Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ ‘Op die Grond’: Writing In The San/d, Surviving Crime

I must go away. There to the sand, to the sand. To that Kalahari I must go. Where the grass is
(Anna Swart, interview, 2000).[i]

Getting there

Out of these sands and sunshine deeply embedded in our past is our future –
(Botswana World Tourism Day poster, 27 Sept 1999).

July 12, 2002. The armed guard at Makro, a giant wholesaler in Durban, was wearing a bulletproof vest. We were doing our last minute shopping. I’d never seen a guard in-store before. During apartheid, unarmed, mainly black guards, would, on entry to a store, politely and gingerly search customers’ bags for bombs, guns and grenades. Nelia Oets, already in Upington, 1200 kms to the northwest, called just before my group left Durban. She had been mugged and had hurt her ankle, and might have to cancel her participation. This was serious as Nelia’s 4X4 was crucial to the trip. We arrived at the Upington Protea Hotel, owned by Mary Lange’s brother-in-law, 24 hours later. Nelia had called us by mobile phone earlier. She was on her way to the Molopo Lodge, her foot in a brace.

At the periphery
The next morning in Upington I filled up with petrol. The attendant told me to lock my car. A local gang was casing us. A retired couple at the Molopo Lodge 200 kms north mentioned to us later that they had been targeted while at an Upington supermarket. The receptionist at the hotel in Upington mentioned the busload of Taiwanese tourists who had recently been held up, Ned Kelly style, on the Maputu corridor highway. Two white members of our party complained of being closely shadowed by a security in-store guard: no one was above suspicion. At the supermarket a newspaper vendor insisted on pushing my trolley. He refused to loosen his grip until Vanessa McLennan-Dodd and I had unpacked its contents into the Sani. He was allowed to sell papers at the front of the store provided he prevented trolley theft. Stolen shopping was usually taken to the lokasie (‘location’ – black dormitory area near Upington) where there are few shops, where most of the working class, poor, and unemployed live. While clinging onto the trolley, the vendor vigorously shooed away the odd beggar and other would-be helpers/assailants/muggers. Not a policeman in sight. I bought a Sunday Times from the vendor in gratitude and paid off the ever-watchful car guard. In the newspaper the ‘Careers’-section reported that the Western Cape was experiencing a recruitment boom, though hiring was flat in the other eight provinces (Sunday Times Careers 14 July 2003: 1). Maybe Upington, in the Northern Cape, was at the epicentre of this flatness?

When we got back to the hotel, ready to leave for the Kalahari, we learned that Marit Sætre, an MA-student from Norway, had become violently ill. It must be the soapy water, we thought. She explained that the four Norwegians registered in our Programme in Durban during 2002 periodically succumbed to a 24-hour tummy bug. In the future, I’ll not make fun of First World students whose overseas doctors tell them not to drink the (very clean) Durban tap water, eat the salad, or forget their malaria pills. So we left Charlize Tomaselli and Lauren Dyll with Marit at the Hotel, which offered them free lodging. Both later complained of having been accosted by drunken white men in the streets during broad daylight. Vanessa and I drove on to Witdraai, two hours north on tar, where we were to meet Nelia, graduate students Linje Manyozo and Tim Reinhardt, Damien Tomaselli and Sherieen Pretorius, who had arrived there on the 11th.

Charlize reported that Marit was admitted to hospital that afternoon. The hospital demanded R1,000 in cash up-front for the ward. The manager refused to accept Marit’s Norwegian medical insurance, her father’s card number, or my gold card and ID-numbers, which I phoned through from the Lodge. Wealth before health! Or, perhaps the fear of Marit not settling her debt was as great as was the fear of the vendor losing a trolley? A matter of degree perhaps? Eventually Charlize persuaded the hotel to advance the hospital’s charge. The hospital obviously had little understanding of how to deal with international visitors or global insurance companies, in an otherwise remote province, which prides itself on its unique tourism attractions.
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Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ Psychospiritual Ecoscience: The Ju/’hoansi And Cultural Tourism

