Bushmen

 What is the Exhibition about?

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The nature and mysticism of the Khoisan people and what their culture represents in a modern Society is what captured Lynne’s imagination and set her on a journey to North-Eastern Namibia in 2013 and 2014 to portray these fast disappearing Khoisan. Determined to honestly represent those she found and set aside the expected cliché of bow and loin cloth she was please to find a people who were nothing less than magical and a true cultural treasure.

The Khoisan or Bushmen are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa with a way of life that has until recently remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. Today there are approximately 35 000 Khoisan, mostly living on farms in the Eastern parts of Namibia where very few still practice their Nomadic lifestyle.

The Nyae Nyae conservancy is home to several thousand people and is the only place in Southern Africa where Bushmen still live on their ancestral land. Practicing trance dancing, healing, hunting and gathering, passing on the knowledge of their ancestors to those young who are still interested to learn.

The colourful world of these former nomads is what Lynne captured onto canvas as she introduces you to these mysterious individuals.

The collection was exhibited at the Orient Boutique Hotel near Pretoria in August 2014 and a portion of proceeds from the sales of the paintings were donated to the Ju/’hoansi Development Fund

 

 How it all started

B6In March 2013 I embarked on a two-week trip to bushmenland in North-Eastern Namibia. I was pursuing an idea that was long ago inspired by a book I had on my childhood bookshelf. I always dreamed of spending time with and painting portraits of the Khoisan and one day I woke up thinking that it was now or never. I stared doing research which led me to meeting David Bruce, an internationally renowned photographer who happens to live down the road from my house and who had been photographing the very people that I was looking for over 25 years. Timing and good fortune were on my side as David was about to leave on another one of his trips with the possibility of a space for me to accompany him. While in the bath on Sunday evening 17 March 2013 I got the call from David to say that he was leaving at 4AM Tuesday and I could come along if I liked. I remember lying there for a moment thinking that I was crazy and that it wasn’t too late to change my mind. The thought didn’t last long as I knew that I would be crazier to pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity. Tuesday morning came and we left in his 1997 Land Rover Defender almost as complete strangers.

The first Trip March 2013

B10 After four days driving at no more than 90Kmh we finally arrived at the village of Nhoma, about 40km from Tsumkwe. I smiled at my first reaction at seeing the San for the first time, some how I hadn’t expected them all to be quite so small even though I knew they were not a tall nation. The woman were dressed in bright clothes, patterned skirts and colourful beads, with their own definite sense of fashion, striking and shocking to the senses at first as if they were making up for all the centuries of having no access to colours other than earth tones. The children, of which there were many had simple hand-me-downs that didn’t fit their tiny bodies, more closely resembling garage rags than children’s clothing, but everyone seemed happy and as I would see, would spend all their waking hours at play. We set up camp and settled around a fire and kettle of tea for the night. When morning came David was off to do some errands and prepare for the trance dancing that he came there to film, leaving me on my own to find my place in the village. B1 I tried to introduce my self as naturally as I could, sitting with the woman around the fire while they boiled tea in a large black kettle, actually it would end up being sugar with some tea mixed into it, as I would learn the bushmen like sugar almost as much as they like to smoke tobacco or twak as they call it. Some of the men would speak to me in Afrikaans but the woman generally kept to their own language although they could understand Afrikaans. It was my sketchbook that proved to be the best icebreaker; they passed through the drawings of Florence and western buildings with little interest but would pause for long discussions when it came to the drawings of horse anatomy and nude studies from life drawing. On the second day I took out my paints and asked the grandma of Nhoma, Ikoece Ghau to sit for a portrait painting. It took a while to successfully explain what I wanted to do but some how it all made sense once I confirmed that I would pay for her time. I had to paint sitting down to get at eye level, which proved to be a massive strain on my already stiff shoulder, it was so hot my oil paints melted to a soft buttery consistency and my nerves where on edge as all I could think of was that I wished there was a better painter here to do justice to these people. The whole village had gathered behind me and the children were practically sitting in my lap. I paint with all my heart and as I sat there with this wise old woman looking back at me I started to relax. I realized that there was no judgment or expectation other than my own. It was like having many proud grandmothers lovingly give of their time so that I could fulfill my hearts desire and learn the lessons that I needed to learn. I only had about half an hour with each before the strain of sitting still became too much but it was long enough to get what I needed. I painted as many portraits as I could during the day. David would film the traditional trance dances at night and I would help him record sound. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before, standing right in the middle of the dance circle, the woman loudly singing and clapping the intricate rhythms while the men went into trance, laying hands on the people in the circle who were in need of healing. The roaring fire was casting warm flickering light on sweat glistening bodies. I could not believe how these people, who during the day looked like frail figures barely able to hold up their own frames would dance right through the night. I asked myself several times,” what planet am I on?” During the seven days that we were there I was able to get an intimate glimpse into the everyday life and struggles of today’s Bushmen. I saw the amazing trance dances of the different village and heard about their concerns for the future both of their children and culture. On my return home I started work on a collection of paintings inspired by my trip and in March of 2014 I was lucky enough to once again accompany David for another three-week trip to Nhoma and the village of IIauru

