Honouring the worlds most sustainable people

Request on collaboration to honour our forefathers, the world’s most sustainable people

Sustainability means the capacity to endure. In animal life the ‚surviving of the fittest‘ presents us with this crucial outline that enables a continuation in development of a particular species. Others species are unsustainable and get extinct.

The homo erectus/ergaster was through ‚natural selection‘ outlived by the Homo sapiens. Compassion, imagination and creativity were needed to survive and evolve. This suggests that fitness was not enough anymore, the animal had to be brainy also.

In the last five thousand years of human history we have witnessed numerous civilisations appear and collapse. Seemingly immortal empires as the Egyptians, the Greek, the Romans, the Mayas, the Incas, the Ottoman and the Spanish and British Empire finally exposed limited lifespan. We need to conclude that all these cultures lacked the ability to be sustainable.

So, are there any sustainable cultures at all and how did they manage to survive?

We need to look for cultural groupings of people with specific set of ideas, customs and practises that have endured beyond tens of thousands of years where we may find some answers on this question. But how do we know that these people have existed before the Egyptians or the Mesopotamians? In the recent exploration of the origins of human evolution, Stanford scientists concluded that the human family tree is rooted in one of the world’s most marginal and ‚primitive‘ people – the San (Bushmen) of Southern Africa.

„We have to recognise our origins in a kind of hunter-gatherer group that most people today would say (is) much more primitive than we are,“ said Stanford biology professor Marcus Feldman. „They don’t use metal. They live in the toughest kind of environment, with very little water. Their hunting tools are minimal; they have a very-low calorie diet…but they are total geniuses in the bush.“ Further, he explained, „over tens of thousands of years, we lost the skills they have, that they teach their children. We developed a totally different set of values – with evolution through agriculture – that bypassed these people.“

Evolutions through agriculture and in addition the industrial and digital revolution supply tools such as film and new media. These are powerful tools to express thoughts and knowledge. The skill to master these tools can be obtained by practically any person.

We are set out to teach the Bushman these skills. This may be the means to provide us with new ideas and an understanding on how they have reached to be the world leaders on sustainability.

Lets celebrate our forefathers, the source of human kind and masters of sustainability by honouring them before it will be too late. Give them the chance to show us their vision on live, death and the sustainability that made us an endurable species.

Celebrating and honouring the San means celebrating humanity and after all, showing self-respect. The idea is that the San will be making their own fiction film with the thematic on suicide and a parody on men’s attempt to escape the animal kingdom. Suicide is not part of their vocabulary, however comparable to the Inuit, this phenomena becomes a widespread practice. In order to grasp the action of self-killing, one needs to bring this problematic into the picture, which will empower them to talk about it. At the same time we need to present a counter vision to the global audience on the popular Hollywood-like production ‚The Gods must be Crazy‘ that misinterprets core values of the San.

In other words I propose an intercultural ‘swap-shop’ situation as a means of discovering what conditions have changed the fabric of their cohesion and is driving the members to suicide; and to empowering them with Western technologies with which to introspect, craft and disseminate their story. For this intervention I devoted the last decade into high-tech pioneering and physically developing the World in a Shell (WiaS) as a tool to practically utilize and facilitate this swap-shop situation. In homage to indigenous people’s core operating principles, it is nomadic, adaptive, and off the grid. It provides the infrastructure for cultural exchange via workshops, film screenings, theatre and filmmaking, and in the same way it draws on renewable natural energy, to power and facilitate this infrastructure.

After a three-month period of location scouting in the Kalahari Desert and presenting the project to the local Kuru-Trust, the largest San organization I received an official invitation. Irena Burkova, Director General, UNESCO in Paris granted her patronage to the project.

We would like to invite you to ‘adopt’ a San with the idea to provide and convey your skills and make him or her a film director.


Impression of WiaS at the Tsodilo Hills (the ‘Louvre of the Kalahari Desert’) in Nord-West Botswana


D’Kar location scouting

If it wasn’t for the letter of invitation from the Kuru Trust in D’Kar, near Ghanzi, in the Kalahari dessert of Botswana, letting us know by e-mail that the local San elders were eager to meet me and listen to my story, it might have been the San in Namibia or Angola that I chose to focus on. But, before continuing with the story, some basic information on the Kalahari and the San people.


The Kalahari, Africa’s second largest Desert, stretches through six southern African countries, with Botswana at its centre. This is also where the Okavango River drains into the heart of the desert. The Kalahari supports one of the largest variety of animals, plants and other natural treasures of any desert in the world. No wonder that all available DNA research on human origins traces them back to this place. The San or Bushmen, are directly descended from the original population of early human ancestors, which gave rise to all other groups of Africans and are the oldest population of humans on Earth. Our very own forefathers thus, originated from this part of the world some 70.000 years ago, later crossing to the Middle East and then spreading to other parts of the world, to Europe and Asia, via Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to Australia, and via the Baring Straight to the Americas.

