In search of water the San way

By Lara Diez Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia

By Lara Diez
Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia

At this moment in Namibia, everyone’s thoughts are on water…or more to the point, the lack of it. We know we live in a dry country, but at this point, it is not simply dry, it’s parched from the heat. There have been suggestions as to how we could possibly make it rain. There have been rain dances as well as many a prayer to convince the Gods to make it rain. So far, there’s been a smattering of rain, nothing that will save us or fill the dams.
We may need to get more creative, hi-tech won’t save us, the rain dance isn’t doing the trick. Perhaps we need some ‘old school’ wisdom. The San people have lived, prospered and toiled in Namibia’s harsh unforgiving land for thousands of years, with access to little to no water and always survived. San peoples depend on natural resources for their livelihood and they often inhabit diverse but fragile ecosystems.
How do they do it and how do they find water? For them water, as for everyone else, is critical to their survival. There are no supermarkets to buy bottled water. They need to find water in the driest parts of the most remote bush. With the changing climate and environmental issues that plague the globe and seemingly Namibia in particular, the San turn to their traditional ways to find water in nature. The consequences of ecosystem changes have implications for San peoples’ use, protection and management of wildlife, and fisheries, affecting the customary uses of culturally and economically important species and resources, as they for all of us. Although we often think we can continue to turn a blind eye.
One of their methods is to take their cues from Namibia’s wildlife. The Crimson Breasted Shrike in particular, which is indigenous to Namibia and Southern Africa. Wherever this bird is, water is also close. Following this bird and letting it lead them to water has allowed the San to find and access water when no one else can. The Crimson Breasted Shrike is part of their toolkit of survival skills. Eat your heart out Bear Grylls.
So, perhaps we should take a leaf out of their book and we should all start searching for this bird. If the oldest surviving tribe of Namibia or anywhere for that matter can and use this method to access water, who are we not to follow suit? So, therefore why not get your binoculars out this weekend and start scoping for this bird. Who knows, you may find water and you will definitely see beautiful Namibia in a new light. You will see it in a way that the San community does, as a provider of the life’s essentials.
We must realise that the San groups are a valuable source of information, not just on how to get water, but specifically in many areas that are seemingly devoid of surface water. We must always look forward, but ignoring or forgetting how people have been able to survive for generations, we do so at our own peril.

The Crimson Breasted Shrike is one of nature’s own water pointers, a feature exploited by the San to find water under the harshest conditions.

The Crimson Breasted Shrike is one of nature’s own water pointers, a feature exploited by the San to find water under the harshest conditions. 

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