Jun 15

Secrets of the Bushmen

by in Africa, Botswana

When you are a Bushman, you have to know how to live off the land.  We took a walk with some Bushmen to learn about the wild life of the Kalahari Desert. We learned how to hunt, and to recognize some useful plants and their properties, along with some other valuable survival skills.

My mom was nervous about the tall grass. She thought that there were lions just waiting to eat us. However, when a bushman proposes to a girl, the girl’s family will make him prove himself. He might have to make a fire, or he might just have to scare a lion away from its kill, no weapons or tools allowed. Our guides said they knew people who actually had to do that. We figured we were in good hands.


Some of the useful plants we found were:

  • The Wild Cucumber; a small, spiky shelled cucumber. The spikes are relatively soft, not to worry.
  • The Wild Melon; A tiny wild melon that from the outside looks like a watermelon. (We didn’t see inside)
  • The Poison Apple; A spindly plant that produces very small and very bright yellow balls. The roots are used to stop coughing, and the leaves to stop diarrhea.

There was also some other plant that stopped hiccups, but I forget what it was.

Then there was the hunting…

Bow and Arrow

Bushmen use a stick from a brandy tree and animal sinew for their bows. They then have a three part arrow (the arrowhead, the shaft, and a connecter) with an iron arrowhead. In olden times the iron arrow head would be carved out of a piece of a giraffe’s thigh bone, or a porcupine quill. However, they would also poison their arrows with the juice of a certain beetle larvae. The juice is strong enough to take down a giraffe (or a grown man!) with one arrow. The toxin moves slowly through the animal, so after a hit the Bushmen did one of two things:

a)      They come back the next morning and follow the animal’s tracks, confirming that it is the correct animal when they find the shaken loose shaft along the trail, or

b)      They would chase the animal and cause the blood to circulate more rapidly and therefore result in a faster kill.


Spring Hare Hunting

 To hunt the Spring Hare the Bushmen used a special kind of tool.

One person would stick it in the burrow and hook the hare, and then estimate its location by counting how many stick lengths were inserted, and the second person would dig the hare out from above.

This tool was also dragged behind you, and created a line of broken grass tips that you could follow back to your village.


I think that this snare is so cool that it deserves its own section.

Basically, you find a flexible but strong branch and tie your rope (with a catch partway up) on to it securely. Take the rope that comes before the catch and tie it into a slip knot. Next, you stick a bit of bait on a short and stout, forked twig. Then put down the bait, and take out your special upside down “U” tool. Dig a hole and put the “U” in the hole, before filling up the hole so that only the top arch of the “U” remains out of the ground. Push a piece of flat bark in to the ground in front of the “U”. Then thread your rope under the “U” and hook your catch on top, quickly place your bait twig under it so that the part of the fork without the bait is under the catch, and keeping it from coming undone.


 Stick a bunch of twigs in a circle around the bait. Now take the slip knot, or should I say noose, and put it around the sticks WITHOUT triggering the snare. This will make sure that the slip noose doesn’t get messed up. Next time a Guinea Fowl comes along you’ll get yourself a delicious meal. Just make sure to check your snare often so other predators don’t steal your kill. To test it for yourself, just take a stick and poke the bait.

When we got to the end of the walk, the trio of Bushmen showed us a slightly smaller version of a typical hut, and used their final tools to make a fire with friction; it only took them less than two minutes!

Afterwards, they taught us “Rock, Paper, Scissors” Bush style.

You kneel and hit your knees with each syllable: “Ta-Kee-Ha!”

If you make a claw with your hand, you are a Lion.

If you make a dog head you are an Oryx.

If you make a flat hand (Palm up) then you are Grass.

Lion eats Oryx, Oryx eats Grass, and Grass beats Lion. How can grass beat a Lion? Because if a Lion tries to only eat grass, he will die.

Other notable Bushman tools include an Ostrich egg with a hole in the top. When you first get the egg, you shake it to make sure that it is not fertile, and then you drill a hole, take a twig that ends with an obtuse angle, put the obtuse part in the hole, then do the same rubbing thing that you do to those little propellers on a stick, and make scrambled eggs! Enough for a 12 person omelet!!! Then the egg can be filled with water and sealed with bees wax to be used as a water bottle. Another tool was a turtle’s shell. It could be a hat in the summer, a basket, and a digging shovel. They also use “elephant ear” leaves for toilet paper.

I thought that the life of a Bushmen sounded pretty cool.

In fact, my mom and I decided that in my prior life, I was a Bushman.

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