I’m sitting in the bush, with just the sounds of birds and distant chit chat from the San people in their village. Laughter of children, the odd argument and clanking of dishes. A language I cannot begin to understand, but smiles that are sweet and feel meaningful, I get by with the help of translators, odd words and body language.
I’m here to meet with the dances but so much more, because I really get that in order to understand the dance here I must do my best to understand a way of life. And that is near impossible! I am much too English middle class, full of projections and particular idyllic ways to some, to even get close to what I perceive here. But I have lived, during periods of my life, in basic accommodation, tents, benders or caravans, with very little in the way of amenities or support. So a part of me, on occasion can ‘manage’ this incredibly basic way of living.
Then in my own small way I try to find the information that I need for this part of my journey, remembering that there also might be something I can give as well. Yet I know that in the giving I may not be doing the thing best for these people. It is a fine line we walk over. I remind myself to continually step back, to lean back and to take care with my thoughts, my words and my actions.
Still I am here to learn, not just about the San people but about myself, as someone who can be both self serving as well as overly generous I am always learning the need to look after myself on a practical level as well as give when I know I can. I’ve caught a cold during our second week here, I’m scared I might give it to the villagers, but they seem to have a few of their own as well. So I feel somewhat rough and tired, taking to my bed for at least two days to rest, it feels there is little I can really do to keep up with the grind of daily life. We are in the bush, miles from anything we call ‘civilized’ in our own culture. Just making a meal, washing up, going to the loo, takes a lot of time and preparation. Yes we are digging holes! The fire must be built and when the wood is wet, because it is the rainy season, it takes much longer, but we persevere.
I am wary to go for a nice long walk, because its easy to get lost here, there are leopards about and many snakes. Some highly poisonous, so it is very wise to have a guide at all times, someone who knows the bush very well. Little fears arise now and again, and then I trust the beautiful mama Africa landscape to take care of me and at the same time I look after myself and take care where to put my feet.
I become more aware of how my life simply does not include much of what I witness and I can feel sad about that. This sense of community and togetherness. The women’s solidarity and the equality between men and women that I witness. The simple life style and the time that people have to be with the children, without stress and worrying about deadlines and overworking. I witness the way things are understood and the importance of the rituals and beliefs they hold. But still there is much poverty, terribly so, and government rules now in their lands that make the bushmen suffer.
I want to know more and again I am careful to listen and try to understand what has happened to this race of people. This is an ongoing subject that I wish to learn about and be sure of getting the facts right.
And then coming back to the dance, as they are being prepared, I notice the excitement in my body. Our dancing doctors are /ae, Daqm and Kxao who are Elephant dance doctors. The fire is being built, women stand around going over songs to themselves and young men prance around filling the space with their own excitement and curiosity. I am told these dances do not happen as often as they did and some are dying out. The dancing doctors too, getting old and leaving the communities, back to the spirit world and their ancestors. We are there to learn about them, to receive them, to see what mirrors our own way of dancing in our society, what is similar and what have we learnt over the ages about our own indigenous shamanic nature?
I have always been strongly connected to the dance, not just as a dance in itself but as a dancing way of life. It is not just about putting on music and moving my body, it is what I learn in the dance and then can translate into my life and into my creativity, so this is somehow related to what I am learning from the San people.
My curiosity drops deeper as the fire burns more brightly. I’ve been at these dances before and experienced much of my own dance in relation to theirs. Some things fitting and others feeling a little strange. This time I want to go deeper, understand more and simply let go into what ever needs to happen. I trust the doctors, I know that they know, I trust the women singers, I know that they know too and I am merely a beginner in this tribal culture of humanity.
I have so much to learn and I am hungry for it.
The singers begin and instantly my heart opens and I begin to cry, why I do not know, it just happens. I am not crying because I am sad, but for the feeling of immense joy emanating and many other feelings combined, all I know is that my heart has opened.