The relation between knowledge and the visual, on the one hand, and knowledge about peoples on the other, is a prime concern in visual anthropology. The impact of the visual on the everyday life of the Ju/’hoansi is my concern here. The results of a field trip in July 1996 to Otjozondjupa (previously known as Bushmanland) in [i]Namibia, are discussed in terms of the question, ‘How do subjects make sense of the anthropological?’ Our ‘subject community’ was the Ju/’hoansi of Nyae Nyae. The ‘texts’ we interrogated via Ju/’hoansi popular memory were those made of them by documentary filmmaker John Marshall, South African feature film director Jamie Uys, and a documentary made for the Discovery Channel.

‘Science’ versus ‘priest-craft’
The Ju/’hoansi and broader San populations, among many instances of Third and Fourth World peoples, have been argued to be quintessentially the Other to the historical Same of Europe (Mudimbe 1988). This relationship was predicated upon the differences assumed to define Europeans (the Same) in contradistinction to Africans (the Other). The encounter between Europe and Africa has spanned five centuries, and progressed through missionary contact, colonisation, interactions with anthropologists, archaeologists and ethnographic filmmakers, through to the economics of development in the post-colonial era. When the victorious ‘scientific’ order of knowledge was faced with cultures predicated on other kinds of world-views, it responded through two mutually exclusive avenues:
– the world view and behaviour of the Other was treated as ‘priest-craft’[ii] and consequently something to be vanquished. The early history of contact between San and white (and black) settlers whom they encountered, for example, is dominated by extermination. Conversely,
– science tried to ‘conserve’ the Other in museums, in film, photographs and video, in body through mummification and even in the field itself. Rob Gordon (1985) calls this ‘death by conservation’.

However, a third avenue characterized by postmodernity, has collapsed the modernist distinctions between science and priest-craft. The respective narrators of Dancing at the future (Stander 1996) and The art of tracking (Discovery Channel 1996) have, as I will argue in the next chapter, located ethnography at the intersection of these previously opposed discourses. Ethnography is then commodified via the language of cultural tourism, thinly dressed up in the semantics of ‘conservation’ and ‘development’. This particular language of conservation is embedded in the mystique of ‘priest-craft’ and indigenous knowledge, and is evoked for ‘scientific’ and development purposes.

Claims made in the late 1990s, by researchers on the validity of ‘ancient indigenous knowledge’ in relation to ‘science’, however, blur the previous separation of the Western Same and the anthropological Other. The new ethnospiritual/ecoscience integrates the mystical, the empirical and the theoretical. These intersect within a meta-discourse of a global fraction of capital, that of eco-tourism. ‘Man’ – that is to say, some ‘men’ – e.g. the ‘Bushmen’ – are ontologically rejoined with ‘nature’, which has now become a ‘scientific’ pursuit in the interests of cultural tourism.

Anthro-tourism and human conservation
When science draws on the paradigm of ‘conservation’ it tends to view indigenous cultures as autonomous objects of study and manipulation. Indeed, this ‘scientific’ value for the ‘scholarly research’ of creating reserves for Bushmen is a recurring call (Gordon 1992: 60, 64, 148). As Dancing at the future and The art of tracking suggest, rehabilitation through eco-tourism satisfies ‘… the practical demands of Western science’ (Dancing 1996). N.A.A Davis (1954: 53), reports, for example, that the 1950s policy of the South West African Administration (SWAA)[iii] was to preserve ‘the genuinely primitive Bushmen’ and ‘make them useful and contented people’ (Davis 1954: 57). The SWAA-ethnologist KFR Budack classified the ‘Bushmen’ as quintessential hunter-gatherers, knowing no other economy. Assumptions which derive from this hold is that Bushmen: a) are incapable of future planning; b) lack objectivity with regard to the natural world; c) are ‘conditioned’ to killing animals and cannot therefore raise them; and d) have no experience or knowledge of farming (quoted in Volkman 1985). These are recurring motifs in the films discussed in this book. As Gordon (1992: 216) states:
… science has a vested interest in the Bushmen, for, as Trefor Jenkins said, from the vantage point of science, the Bushmen are ‘southern Africa’s model people’ (Jenkins 1979: 280). Whereas filmmakers and journalists were the Bushmen image makers par excellence, it was scientific research that lent credibility to their enterprise.
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Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ Textualising The San ‘Past’: Dancing With Development