Starting in the 19th century, colonisation brought lots of misery to the nomadic people in this part of the world. Firstly, by establishing boarder lines between the colonial powers and defining those areas as territories and countries. Once they eventually pulled out, the newly established self ruling governments did not recognize or even make any attempt to differentiate amongst the variety of local ethnic groups and to divide the land appropriately. In Botswana there are four distinctly different ethnic groups.


We received a warm welcome from the Kuru Trust co-ordinator in D’Kar, who offered us hospitality at the Dqae Qare farm during the time we stayed. In this period I met with the elders and staff of D’Kar and the Kuru Trust and presented the project. Not at the Kgotla, but at the coordinators office. They had many questions, were quite critical, and had a healthy attitude to forming their opinions. Altogather, we spent a fortnight at the farm and a lot of different things took place there, the details of which can be found in another cable.

It was clear that placement of the World in a Shell should be near to the centre of the village. The place I spotted is close to the local art centre and the Kgotla across the road.


At the time of the visit in D’Kar an important event was on the agenda. The President and some ministers of Botswana announced a visit to the village. The coordinator of the Kuru Trust suggested that one should use the opportunity to personally present the project to the president, which I did later at the Kgotla. (thanks to the photo by John Sikalera).


It saddened me that a San lady who visited the farm told us that she prefers to work for Europeans, because in her experience they treated her with much more respect than the local people. She was obviously trying to see if we had some work for her.


Hunting party at Dqae Qare Farm

To celebrate the completion of the huts they picked a day to have a feast. But for this to happen they needed to put a sizable amount of food on the table. So they asked me to help with the hunt. 

We left in the early morning in search of a Kudu, a Wildebeest and a Warthog. The local rules are that only people with a hunting license are allowed to hunt, even on private property. Since usually the Bushmen do not have licenses, a hunter from a neighboring farm was asked to come along and shoot these animals. While riding around and standing in the back of a pickup truck the San members of the hunting party could always spot the animal long before anybody else even got a glimpse of it. During the hunt all the shooting was very precise, and the animals usually died immediately with little suffering.


It was my first ever hunt and I found it a bit gross at times, especially when the Warthog was shot. There was a group of three, a mother and two children, standing by a watering hole.  When the gun went off the oldest sibling fell immediately to the ground and his kid brother, apparently confused and somewhat in a state of shock, just stood there for a second before running after his mother into the bush. 


I decided that this hunting stuff was not my cup of tea.


There was a lot of organisation required beforehand for Anne, the one in charge. Fortunately at Dqae Qare, the interests and needs of the San people are very well considered and taken care of. Most of the San are not particularly good at structural organisation in the sense of management, except for emotional organisation within their community, which is rather remarkable. We westerners can learn a great deal from them about organising our communities in a more healthy way in regard to sexual equality, how we treat one another other and, most importantly, how we treat our children. In the name of progress the San should be able to devise their own school curriculum and be teachers themselves.


At the beginning of the feast, John welcomed some special guests who had been invited, and then, of course, there were some speeches to start things off and give the happening an official character. Cooking had begun already the night before with almost one hundred hungry people invited to participate in the event. As soon as the pots and pans arrived at table all the people cued up in a line to get their share.


There was even enough food for everybody to have a second helping.


I have to admit, despite everything, that Ronny’s BBQ’ed Warthog meat was really very tasty.


A thing that struck me was the diet of the people, which is not far from the diet of the typical American, lots of fat and sugar. Especially the later caught my attention. Three tablespoons minimum of sugar for one cup of tea!


Seemingly these ladies enjoyed their brew enormously.


By the time it grew evening some dancers were getting ready for traditional rituals.


For me, the experience of the people singing and dancing, not within the framework of the usual tourist ‚Bushmen experience‘, but just for themselves, as something which they like and enjoy, and to carry on all night (except for the occasional sugar boost brakes) till sunrise, was very important.


It provided me with evidence that the original San spirits have not completely vanished yet.


Building huts at Dqae Qare Farm

During the stay at the Dqae Qare farm, the people were in the midst of building a new ‚village‘, a series of huts for which they had to gather materials, process them, and put them together.


The reed and grass were carefully picked and transported to the location.


It was then soaked in water in small bundles, to be later, except for the bottom row, placed neatly upside down in layers to form a protection from the environment.


Around the entrance there was a separate bunching of reed spun and fixed to the wood branches.  


Rope was made by gently crunching some grass fibre to separate into smaller strings, which were then patiently knotted together and rolled up in the form of a ball.


Finally the rope was pulled around the hut to keep the reed in place. There was no mosquito netting included in the structure however, so that sleeping might be a bit of an uncomfortable experience.


These new huts are meant for the people from D’Kar, for an overnight stay and an opportunity for people to get more connected. At the same time and while doing so they can get more in touch with their traditions in an environment that feels their own; a place for practising their dances and other rituals.


