Basarwa better conservationists?

“I sit and look around the country. Wherever there are Bushmen, there is game. Why? Because we know how to take care of animals.” The perfect English is obviously Stephen Corry’s but the otherwise potent argument is made by Dauqoo Xukuri, a resident of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana in a Survival International (SI) report. “It is no coincidence that 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity is found on the lands of tribal peoples and that the vast majority of the 200 most biodiverse places on Earth are tribal peoples’ territories.

By developing ways to live sustainably on the land they cherish, tribal peoples have often contributed ÔÇô sometimes over millennia ÔÇô towards the high diversity of species around them,” the report says. It traces the idea of conserving “wilderness” areas by excluding people to North America in the 1800s. Such idea was based on “an arrogant misreading of the land”, which totally failed to recognize how tribal peoples had shaped and nurtured the wildernesses. The report fingers former United States’ president, Theodore Roosevelt, for promoting the exclusionary model of national parks and quotes him as saying: “The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman.

The rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him. …[I]t is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races.” In such context, Botswana’s dominant tribes are the marauding settlers. The idea of Basarwa being accomplished conservationists, light years ahead of “settler” Batswana is also articulated in Tears for My Land, a 2010 book about the relocation of the Basarwa from the CKGR ÔÇô or Tc’amnqoo as the book refers to it.

The book is written by Kuela Kiema, the first Tc’amnqoo resident to earn a university degree who also acted as the Dxana/Tshila/English interpreter during the historic “Roy Sesana and Others versus the Attorney General” case. In his book, Kiema argues that the Basarwa actually know more about conservation than does the state which “is reaping the benefit of what we took care of for thousands and thousands of years, and is pushing us into marginal lands they have depleted of resources.” In one telling paragraph he writes: “They cannot teach me. I am supposed to teach them the lesson of conservation. It should be my job to travel to their villages, to places where they have destroyed the forest and wiped out the animals that used to live there.

It is I who should be teaching them about what has been preserved and conserved and protected by us for millennia.” On the other hand, the government’s argument is that today’s Basarwa cannot co-exist with wildlife in a sustainable manner. Unlike their ancestors, today’s Basarwa, the argument goes, no longer hunt on foot using bows and arrows but use rifles and vehicles on hunting expeditions.

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