The ‘exterminating’ impact of Uys’ The Gods must be crazy (1980) on the Ju/’hoansi, is a topic discussed by Robert Gordon (1992: 1). This film’s use of tongue-in-cheek documentary codes includes the ‘pseudoscientific narrator’ humorously relating the central San character’s first encounters with the signs of modernity (a coke bottle, tyre tracks in the sand, etc.). This narration draws on the naturist perceptions of the Other, so successfully popularised by early anthropology, and by commentators like Ross (1976), and Davis’ informants (1954).[i]

Alby Mangels’ commentary in Adventure bound (1993) sums up the debilitating Western common sense: ‘They do not seem to carry the pressure of the past as we do in the West’. Trapped in time as the Bushmen are, all ‘we’ (the West) can do is ‘dance’ (with them) as the encounter straddles ‘then’ and ‘now’. What is ironic in Mangels’ commentary is that it unwittingly intercepts a root metaphor for Ju/’hoansi symbolic action. The ritual of dancing offers a way of accessing ‘boiling energy’ to effect spiritual contact, healing and to address dislocations in the harmony of quotidian life (cf. Katz et al. 2001; Katz 1982). Mangels’ visualisation of this idea, however, evokes a Western view of the Bushmen as non-rational, given to instinctive impulses rather than intellectual cognition. The result is to exoticise an activity that has serious cultural and spiritual dimensions. I now turn to our negotiation of the multiple texts – popular memory, film, and social – that we encountered in Otjozondjupa.

Development: Dancing with time
Otjozondjupa is serviced by the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNDFN) and various state agencies (Health, Environment, and through the often erratic provision of food rations). While we were there in July 1996, the average individual calorie intake was 2,500 a day. This dropped to 1,000 in 1997, when government rations were not delivered (P. Wiessner, Personal comment, 5 April 1998). We interviewed villagers at N/aqmtjoha and the /Aotcha Pan on the films about them, and especially on their perception of the Herero, who were pushing northwards into Otozondjupa with their cattle.

Photo-elicitation techniques applied by Jeursen and Morgan, with regard to a 1992-Spoornet calendar in which ‘Bushmen’ are shown to be living in traditional and environmental splendour, however, revealed no agreement that life ‘long ago’ was better than it is now. The ‘old days’ were a ‘hard existence’, the villagers of Kapteinspos told us.

Some informants at /Aotcha Pan explained that their contemporary settled existence was better in quality than the indeterminate time reflected on the calendar.[ii] Some of these informants included the now elderly people who had first met the Marshalls in the early 1950s – ‘Kaptein’ Kgau//au and !U, amongst others. From his experience of translating the sound tracks at DER in 1994, ≠Oma Tsamkxao observed that he had learned about the history of the Ju/’hoansi from these films: ‘I heard about their complaint of how they lived in the old days and how they live now. I can say now that the Bushmen in the old days had no option or opportunity to have an education or lead a better life … The children can go to school and study’.

