In Southern Africa, lies a 2.5 million square kilometers basin that extends into Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. This is where the Kalahari Desert is located, a semi-desert with huge tracts of excellent grazing after good rains. The Kalahari Bushman, also known as the San people, is the last remnant of the previously indigenous hunter-gatherer people in this part of world, where the human race is believed to have first begun.
They use a hunting technique called persistence hunting in which hunters use a combination of running, walking, and tracking to pursue prey to the point of exhaustion. While humans can sweat to reduce body heat, their quadrupedal prey would need to slow from a gallop in order to pant. This technique which has evolved 2 million years ago is thought to have been one of the earliest forms of human hunting before the discovery of hunting tools such as bows and arrows.
During the persistence hunt, the prey, such as a kudu (antelope), is not shot or speared from a distance, but simply run down in the midday heat. Depending on the specific conditions, hunters of the central Kalahari will chase a kudu for about two to five hours over 25 to 35 km in temperatures of about 40 to 42 °C. The hunter chases the kudu, which then runs away out of sight. By tracking it down at a fast running pace the hunter catches up with it before it has had enough time to rest in the shade. The animal is repeatedly chased and tracked down until it is too exhausted to continue running. The hunter then kills it at close range with a spear.
A ritual will be performed by the hunter to express his gratitude to the kudu for providing him and his village with food. Before dealing the final death blow to the prey, he can feel its exhaustion from the chase as without guns and gunpowder, a native hunter, to be successful, must come close to his prey if he is to take away his life. Physical proximity is required and this closeness must also be emotional, empathically entering into proximity with the kudu’s ways of sensing and experiencing. This apprentices him to the animal he would kill, helping him track the prey down when footprints of the kudu cannot be found. One may wonder how we can feel the emotions and senses of an animal. In fact not only do we have this ability with animals, we were able to do it with plants too.
Many past ancient civilizations worshiped plants and tried to converse with them through rituals and other means. You would have heard of how growth of plants can be affected when they are exposed to our music. All these are examples that animals and plants can actually communicate with us. We live in and share the same world. It is no surprise that we used to speak a common language in the past. But as time went by, we lost touch with this link between us and our cohabitants. Perhaps we feel that it is not important to listen anymore in this modern era, and eventually our inner selves will be shut out too.
Immersing ourselves in nature can help us recover this lost ability of ours. You may not be able to feel the animals and plants immediately, but you can start by appreciating their existence and be grateful to them for making this world a beautiful place to live in. What will be a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon by the beach, listening to the waves? How peaceful will it be to stroll along a stream in the forest, with the sound of distant waterfall in the background? Pick up a hobby that allows you to indulge in the wonders of nature.
Take your first step to regain what you once had long ago and live life again.
A good hobby is not what just helps you pass time. It should benefit you in your growth too. Let’s go back to ask the Kalahari Bushman, though to him hunting is not just a hobby but a livelihood, ‘what happens if after five hours under the scorching heat, you totally lose track of the kudu? Or a lion gets to it first at the last minute and snatch your whole village’s dinner away?’ What do you think will be the bushman’s reply? He will tell you that’s how life is. Life may not always turn out to be what you expect it to be even though you have put in lots of effort. If it is not how you want it, you just have to try again but this time with the new experiences gained previously. For the bushman, he cannot give up because it is a matter of life and death for him to find food to feed his family. But to us where things are made much easily available nowadays, we tend to give up too easily when faced with failures.
We have to learn the art of perseverance. We all know that perseverance is one of the crucial factors to achieve one’s goals. But what makes it an art? It is the ability to accept whatever outcome as it is. Be it good or bad, and after all the time and effort we had put in, it is still viewed as a positive result. The bushman does not master perseverance hunting overnight. It is through multiple failures, learning from past mistakes and most importantly with a positive attitude that he can grow to become an efficient hunter.
How do we train the art of perseverance in a natural environment when most of us live in cities where there are no wild kudus or deer roaming around for us to hunt? We can look into the biggest entity on earth - the ocean. It covers more than 70% of the surface of our planet, not to mention lakes, streams and rivers. There is actually a specific term for this form of hunting on water, it is called fishing. But fishing involves taking the lives of animals, the very being we had mentioned earlier that we want to learn to communicate. “Isn’t this destroying more of nature?” Some may wonder.
Everything in this world has to be balanced to be in harmony. The death of an animal may mean the birth of another which is relying on its flesh for survival. It’s the law of nature for certain species of animals to be food for others, and wood from trees to provide us shelter. The key is to take only what is required and give back what you are supposed to. Nothing really dies. It just comes back in a new form.
Through consuming our own catch and going back to how our ancient ancestors used to live their lives, we will be able to get in touch with what was lost within us long ago - the gratefulness for the world that we live in, and the empathy for all living things on earth.
The lessons we learn from fishing - the perseverance, immersion in nature and communicating with it – gives us the ability to understand and appreciate the world we live in, thus we will feel like protecting it. Nature and we are one. We have to use our knowledge to maintain its sustainability instead of exploiting it for short-sighted selfish gains. It is not by chance we are gifted in our own unique ways as human beings. Use our gifts wisely.
- Barnard, Alan (2007). Anthropology and the Bushman.
- Attenborough, David (2002). Program 10: Food For Thought (pdf). Documentary The Life of Mammals. BBC. This documentary shows a bushman hunting a kudu antelope until it collapsed.
- Frey, Rodney (2002). Homo Erectus, Persistent Hunting, and Evolution.
- Warren D. TenHouten (2013). Emotion and Reason: Mind, Brain, and Social Domains of Work and Love.
- Bramble, Dennis; Lieberman, Daniel (2004). Endurance running and the evolution of Homo.
- Makransky, Bob (2001). Magical Living.