As Paul Oliver says:   ‚…a dwelling is more then the material from which it is made, the labour that has gone into its construction, or the time and money that may have been expended on it, the dwelling is the theatre of our lives…‘


Hitchhiker on the Trans Kalahari Highway

We were traveling in a Landrover on what is now called the Trans Kalahari Highway and picked up a hitchhiker. This was in Namibia in March of 1990. It was the fortnight before Namibia’s independence and Ziggy Marley was invited to play at a festival in the capital Windhoek. As soon as the hitchhiker stepped in the car I was curious about him and started to ask questions. He spoke Afrikaans and fortunately, so did my travelling mate, John. The hitchhiker was born in a small village in Namibia’s Northeast, close to the boarder of Botswana and was on his way home. He told us that years ago he was recruited as a soldier by the South African army to track and fight against the SWAPO (South-West Africa People Organisation). Now, the war was over and he was afraid to go back to his village without any work. The only thing he had ever learned was to fight.


Then on my trip in this part of the world in 2011, some 20 years later, we picked up another two hitchhikers on a road running parallel to the Namibian boarder. They told us where the turnoff to the Namibian border crossing was.


There had been no visible road sign whatsoever – as in ‘Namibian boarder turn left here!’.


Journey vs. Arrival

The journey may be the goal, but is the arrival underrated? 

Recently in southern Africa I had a sense of déjàvu, while location scouting in an old Toyota, trying to find one particular village of the San people in the Botswana Kalahari Desert. In this part of the world, distances are enormous and the road often rough. My transport alone posed such a challenge that I needed to reconsider the value of arriving. I felt the same thing last year at the opening of the World in a Shell exhibition at the Museumpark in Rotterdam after all the years of preparation! 


What exactly does it mean to go location scouting on the other side of the world? This is not the kind of activity, which is usually in one’s daily agenda. One should consider it as a specialized task, where you have to do a lot of research before arriving, and the reality is then often quite different than what you expected. For me, this is exciting. It raises my adrenaline level and allows me to get back to the root of things, able to intuitively manage situations, make decisions on the fly and directly become part of the consequences.


Twijfelfontein visit


It was not intended to stay in Twijfelfontein for such a long time. All of a sudden, the car had broken down about 20 km before reaching the destination and we ended up getting towed by some friendly people to the one and only garage within a radius of 150 km, the maintenance workshop of the Twijfelfontein Lodge.


Although in a beautiful setting and a designated UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site, with its large amount of Bushmen paintings, the sun was bearing down on us and we were running out of food supplies. Fortunately the friendly management and staff at the Lodge helped us not to starve. At the time, the locals were desperate for the arrival of the rainy season, which transforms the dry and dusty area with its fertile soil into a temporary Garden of Eden.


Rain clouds could in fact be seen in the distance and even some occasional lightning flashes on the horizon during the night, but it never made it too far south of there. Finally after a week in the garage it turned out that the timing rod on our vehicle was worn out and a spare one could be found from an old wreck in a village nearby.


Rock Dassie, or Hyrax is the closest relative to the Elephant


WiaS exhibition Westerpark


Spaceship lands in Westerpark“ was an eye catcher on the large grass field at the Cultuurpark. Within the framework of PICNIC the project was aiming to make a difference in approach to meet its obligation as a source for inspiration rather then a tool for idea hunters and network maniacs. Therefore actors have been staged to create a relaxed and familiar atmosphere, while drawing visitors into philosophical discussions. It created an environment where the spectators became a part of the exhibition themselves and seemed to eagerly engage in discussion. One acting couple especially contributed to a general atmosphere of happiness, kissing in a hammock, while another referred visitors with technical questions to a five year old boy, who then guided them around with the needed explanation.


 In addition, there were various screens around the shell showing a series of anthropological films about the lifestyle of different nomadic peoples, such as the Inuit and Bushmen, and how they built their igloos and huts quite rapidly using available materials. In contrast to WiaS itself, which has taken almost ten years to complete and so simultaneously poses questions about the sustainability of our technology.   


Especially on weekends the project was drawing crowds of visitors driven by curiosity and often asking the question „What is it?„. The visitors, who did not have enough time for one reason or another, often rushed through the exhibition and on exiting commented, „I don’t understand it, but I like it!“


This public presentation was a contrast to the exhibition at the Museumpark hosted by the NAi, where WiaS was placed on the grass field between the NAi and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen and where the context of the project was evident. In the Westerpark it felt as if people did not really understand that an object can be placed for a longer period of time, without any obvious function. Since there was no commercial advertisement to be seen and the object itself was not extremely weird looking, it was hard for people to figure it out. This makes me aware that an independent art project on this scale is still something rather special in this time and place.


 Some quotes by spectators written in the visitor book:Sam : „Wonderful eye-catcher and beautiful concept!Alex : „A masterpiece of great living!Francisco : „Zukunftsmusik, geilMarike  „Interesting, but I don’t understand everythingDimiti : „What’s the point?Eef and Kevin : „Not sure what to think of it, but IT and YOU do inspire us in some kind of way…and    we love Max!Anonymous : „Interesting, but didn’t have time to grasp everythingMirco : „Leonardo would be proud of this structureJetske : „Thank you for your honest perception on technology