 The Second Trip, March 2014

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Things were very different for me this time around, I felt more relaxed, having had an idea of what to expect. The only thing I dreaded was not having a shower for a few weeks but even this was thankfully over come at acceptable intervals. We had three things on the agenda, film more dancing, paint more portraits and renovate a school. Everything was green and wet, Namibia had been blessed with massive amounts of rain over the season and it wasn’t over yet, the Land Rover had changed colour as we hit the slushy gravel road to Tsumkwe. There were massive pools of water thick with lush grass, everywhere fat donkeys were feasting, the full moon in the dusk sky above with more rain threatening for the night. Dinner at the Tsumkwe Country Lodge, a vegetarian was like an alien species sent to test the chef who in the end managed quite well.C3 We decided to film the dancing first hoping that the rain would hold off for just a couple of days. The Village of Nhoma dance the Elephant Dance, the Healers, mostly men shake their bodies in trance while the woman loudly sing and clap very specific rhythms each having learned their segment from their mother before them. As I stood there watching the dance, again recording sound, I realized that I was seeing something very few people on the planet will ever get the chance to see. Time and grandeur of the modern world ‘out there’ melted away and for a while it was as though I had been sucked hundreds of thousands of years back in history. It is difficult to describe other than to say it is out of this world and yet of the world. We stayed for four days; I did a few quick portraits and sketches but saved most of my energy for our visit to the village of IIauru.C1C2First we had work to do, David’s charity, ‘The Ju’hoansie development fund’ focuses on education and the renovation of schools, some of which have not had any maintenance in over twenty years. One such school near the village of ….. was in desperate need of attention. The walls were made of mud from anthills partially plastered, snakes and wasps were burrowing in and out of the holes in the walls and the spirit of inspiration had long since left the building. The classroom was a mess, dirt lay thick on the floors while tables and chairs were randomly scattered. It was hard to imagine that any learning happened in such a place. We set up camp and immediately started work, sweeping and scraping, mixing plaster, painting walls and window frames; it was exhausting. The nights were uncomfortably eerie, the sounds of hyenas keeping me up for most of the night, I couldn’t wait to get out of that lonely place. Two young men from the nearby village where excited about what we were doing and offered their help, keen to get paint on their clothes to show others how they had contribute to the future of their children. I was grateful for the extra hands meaning we could get out of there sooner. It took four days of hard labor to get the job done, a marked improvement but ultimately a temporary solution to a much greater problem.   B2It was time to visit IIauru, a village just off the road to Gum, probably about 100km from Tsumkwe. We had heard about the condition on the road from others who had traveled that way a few weeks before, words like ‘treacherous’ and ‘river’ were used. We took the turnoff to the village, sign posted by a rusted piece of barrel that would go unnoticed by the untrained eye. Driving along the sand track we started to wonder what everyone was talking about, the words were not even cold off our lips when we turned a corner and there in front of us lay a stretch of water we could not have imagined. It was difficult to judge how long it lasted or how deep it really was with all the turns and bends but we decided to take a chance. I watched as the wheels sank into the mud and then disappear into the ‘river’. A wake was almost over the bonnet as the Landrover pushed its way through the massive body of water. A few yards in we hit a missive bump of who knows what? We kept going at a slow steady pace trying not to loose momentum and definitely not changing gears. At one point I couldn’t look anymore and my heart beseeched the help of every angle in the area to carry us through to the other side. As we came out I smiled as if it was no sweat and said to David, ‘That was fun” Wide eyed he replied, “For you maybe” B7  IIauru was different to Nhome in every way, the name means flat rock and that is what there was. The sand was almost grey and you couldn’t dig a few inches before hitting slabs of white rock. The whole village was waiting under a tree; they looked thin and grey like the land. I remembered a few from my first trip, Iam, Thoma and some others and they recognized me. I got many hugs and was introduced to the rest as the one who draws. We set up camp and I started painting that afternoon, there were many people to paint any many hungry faces keen to earn some money, there was no way I could go home with anything left in my pocket. Time was short as we thought it best to get out of there before the next rain toped up that river, the only way out. I painted as many as I could that afternoon and painted the whole of the next day, one by one the elders took their turn to pose, each painting being inspected by the whole village to see if I had captured a good likeness. I managed eight paintings in those two days, I had them stuck all over the inside of the Landrover to give them a day of drying before I tried to figure out how to pack all these wet paintings. I liked these people, they had become friends and I felt sad to leave but after three days it was time to go, we had pushed our luck far enough. We had agreed to take Iam, Toma and one other to Gum to do some shopping for food, they had money to spend and tea and tobacco were high on the list but first we had to get through that river. This time I didn’t even bother to look, I shut my eyes and started praying and when we got to the other side both Iam and I sent up our thanks, what a relief.   Gum was fascinating, I think it was the first time many of the people there had ever seen a blond woman. It felt strange to be stared at like a tourist attraction. I guess that is how the Bushmen feel when foreigners come to visit them. The Donkeys were waiting at the village turnoff to carry the shopping home and it was time for us to make our journey home. It was sad to say goodbye but I knew that I would be back. The rain came down on the road out of Tsumkwe and it was the Cape that lay beyond the horizon.