TRADITIONAL BUSH SCHOOL BOTSWANA
Cultural Preservation and Youth Empowerment in Xai Xai, Botswana
Golden African Foundation has developed the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP), with the financial support of Le Ciel Foundation, to ensure that the youth of Xai Xai, in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana learn both the knowledge of their unique heritage as well as the skills needed to thrive in a modern world. In 2018, Le Ciel Foundation funded the first iteration of this initiative and with such positive feedback from local communities, we’re now raising funds to support the expansion of the YEP across the Kalahari Desert.
The YEP fosters a curriculum that includes traditional skills such as wildlife tracking, identifying wild edibles, fire-making, environmental conservation, traditional healing, stories, dances and sustainable resource-use. In addition to the cultural enrichment aspect, students enrolled in the YEP will also benefit from tutoring in subjects such as English, math, gender equality and team building exercises.
The YEP will employ Xai Xai Masters as well as female community elders to become mentors, leaders, and teachers of the ancient Khoisan culture for children, many of whom do not attend school or drop-out in their early years. Through the YEP, local Khoisan culture and historical knowledge will be exchanged from the elders to younger generations, providing children with educational skills that will improve future livelihood prospects.
Xai Xai will be leading the way as the pilot village for the Golden African Foundation’s YEP. As the scale and capacity of the programs grow, other target communities will be assessed for future program participation. Eventually, a network of cultural and conservation linkages will be made across the Ngamiland landscape through the YEP.
Learn more about Xai Xai
Xai Xai is a village in western Ngamiland, Botswana, one of the country’s most impoverished areas. It comprises approximately 500 people, predominantly Ju’hoansi, a Khoisan tribe. The community’s biggest challenges are illiteracy, lack of representation and voice in government decisions, cultural disintegration, high rates of unemployment, alcoholism and HIV transmission. Today, the Khoisan continue to be among the most disadvantaged group of indigenous people worldwide.
Due to these challenges, strong community mentors and youth leaders are urgently needed to develop pathways for livelihood improvement. The traditional Khoisan nomadic way of life, along with their skillful hunting practices, were lost when government policies settled ‘rural area dwellers’ into a sedentary lifestyle in some of the most inhospitable areas of the Kalahari Desert. Government housing has since been provided for the Khoisan, but most community members prefer to sleep outside and live in traditional huts that were designed for their former nomadic lifestyle.
The Human Genome Project identified Khoisan groups in Southern Africa as the most closely genetically linked group to the earliest Homo sapien societies. Despite being the most numerous group of humans on Earth until only 22,000 years ago with a distribution that spanned from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo, the relatively recent expansion of the Bantu migration and displacement by European settlers has reduced the range of Khoisan communities to select pockets in southern Africa mostly oriented around one of the most inhospitable landscapes on the continent; the Kalahari.
Displacement, modern pressures and inter-tribal marriage has severely reduced what was once a wealth of traditional hunter-gatherer wisdom. The knowledge still possessed by a countable number of elders residing in the remote areas in the Kalahari, represents the last of the earliest human technology, philosophy, art forms and skill sets that is not only a legacy of Botswana but should be recognized and preserved as a global asset and heritage.
Now the community elders are the last people who possess the ancient Khoisan tradition, culture, and ecological knowledge. Unfortunately, these community elders and their invaluable cultural knowledge and skills are dying along with them. Currently, there are only two Masters (traditional Healers) left in Xai Xai, Kgum Xoo and Kgao Qamme (the Elders featured in The Twelve), and they are estimated to be in their late 80s or early 90s. The Masters are the last of traditional healers (shamans) and bow and arrow subsistence hunters. Countrywide, the number of individuals still possessing shamanistic and bow and arrow hunting skills, in our qualified estimation, is under 30. These skills are truly ancient in that the custodians of these skills can be traced back genetically to the earliest known human lineages.
If no preservation is taken of these cultural practices and skills then this knowledge will continue to vanish. Not only will humankind lose portions of the world’s oldest heritage which has been accumulated over thousands of years and generations, but also intimate knowledge of unmapped land, sustainable resource-use strategies, and human coexistence with a harsh environment. The key to saving this knowledge is to facilitate intergenerational links, while improving livelihoods, which can revive the flow of this unique culture to future generations.