Wednesday, August 10, 2022

‘We neither hunt naked nor with bows and arrows’

With its latest missive at the government, Survival International (SI) has characteristically enclosed a picture of an all but naked Mosarwa hunter with a bow and arrow. The latter is either taking aim at an off-camera wild animal or posing for Phillipe Clotouche, the SI photographer. For as long as it has been fighting with the Botswana government over the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve, SI has maintained that the people on whose behalf it is waging this battle are “Africa’s last hunting Bushmen.”

While the picture in the latest SI press release reinforces such impression, the reality is that Africa’s last hunting Bushmen no longer use bows and arrows. Kuela Kiema, who grew up in the CKGR in the settlement of Xade, says that as early as the late 1980s, the use of this ancient weapon system was fading out. “People were beginning to use rifles, dogs, horses and snares. People were also becoming less keen on meat of game killed with a poisoned arrow because it goes bad very fast. Skinning an animal killed with a poisoned arrow is also risky if you have an open wound.

If the blood of the dead animal gets in the wound and into your bloodstream, you fall sick immediately and might die depending on the strength of the poison,” Kiema says. He adds that studies by both the Botswana government and one Japanese scholar show that Basarwa in the CKGR no longer hunt with bow and arrow. As disingenuous is an attempt to convey the impression that CKGR Basarwa men still wear the one-item traditional dress of leather shorts. Kiema says that by the 1990s, everyone in the game reserve wore modern clothing. “Nowadays, people in the CKGR only wear traditional dress when they dance, then change back into regular modern clothes,” Kiema says. However, the government itself is deeply complicit in its depiction of CKGR Basarwa as barely-clothed hunter-gatherers who use bow and arrow. This image is used to lure tourists. On the other hand, that same government has been stating that Basarwa who live in the CKGR are modernised. Until not too long ago, the website of the Botswana Tourism Organisation bore idealistic images of Basarwa until SI pointed out this hypocrisy.

The one hunting picture that would reflect the CKGR reality would be one that shows a Mosarwa hunter wearing Levi jeans and Nike T-shirt and shades, perched on horseback with a telescope-fitted Browning T-bold hunting rifle slung over his shoulders. Understandably this image would, for both SI and the government, destroy the romanticism of Basarwa being an ancient people who chase game around the reserve near naked armed with nothing but crudely-made bows and quiver of poisoned arrows. However, the reality is that the government needs to cultivate this image to attract tourists and SI needs it to convince the world that the lifestyle of Africa’s last hunting Bushmen needs to be protected.

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