Learning bushcraft from the San people (Edwina Cagol)
Blog Words : Family Travel | 30 May

What the Kalahari bushmen taught my children

The Cagols head deep into the Kalahari where their children learn bush survival from the world’s best – Namibia’s San people

We leave Lüderitz early and head into the heart of the Kalahari Desert. It’s a 7-hour drive, pretty much desert all the way, and over the 380 kilometres we only pass four vehicles.

We arrive at the Kalahari Resort just as sun is setting. We had booked a camping pitch but they have plenty of room available so we strike a deal to get upgraded to the pool rooms with dinner and breakfast included. We have not seen much game on the menu on our travels but tonight the choice is either oryx steak or springbok potjie.

The beauty of travelling with our kids and educating them on the road is that learning can happen at any time and is a lot more ‘hands on.’ Tonight, for example, we took them on a star safari. They got to see the Milky Way, clearly, through a telescope, as well as Jupiter with its two bands and four moons. They also got to see the rings of Saturn, Mars and a star cluster called Omega Centauri.

The kids really have taken an interest in the stars on this trip and our star safari  guide is blown away by the number of constellations the kids can name. Maddalena is extremely excited by seeing the rings of Jupiter – it's something she has been asking to see for some time on this trip.

The guide is so taken aback by their enthusiasm for the night sky that he invites them back for lunch tomorrow to look at the sun. There is a huge solar flare coming out of the sun at the moment, he says, and the kids nod their heads enthusiastically. 

Our plan is to spend four days here resting and catching up on school work. It is near impossible to do school work when on the road. You need somewhere to sit with the kids to make sure they understand what they are learning.

 The San heading into the bush (Edwina Cagol)

Of course, the activities the kids are doing as part of our trip is helping with their education too. On our second day we went on a bushman walk with the San people to learn more about their traditions and way of life.

The San are a nomadic people, but sadly most of the land they wandered across has been taken away from them. There are only a few nomadic tribes living the traditional life these days, supplementing their income but allowing tourists to visit their village.

Our guide introduced us to a bushman and translated his ‘clicking’ language into English. He took us a little way into the scrub and showed the children how to trap an ostrich, what to do if they were stung by a scorpion and how to stop constipation in the bush. When we got back to the village we were welcomed by an elder who showed them a small bow and went on to explain its significance.

It was a love bow, apparently, and when the bushman needed a wife he would walk to the next village and ‘shoot’ the woman who took his fancy on the bottom. The bow is small and the arrows are not sharp enough to pierce the skin, so it is largely ceremonial. The woman would then either leave the arrow on the ground or place it on her heart to show she had accepted the offer,

Luca is too young to be looking for a wife, but he was quite taken by the tiny bow and arrow.  The quiver is made of oryx horn and springbok skin, and decorated with discs made from ostrich bone and egg shell. He uses his pocket money to buy one and spends the rest of the day shooting his arrows. Let's just hope he doesn't get back to the UK and start shooting arrows at a girl’s bottom!

 The kids in a San Village (Edwina Cagol)

Our final day in the Kalahari is very relaxing – just school work and pool time. This short break has been just what we needed to get the kids to do regular lessons. They have been fired up by what they learned from the star safari guide and the bushmen and tackle the lessons with enthusiasm and no complaints.

Early the next morning we head to the big dunes of Namibia. It’s their reward for studying so hard.

Edwina and Mauro Cagol are travelling around the world for a year with their three young children. To find out more about their adventures, visit their blog.