!Khwa ttu, on the West Coast of South Africa, is a unique space that introduces visitors to the culture and history of the San – past, present and future. Not in a structured or institutional kind of way, as most museums tend to do, but in a tactile, experiential way, introducing the way of the San through the senses – sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell.
Michael Daiber, General Manager of !Khwa ttu, shares his heart with me, his vision for this proud, yet often marginalised people and their incredible wealth of knowledge. Knowledge that could so easily be lost. He tells how, back in 1999, the late Swiss anthropologist Irene Staehelin, bought a farm so that a San Culture and Educational Centre could be established and this ancient history and knowledge be preserved, continued and extended.
From Michael, and San guide Joram, I learn about southern Africa’s First People, the original inhabitants of this same land. I learn how art tells a story, how the stars are a gateway to the heavens beyond. How tools of old were made and how human history is linked to these ancient hunter gatherers.
I learn about the tragic outcomes of colonisation… the de-humanising of these humble yet self-sufficient people as they were poked, prodded and photographed in the name of science. And how they were removed from the land they had roamed for generations as colonial farmers took ownership.
The heartlessness of this injustice sat heavy on my soul. Fortunately, the experience didn’t stop there, and soon my senses were awakened with the sound of birdsong, the buzzing of bees and the cheerful family comings and goings of the San way of life. I was walking through the incredible, state-of-the-art, Way of the San building – if one could even call it a building.
The ‘Way of the San’, is so much more than a history lesson, it’s a lesson about life. Life lived then… and now. Life lived with respect for those around you, respect for nature and the environment. To taking only what is necessary, to giving back and keeping little. Carrying my backpack, camera and cell phone, I felt weighed down by stuff. Necessary for the task at hand, but stuff, nonetheless.
With these thoughts still searching for a place to settle in my mind, I was introduced to Dongue Dala, and with a beautiful smile she introduced me to the !Khwa ttu herbal tea, its medicinal quality a taste that I’m sure would take time to acquire!
Next was chef Lily Jansen and the most delicious soup I have ever tasted – made from Spekboom leaves (Portulacaria afra). I learnt that the Spekboom is high in vitamin C, that its good for dehydration, exhaustion and heatstroke, making it the perfect snack when hiking through arid regions.
We were introduced to the chickens and their innovated egg-laying facilities – repurposed filing cabinets made for easy access to the freshly laid eggs – just brilliant, and met Luca Samba as we walked through the vegetable and herb garden and the newly developing plant nursery (a favourite of the local eland).
The relatively new II Kabbo Training Centre is a place for mentorship and training, where up to 30 San go through the educational skills development annually, enabling them to make life choices and decisions regarding their future. Some have gone on to study further, many have started their own businesses or entered the workplace, with some are even working at !Khwa ttu. My heart is full knowing that what these young men and women can now have hopes and dreams, not just for themselves, but for their family’s too.
Words & Images – Tessa Buhrmann