Kalahari Survival Guide: Gathering with the women of the village

February 15, 2017

Journal date: April 20 2015

I read in Elizabeth Marshal Thomas’s book and understood that much of the calories of a Ju/wa village came from the long walks and heavy loads borne by the women of the village. I used this knowledge to shape my strategy for my time on Naked and Afraid, focusing most of my time on exploring on foot during the day and gathering the plants that I had learned about.

I spent most of my time with the hunters, men, who were accustomed to guiding and showing things to foreigners. My interactions with the women were much much different. They did not like to make much eye contact, they were shy and quiet, they did not joke around and tease when I messed something up. I suspect they simply don’t have many tourist ask them about what it is they do. They did not shy away from asking for a pinch of tobacco when a smoke break happened however.

After some chat with the headman !Kung and Bertus my translator, I was handed over to two women, their skin tan and unwrinkled unlike the old hunters. They were ageless too me, and when I did ask, they did not know how old they were.

We left out of the village mid morning for some few miles and they carried no weapons, or even edge tools, only their digging sticks. !To’s digging stick was shaped from a discarded spear shaft, and the bottom shaped with two edges for digging and rooting. Hoo Cam (spelling is probably wrong) carried some shaped piece of machinery steel that was heavy but dug deep by benefit of its weight. Both women were not topless in leathers like the pictures from the books showed. They were clothed head to toe in long colorful cloths. They had cloths tied around their hair, only their face and hands were showing. They each were drapped in several capes that they would use like the carrying hides of old to carry back what they found.

They chatted quietly among themselves, and did not pay me much mind, I persisted pointing out and asking what things were and what they were doing, they would give names only when I asked.


We discovered :


Wild Cucumber

Kalahari cucmber Cucumis kalahariensis

Wild Asparagus

Brandy Bush Berries

Mounds of Manketti nuts

We rooted and collected the sedge tubers (Cyperus fulgens) which are onion like, they are used as bait for the bird traps, and they are also mixed into food such as the manketti nut butter mash.

Gemsbok Bean & Kalahari Truffle – Rare Namibian field guide to the plants used by the bushmen of Namibia and Botswana

The Harmless People – Elizabeth Marshal Thomas An amazing account of Thomas’s teen years spent studying the Ju/wa people

Kalahari Survival Guide: Bushmen’s Hunting Bag

December 11, 2016

The item’s the Bushmen carry on a hunt, is very interesting to me and I am sure to many other bushcrafters, woodsmen and hunters. We are a materialistic civilization, it is evident when going to read and watch content on the internet on the outdoors. There are always list of things, the 10 essentials, the 5 C’s and so forth.

The bushmen are no different, but what passes for enough for them many would consider to be incredibly spartan.


The thing in which they carry their equipment is a simple hand tanned shoulder bag, with one strap. It is carried like a purse over one shoulder only not across the body.

Inside is a tube made of the root of a certain species of Acacia tree(I don’t know the exact species) , where the outer bark and wood is strong but the inside is softer and pithier. The pith is hollowed out leaving the tube.

Inside this tube they carry their poisoned arrows. With the tip up. You see that the poison is only on the shaft of the arrow not on the blade of the broad head. They reach into the quiver by feel and gently grasp each point as it is needed.  If they think they will need several shots, they will on the same hand that holds the bow hold a few extra arrows.
Stored neatly in the bag is their bow, which is very small and low poundage. They draw it back only half way, and don’t have an anchor point like Eurasian archers. They still get decent accuracy, and the fletching less arrow goes quite far.
In the folds of the bag the scabbard for their spear, and tucked above all that is their axe.
In addition to their primary tools, a small knife is sometimes tucked inside the bag for small task and skinning game, but this is preference hunter to hunter. !Kung, the head man carries a traditional African double blade knife on a sheath on a western leather belt. !Tuka the old grizzled hunter carries no knife, but instead carries a larger axe with a heavier blade that could more quickly fell a tree.

There is often a hand full of snares made of natural cordage hand spun from the Zanzaberia plant, an aloe vera like desert succulent.

A few lumps of resin mixed with charcoal is their adhesive much like pine resin. A lump of beeswax propolis mix is a weak adhesive, which joins their spring hare hook joints together.

A few pieces of short sinew for repairs of their bow, arrows and other equipment.

A hand full of seeds of the false mopane tree can usually be found to bait the snares for birds.

A few nuts of the mangetti tree will be stored inside, although the nuts are so hard, they would have to use the blade of their ax to crack them against some hardwood log.

A bottle of water with a cotton cloth cover hand woven on it. In the old days I read they would carry an ostrich egg canteen. I have never seen a hunter need to drink water despite walking for about 8 hours in the 100*F heat. They seem to only drink in the morning and at night.

To top this off every Bushmen carries with them a set of traditional fire starting sticks, but all of them also have a box of matches or if they have it a bic lighter.

The bushmen love tobacco, so they always keep a small tin of tobacco, but they are always low and bum it off me because they know I have many pounds of it in my supplies at my basecamp.

To smoke their tobacco, the young bushmen like to roll up little cigarettes from newspaper that burns an acrid green.

The older men like to smoke out of copper pipes or large cartridge casings (300mag or 375HH) with the end sawn off. They wad up some grass into the mouthpiece of the pipe to make a rudimentary filter. After a few hits they roll the hot metal pipe in their hands up and down to cool it before putting it away.

They walk carrying their 15-20ft foot long rabbit hooks sticks up in the air.

-Don Nguyen

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