The Ju/’hoansi conception of history in terms of “the old days” or “long ago”, is described by Lorna Marshall (1976: 53):
Although they look respectfully to the past, they are not history-minded. They make no effort to hold actual past events systematically in mind or teach them to their children – neither events that concern the living people nor those concerning their forebears. They remember what they happen to remember their father and grandfathers telling them.
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Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ Stories To Tell, Stories To Sell: Hidden Transcripts, Negotiating Texts

Post-Birmingham cultural studies have been severely criticised for offering little more than a ‘“white on white” textual orientation’ (Giroux and McLaren 1994: x). Edward Said (1979: 93) writes of a ‘textual attitude’, which prefers ‘the schematic tendency of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the human’. The mess and confusion found in everyday life, as well as the supernatural is ‘bracketed out’ because they obscure the clarity of the structure (Husserl 1969). Texts become walls that academics insert between ‘us’ and ‘them’ to protect ‘us’ from having to deal with the ambiguities, contradictions, and confusion of everyday life (Malan 1995; Conquergood 1998; Pollock 1998). Students often delight in the prospect of analysing oral literatures in typed translation, via the application of the usual post-structuralist French gurus. The result inevitably is a white, usually French-shaped Eurocentric reading of oral and other narratives in non-European regions.

Reverse cultural studies: Voices from the field
Academy-bound textualist scholarship claiming to be studying the ‘popular’, though often exquisitely analysed and written, tends to background quotidian empirical significance. Detail, immediacy, and self-reflexivity are as important as is texualised theory, in which human agency is described and recognised, and in which voices from the field, our ‘subjects of observation’, are engaged by researchers as their equals (in human dignity and thus as co-producers of knowledge).

The analytical textualist disjunction between distance and immediacy, separation and immersion, exploitation and collaboration, holds that ‘there is nothing outside the text’ (Jackson 1989: 184). Textualism thus legitimately ignores the flux of human interrelationships and the ways in which meanings are intersubjectively integrated, embodied in gestures and performance, as well as in words (Jousse 1997; Bakhtin 1986: 6). De Saussure’s semiological logic, for example, imprisons us in a nominalist world of linguistic structures. If semiology is itself one such structure, then trying to ‘see through’ it leaves nothing to which reference can be made, except possibly some prior structure in a potentially infinite regress (Shepperson and Tomaselli 1999).

One result of textualism, and especially binary assumptions in some studies and the popular imagination, is to assume the myth that the ‘Bushmen’ have ‘disappeared’ and that when they were ‘living’, they always only had one ‘way of life’. Such analyses, which pepper much contemporary literature, lack historical periodisation, and assume that all San speak/spoke only one language (cf. Wilmsen 1986a for a critique of this position; also see Chapman 1996: 21-31). This homogenizing effect is the result of antecedent theorising about the indigenous other as an undifferentiated mass, an authorising of the textual over its relationship with the contextual, and of assumptions about history.

In the postmodern age of hyper-mediated realities and fractured development periodisations, the Other becomes a resource for discursive rearticulation, integration, and expropriation. The mythical images, sounds, and values offered by so-called First Peoples are appropriated by advertisers to expropriate long-lost mythical images to sell something (in South Africa, for example, cars [Mazda], telephone services [Telkom], toothpaste [Colgate], railways [Spoornet], an Internet book store [Kalahari.net], Game Parks [Kagga Kamma], a cut price airline [Kulula.com], and others). What is sold has nothing to do with the ‘actors’ (whether real or imagined), but with the imperative of capital, which integrates anything that communicates into messages that encourage consumption. Ironically, the very people used to retail such products are themselves largely unable to afford them. They remain materially isolated from the very texts they are promoting, de-linked from consumption despite their performance, and in spite of their textualisation and inter-textualisation. Nothing – not epistemology, not ways of seeing – is unsettled in the exchange. They remain ‘them’; we remain ‘us’, secure in our distanced otherness.
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Where Global Contradictions Are Sharpest ~ References

Primary sources

This list relates to the first formal interviews conducted. Supplementary interviews were obtained throughout the ten-year study period. The dates of these comments are provided in the text.

