Kalahari Survival Guide: The Bushmen Axe

October 23, 2017

The most obvious and ubiquitous of the bushmen tools in the field and around the village is the bushaxe.

I as a tool guy couldn’t help but be messmerized at the bushaxe. It harkens to the legendary tomahawk carried by Native Americans and frontiersmen of the US.

Unlike other axes and hawks, this tool does not have a conventional eye, instead it has a shank and fitted and pressed into a root burl of a hard wood. This allowed the tool to be converted in seconds and used as a axe, hoe, scraper, adze and as a small ulu type knife. There were some smaller examples in the village that primarily were used in the adze configuration. Each tool is crafted differently based on the many variations of axe heads, handle straightness or curve, and of course the whims of each craftsman.



All of the axe handles at Nhoma were made from the trunk and root burl of the Terminalia sericea. It was pronounced to me by my translator, Bertus, as “Silver Terminaria” but the link describes it as terminalia. Maybe due to regional dialects.

The tree has blueish green leaves with silvery hairy bottoms of the leaves. After the first unsuccessful hike to go dig out and fell a silver terminaria for my own tool, I quikly was able to identify the tree from a distance and than appraise if each individual tree was suitable for a straight handled, sturdy, bushaxe. Typical of the bushmen’s lessons to me, it was coyote style, and we failed often, likely on purpose to teach me a lesson more than could be learned if we went out and they pointed out a great tree for me the first attempt.

The forging of the blade of the axe is a bit of a mystery to me. I was told the village blacksmith had passed, and he knew best to answer my questions. I do summise that each axe blade has been heat treated as the bushmen were careful to tell me not to overheat the axe head too much when fitting it to the completed handle.




Thanks for following along on the journey! More to come as fast as I can get it done.

Kalahari Survival Guide: Building Snare Traps

March 1, 2017

The Ju/wa trapping techniques are simple, elegant, requiring little to no modern tool use and is created using only found materials from the Kalahari.

Everyone in the village knows basic tracking to an extent men women children, and when they know of good spots, where birds land and peck they will set up these spring snares and check them daily.

The first part of setting up the bushmen trap is to have bait. The bushmen often use the sedge tubers found under tufts of grass like sedge, false mopane seeds from the false mopane tree, or rarely the nuts of the manketti tree. These plants are discussed in passing and detail in many other videos of post of mine, they seem integral to the bushman way of life. Bellow here is another close up of the onion like sedge tuber or tiger nut.


The next step is to find areas rich with sign of bird activity on the ground. The time of year I was with the tribe, the watering holes were all full of water, so every site that we set up traps was by this water that not only had bird tracks but tracks of every species, lion, hyena, leopard, elephant, kudu, buffalo. Oh my!

A cord with a girth hitch on each end is created from Sanseveria. A toggle with a short inch long cord is in attached behind the noose end of the trap. This inch long toggle is part of the trigger system.


A springy branch is anchored into the ground. The snare is attached to the end. A very simple but effective trigger is created using a u shaped anchor, and a bait stick, the trigger toggle of the snare is looped around the anchor and held delicately in place with the bait stick. The snare is kept spread out with little bits of grass shaft. The bushmen always lean in close and blow away the dust around the snare and bait.


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