Cast: The Avatar, The Shaman, The Bear, The Bear’s son, Oom Daan Soentjies, tracker and story teller !’Aru Ikhuisi Piet Berendse, White Lighting, Kgara, the Powerful Shaman woman who breathes fire, Ras, Angel Kimmy.
I have had the privilege of 3 AfrikaBurn’s so far, every one better than the next, I think “Wow how can it get better?” – and then it does. This year it was different again, same same but different and so far, Afrikaburn 2019 goes down as one of my best experiences of my life.
The 3 previous events I did as a lone dog, tramping the dark Binnekring wrestling my inner demons, headphones on and totally disconnected from the collective participatory experience. This year, with big thanks to the organisers for their foresight to facilitate my growth, I got to experience AfrikaBurn how it should be. Not taking anything away from my other experiences (for they were so awesome to my personal development) but they led me to this point now in time, but at this (my 4th burn) I was invited into the First Peoples Camp, to become part of a shared collaborative AfrikaBurn experience. I finally felt home.
Little did I know how much my experience would change my life. I participated, I found my tribe at last and I was in community. As the coloniser I came in on my knees, thinking I would be (like my last 3 AfrikaBurn experiences) an outsider, but on this occasion I came to realise it was all in my mind from past life experiences which I let go of in the smoke of the Temple of the Stars. AfrikaBurn delivered…
It was sunrise. I peered out of my tent and a bear of a man and his son were unloading hessian bags from their bakkie. The bags were filled with scented herbs with names like slangbbos (Seriphium plumosum), klipboegoe (Coleonema album), Imphepo (Helichrysum petiolare) and wilde als or umhlonyane (Artemisia afra). The rest of the crew alight from the bakkies with porcupine quill headpieces, *Uhadi musical bows, calabashes and skins.
!Gai tses !Gassab (“Good day, Brother!”) the Bear calls out, a big smile lighting up his face. We shake hands, his giant paws are soft. The lithe shape of the Avatar passes in the shadows, I catch dreadlocks out of the side of my eyes.
And I feel him, phew, the shaman with his Clint Eastwood hat hiding his golden eyes and woolly shawl covering his broad shoulders arrives, mystical and confident. A beautiful smile comes out of the shadow of his hat, such love in his eyes. !Gai tses !Gassab. He immediately starts digging into the hard Tankwa ground, creating a small ceremonial firepit the size and shape of a farm made loaf of bread. The space must be cleansed first, which meant us too, using lots of thick aromatic smoke, chants, trance and summoning ancestors. The shaman mumbles, stares at the bags of herb and as if some message is received, takes different quantities out of 3 bags.
He acknowledges the spirit and knowledge of the plants, he mixes them in the palm of his brown hands, sets the blend in the fire pit alight. Hunched over, he blows the hot embers until the herbs catch fire and aromatic smoke billows around him, creating an even more dramatic scene and making our eyes water. There is something poetic in teardrops on the Tankwa desert floor.
Fuck me; this is just the first morning I am already enthralled, totally present and wide-eyed in amazement. I just knew then my life was changing, I was flowing into another paradigm, a new life. I surrendered to the aromatic smoke as my tears explode in the dust of the Tankwa. I am home, I belong. I am a brother, no questions asked. The shaman removes some burning herbs from the fire pit and let them burn to ash in a seashell. He mixes the ash with spit, smiles at me while he draws a line of black ash where ones third eye is, and an X at the back of my neck where negative entities can attach when one is high or have feelings of disgust, hate or jealousy.
The initiate arrives nervously with her leopard skin shawl wrapped over her head, covering her face, she is quiet and like me wide eyed. The shaman smiles kindly and she relaxes. He reaches for the imphepho and adds the leaves to the fire pit, the white smoke is to help her relax and connect with intuition. African wormwood is added to the fire. She covers her head and breathes the aromatic smoke in deep, coughing and tearing up. He closes his eyes reaches to another bag and pulls out a handful of wilde dagga (Leonotis leonurus) and adds it to the fire.
It does not take long for the news to spread around the ‘Kring, especially among the camps consisting of people of colour: a shaman is in town. At first one face would appear around the side of the tent, wide-eyed, then a steady stream of souls looking for healing and ancestral work began to arrive.
Depending on what needed healing and what the shaman sees, many different herbs, roots, bulbs and leaves are either burnt or rubbed on different parts of the body. Strong mixtures of wilde als, wild garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) and buchu-infused concoctions were drunk. Even the famous pirate, Captain Colin Carboard comes to camp, bringing a piece of dassie piss in exchange for a cleansing. The dassie piss is well received, the pirate knows the rituals and his plant medicine well, he also knows the tracker very well from the bad old “border war” days.
I don’t think we even left the camp that day. I rarely moved from the front seat, so fascinating was the collective unfolding in front of me. The cooking fire is started, we sit down as one and prepare the meal. There are lots of smiles and jokes but we soon become sombre as ancestral memories stir, the talk is of the loss of culture, language, place and how that violence now plays itself out on the Flats. We go quiet and stare off into the bush tv (fire). To lighten the mood the Avatar makes jokes and the talk moves to the Indigenous Liberation Walk highlighting the lack of recognition and rights for the Khoi and San peoples in South Africa.
Always smiling !’Aru Ikhuisi Piet Berendse regales us with stories of the large herds of trekbokke that migrated around the Western Cape before the fences came up and Europeans in gluttony killed them off. Piet talks of the old days as it were just yesterday, we hear about the clans that were here before any of the colonists from the north and Europe arrived. He tells of the time when they were free, when the !Xam, Khoekhoen, ǂNūkhoen, Xirikua, Khoena were the custodians of Southern Africa. We sit around the campfire eating fresh-baked bread and drinking moer coffee or rooibos tea. Piet tells of stories of the rain-animal and ǀKaggen. Piet’s story telling is on par with his tracking skills and we all sit captivated in the fire light.
I sit here and write this blog with white beads of twasa around my neck, ankles, hands, a (mostly) decolonised mind and healed from my past generational traumas. I am inspired even further from my experience with the First Peoples camp at AfrikaBurn that I enrolled and passed the pioneering KhoeKhoegowab Level 1 Language Course at UCT.
To be continued…
In writing this piece and sharing the experience, I agreed not to go too in depth into the specifics about the customs and ceremonies of the First Peoples, out of respect for the sacred nature of the ceremonies involved.
Music Origins: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xhosa_music
Medicine Plants: http://www.zanemvula.co.za/medplants.html