(words: Loz Tanner / photos as per credit)
The ‘Intercultural Story eXchange’ project, which came together at the 2016 event, is the culmination of years of discussion and consultation with elders in the Khoi/San community. Through AfrikaBurn Outreach and funding assistance from the Department Of Arts & Culture, participation on site by members of the Khoikhoi and San communities of the Kalahari, Northern Cape, Beaufort West and George were made possible. Below is the extract from the report to the DAC on the project’s progress and how it came together at this year’s event.
This project was a collaboration between members of the Elandsvlei community – the nearest village to Tankwa Town event site – who resurrected the Mantis puppet after performances late last year at the annual Tankwa Community Day and Streetopia, and a group of Khoi and San from the Kalahari, the Great Karoo and coastal regions of the Southern Cape. The Khoi and San group, including elders, youth and children came together with the assistance of Lana Cavernelis, Clinton Whitehead and Neal Hartman. Clinton Whitehead shared the experiences of the team:
“We did not know what to expect and came with no expectations. We immediately felt at home once we arrived at the gates. The Elders thought it was a strange and beautiful place filled with absurdity and wonder, a dreamlike environment manifested. They absolutely loved the experience, it represents a key component of our beliefs – not to be rigid in living life, to embrace the absurdity that lightens the grind of life. As first time Burners, the festival was a very beautiful experience. There is a lot to be learned and skills to be gained. AfrikaBurn resonates with a big part of our culture- ‘die energie van die lewe beweeg mos vrylik as alles so los en sag gekook is’.”
The Elders [were] interacting with a couple of [art] pieces that baffled their minds and the fact that the stuff is being burned even boggled their minds more, until they realised the purpose and potential of the burning. But then again they were in a dream world manifested.”
In preparation for the burning of the centrepiece Clan X, the Elders conducted a ceremony of unity and peace. Clinton explained the purpose, process and significance, he said:
“The intent of the San tribe ritual was to evoke and promote an energy of unity and peace by means of a sacred smudging and powder ritual that was transmitted by the liberation (burning) of the San tribe. The symbolism of the piece speaks for itself. We agreed beforehand that the time we find ourselves in is a time where the energy of peace and unity prevail in this world and the whole energy that was sensed at AfrikaBurn already radiated/facilitated the environment for evoking those energies.”
For Clinton, personally, the most significant change was the collaborative participation in the Mantis puppetry:
“We all shared deep connections with the Burners we encountered and at campsite, the most memorable for now would be when we put the Mantis together and walked it for the first time with the community of Elandsvlei. The unity, support, sense of accomplishment that prevailed over the Elandsvlei and Up Rize Plaza crew was a huge connecting point. If you truly believe in the ethics of your convictions, then great things can be achieved. AfrikaBurn is proof of that and with love at its core; it should be the example for the rest of country.”
And for the Elders and the group generally, the significance of participating in AfrikaBurn was the opportunity to represent their culture and have others engage with and view their culture, Clinton elaborates:
“Just being at AfrikaBurn was significant. The whole world had its representatives from all cultures and sub-cultures and for us to also be part of that spectrum was an important aspect of our experience and changed our perspective on how people still view us. [On our departure] we felt like we were leaving our family behind a place where you can truly be yourself and be free to express yourself as you seem fit. We have the opportunity to spread the values shared in Tankwa Town.”
Clinton explained that they already have plans for next year:
“We would like to share and express our culture and beliefs with Burners in the form of various activities and workshops, knowing what to expect at AfrikaBurn gives us that edge to better choose and plan our delegation for maximum effect-ability next year. Kim Goodwin also mentioned that he would like the group to help coordinate the burn of his temple next year, which is also a highlight.”
Jokingly, he added:
“We also received some complaints from the Kalahari saying those old timers can’t stop talking about their experience they had. So expect more Bushmen next year… “
AfrikaBurn stalwart Up Rize (Wilfried Danhause) and his son Jon-Levi, hosted the group and assisted the Elandsvlei crew in the preparation and remaking of the Mantis ahead of the event. He identified the Mantis as an opportunity for the Khoi and San group to work together with the local Elandsvlei community, he said:
“The Mantis Project was a big part for them to connect. There was also an evening that we all shared a meal. With the inspiration from the camp crew, we managed to re-patch /re-fix parts of the Praying Mantis that were damaged during the rain storm in the Tankwa [the weekend] prior the Burn event. The brothers from the country done great work to complete the Praying Mantis and then also the [Elandsvlei] community who came on the Saturday afternoon who completed the finishing touches.”
Despite their best efforts repairing the large puppet, the performance still proved challenging, as Up Rize elaborates:
“The parading and walking of the Mantis was true effort, it sustained a number of injuries while being shown around the playa, regardless of the structural damage caused by the storm.
Prior to parading of the Mantis I had already consulted with Robert [Weinek, one of AfrikaBurn’s directors], about the possibility of burning the Mantis. The camp crew from the Elandsvlei and Khoi community all agreed [to burn]. Collectively they walked the Praying Mantis to the Temple [of |Xam], by the time it just made it to the Temple, I came to the conclusion to burn the Mantis.”
For Up Rize the most significant change was around the commitment to the principle of radical inclusion and his agency to help this happen, he explained:
“The appreciation of the Khoi community to be present and participate at their first burn and for the warm welcome by the Rangers, directors and other hundreds of burners that visited with the with Khoi families and asking for blessings. From the youngest to the oldest of the Khoi community had a really life changing experience, the kids were wearing mask, face painting and dressed up. The excitement is high and to participate next year, the feeling stronger.”
R.I.P Oupa Abraham Kruiper
Among the members of the Khoi / San community that participated in AfrikaBurn 2016 was Oupa Abraham Kruiper, a great storyteller and custodian of our First Nation culture and traditions, whom some of us were fortunate to meet.
It’s with much sadness that we now share news that this great man has passed on. To all involved, we send thanks and condolences.