American tourists (2001), interviewed at Kaa, Botswana, July.
Carter, R. (2000), interviewed at Witdraai, Northern Cape, September.
Festus, A. (2000), interviewed at Witdraai, Northern Cape, September.
Kleynhans, L. (2002), interviewed at Andriesvale, Northern Cape, 4 April.
Kruiper, B. (2002), letter to Vanessa McLennan-Dodd, January.
Kruiper, B. (2002), interviewed by Lauren Dyll and Keyan Tomaselli, at Blinkwater, Northern Cape, 19 July.
Kruiper, B. (2001), interviewed by Vanessa McLennan-Dodd at the University of Natal, Durban, 18 October.
Kruiper, B. (2001a), interviewed at Witdraai, Northern Cape, 24 July.
Kruiper, B. (2001b), interviewed at the University of Natal, Durban, October.
Kruiper, B. (2000), interviewed at Blinkwater, Northern Cape, July.
Kruiper, B. (2000), letter recorded in the Northern Cape, March.
Kruiper, D. (2000), interviewed at Witdraai, Northern Cape, September.
Kruiper, I. (2001), interviewed at Ostri-San, North West Province, 8 November.
Kruiper, T. (2002), interviewed at Witdraai, Northern Cape, 17 July.
Kruiper, V. and Van Wyk, S. (2001), interviewed by Nelia Oets and Keyan Tomaselli at Blinkwater, Northern Cape, 20 July.
Malgas, J. (2002), interviewed at Witdraai, Northern Cape, 5 April.
Meintjies, A. (2001), interviewed at Witdraai, Northern Cape, July.
Motshabise, M. (1995), interviewed by Belinda Jeursen at Ngwatle, Botswana.
Motshabise, M. (1999), interviewed at Ngwatle, Botswana, June.
Motshabise, M. (2000), interviewed by Keyan Tomaselli and Anthea Simões at Ngwatle, Botswana, July.
Motshabise, P. (1999), interviewed at Ngwatle, Botswana.
Motshabise, M. and P. (2001), interviewed by Belinda Jeursen at Monong, Botswana, July.
Nxai, J. (2001), interviewed at Ngwatle, Botswana, July.
Nxai, K.J. (2002), interviewed at Ngwatle, Northern Cape, July.
Nxai, K.J. and Nxai, J. (2001), interviewed at Ngwatle, Botswana, July.
Nxai, P. (1999), interviewed by Mashilo (Gibson) Boloka at Ngwatle, Botswana, June.
Orileng, G. (1999), interviewed by Mashilo (Gibson) Boloka at Ngwatle, Botswana, June.
Padmaker, D. (1999), interviewed at Biesjepoort, recorded and transcribed by M. Lange.
Rooi, Ouma !Una (2000), interviewed by Keyan Tomaselli, Anthea Simões and Chantel Oosthuysen at Witdraai, Northern Cape, 27 September.
Vaalbooi, P. (2000), interviewed by Keyan Tomaselli, Chantel Oosthuysen and Anthea Simões in the Northern Cape, 29 September 2000.
Waldron, R. (1995), interviewed by Belinda Jeursen at Ngwatle, Botswana, April.

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Indigenous Oral Traditions From The Huasteca, Mexico

This paper deals with indigenous oral traditions in Mexico. It addresses issues of indigenous languages and how they can be documented, preserved and revitalized through projects about oral traditions in a national context in which there is a renewed discussion on multiculturalism and cross-cultural understanding.
In Mexico, the discussion of multiculturalism centers on ‘indigenous issues’, specifically on how indigenous peoples should integrate into the so-called modern, more westerly-orientated rest of the nation. In Mexico, indigenous cultures and languages are still systematically discriminated, as they are often seen as irrelevant remnants of a past that have, at most, mere folkloristic value. Since the 1990’s, public policies regarding indigenous issues underwent a change and now focus on concepts of multiculturalism in order to favor a more equal position for indigenous languages and cultures.

The new policies were adopted after national pressures like the 1994 Zapatista uprising, and followed up on international interests in the situation of indigenous peoples, such as shown through the festivities around the 500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America by Columbus in 1992, or in the declaration of the UN’s First and Second Decade of the Indigenous Peoples (1995-2014). They enhance a novel discourse that includes concepts like cultural diversity, interculturalism, intangible heritage, and other terms that are in accordance with the terminology of international conventions on indigenous issues.

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