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Along the Road in Namibia Pt. 3 | Giant's Playground & The San Tribe

By Lobsang D.
Jan 15, 2020

GIANT'S PLAYGROUND

This is one of my favorite places in Namibia: the Giant’s playground. It’s called that because the ground is littered with impossibly massive stones, as if left by some towering creature. Wandering through these jagged dolerite boulders left me feeling very small. It was as if an ancient Giant set out to create a maze made of boulders but then got frustrated and knocked half of them down. The rocks are all piled up atop one another in pyramids, balanced like diving boards in some prehistoric swimming pool and spilling out across the ground at odd angles.

I, like many people, who have visited this site had so many questions. Was this a natural occurrence? A strange rock formation of some kind? Or did someone put these stones there a long time ago? And if so, why? What I later learned was that the Giant’s playground is a natural geological occurrence, formed more than 180 million years ago, during a period of geologic turmoil. Tucked away in the Southern Corner of Namibia is the Quivertree Forest. These trees are actually massive succulents with their thick waxy leaves and strange rootlike branches. 

According to local legend, the quivertree will bring good luck to anybody who worships and nurtures it. Some say that if you were to dig up one of these trees, you’ll find diamonds at the base. But because the quivertree is so revered in Namibia, nobody would dare dig them up. Instead, people from around the globe come to visit these trees and marvel at how prehistoric they look and wonder if dinosaurs looked upon these trees once, too.

Before it rains, Namibia appears dry and devoid of life. But after, it grows green in the blink of an eye — only to vanish again in the noontime sun. That’s because Namibia is a place of impermanence. I think that’s why I’m drawn to it. It’s dangerous in the way that it reminds you of a dream you must wake up from. That dream is life, I think. This is the essence of life. Impermanence. Change. Erosion. Evolution. In writing this I am reminded of that Alan Watts quote: “The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.” 

The deserts, dunes and rocky fields of Namibia are anything but that. There is life in every sand dune here, in every crack on these salt caked plains. You only need to look for it.

THE SAN TRIBE

The San people are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa. They have lived there for more than 20,000 years. Some people call them bushmen. They are descendants of hunter gatherers. The San people are at home everywhere. But many modern nomads – like myself – feel adrift; as if we have never been at home anywhere at all. This is a modern conundrum that I constantly wrestle with while out on the open road. But when I met the San people, I realized something. Community is meant to be created, no matter where you go.

You see, the San people take shelter in people – not places. They find family no matter where they are. They do not have one leader, but many. They live in a way that is harmonious to nature – and to their own human nature. That begins with a people-first attitude. That begins when you build your own tribe wherever you go. 

I first met the San people when I visited Tsumkwe. They live completely connected to nature, as they have lived for more than 20,000 years. They always give back to the land, taking only what they need. They hunt with bows and arrows. They make fire with sticks – and they patiently taught me how, too. A village elder, whom I met, passes knowledge down to the community through stories. They speak in clicks and tell tales about the old ways. 

A few years back, scientists uncovered a set of tools that were almost identical to those used by the modern San. Those tools dating to 42,000 BCE. It is pretty incredible to think that these people have lived their lives outside of time – unwavering in their customs and traditions – for thousands of years.

The San people are not governed by an authority figure but by group consensus – something that deeply intrigues me. The power of the individual and democracy of thought reigns supreme here. Disputes are resolved by allowing every tribe member’s thoughts to be considered – until an agreement is reached. 

The only leadership within the community is given to those who have lived the longest, accrued the most experience and displayed good honor or character. Their egalitarian way of life can best be summarized by the concept of kinship. There is much to be learned from the San.

The San people’s way of life must be protected.