And so in time as I sit in the circle of onlookers the dancing doctor /ae beckons me to join, I am up like a shot and ready to take part. Instantly I meet with the cacophony of polyphonic singing surging through my body and I begin to shake. Not making myself shake, it is just a vibration that happens inside me. Eventually I fall down, not able to contain the energy much more so far into the trance my feet almost seem to disappear. Flat down on the soft sand that I am very grateful to, women looking down on me, I am fallen into the earths embrace. I’m pulled up again and the dance happens all over, the doctors are fixing my ‘needles’ straightening them, removing any male ones, and getting me all back inline with my power. This is what they tell us is happening, and I feel it, energetically even though I cannot explain it. I fall again many times through each dance until eventually I manage to stand, face the fire and ‘be’ in the presence of my own dance.
I want to learn more, some how identifying what they are doing with the practice of shiatsu and pressure point, acupressure I have learnt in previous training’s. I know there are similarities and it is all manifested through dance, community, fire and song. This I know will integrate over the next period of time and this is not a time to try to make sense of it.
I am happy, glowing from the fire and full of song and joy. I have asked them to teach me, to show me how and I know in order to learn much I must experience much and keep exploring in the ways I know how to.
It seems that to ‘know’ the dance I must also know something of the songs. I ask one of the women, Se//aqe /kuhta, if she will teach me a song from the dance. She is most willing and with her friend, Teil!xo /kuxa, we sit together and they go over the song very carefully to help me understand its tone and rhythm. Se//aqe looks deeply into my eyes, expressing with her mouth and the words to help me get it, I am transfixed and it is as if we are in a learning trance together. I cannot take my eyes from hers. I have to try very hard. Really concentrating on every note and word. The San language is not an easy one, and I only manage a few words here and there, with occasional added clicks with the tongue.
Still my singing teacher seems to feel I have done very well and I am a natural, I hardly think so but I was so happy simply to sit with her and sing. She sang for the Elephant dance, where women stand and sing as the men dance and shake.
Later in our time, I sat with another circle of women singing together around the fire, we sat as the men dance the giraffe dance, around the circle in a particular trance and our dancing doctor this time /Kunta Boo taking his hands to those who need healing, singing his song where ever it was needed.
I never felt that I missed out on the dance when I was singing with the women, because it all felt like one experience, my body was dancing wherever I was and my heart was fully alive in the song.
My task now is to look at how I translate some of this teaching into my own offerings of shamanic dance and this is not hard to do, because some deeply rooted part of me feels she really knows this in my bones and cells. It is simple, yet totally profound.
How do I hold, with integrity and awareness of my ancestry, a space for others, to support their dance of this shaking medicine in our own cultures, understanding those needles that all need to be realigned, maybe meridians, pressure points, emotional blockages, but clearly the empowerment of the person that is here in the world? Maybe it is different here, but we all know this dance inside us, if we can simply follow back our lineage to the very first man here on this earth, remembering our own roots and our own heart beat. Then we can transform our lives possibly to live a little more simply, just as they try to do, to be more in touch with what really matters and let go of what no longer serves us. For sure I have been put in touch with a little more of my own purpose, something waking up in me and saying ‘this is who I am, no need to compromise’ and I am simply happy with the feeling, nothing else needed.
There is no need to glamorize who we are or what we offer to the world, it’s our heart and our inner being that is the true teacher of our times, when we meet with a San bushman, we get a sense of the innocence of life, we remember what it is we have lost and we are reminded to claim it back, the innocence of our own soul and the ability to live with humility in the world with nature as our allie and friend.
We interviewed our doctors, asking for a little more information about the dance from them. They said that this was so important to them, the fact that we were interested in them and their dance and not just tourists who ‘come and go.’ They delighted in telling us how the dances worked and how they have learnt them and been drawn to the fire and to the heat. They also said it was important that we shared their messages with others, so their dances are not forgotten and that they are known about in the world. Hence my writing and my sharings.
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all photos by Ben Cole
Shamanic dance course 2017 https://middleearthmedicine.com/intensives/shamaniccourse/