Hendrik’s “velletjie” makes him complete
Story and photos by Louise de Waal
My love for the Kgalagadi Desert runs deep. Its wide-open spaces, the big skies, the endless rolling red sand dunes, and its plants and animals evolved with the most incredible adaptations to this harsh, arid environment. This landscape also makes me feel small and insignificant, especially at night when a gazillion bright stars in the Milky Way make their appearance. At the same time, it gives a strange sense of belonging, a place to reconnect with nature, unplug and recharge your soul.
The San have walked the length and breadth of the Kgalagadi Desert for thousands of years and learned to survive in this unforgiving environment. For Henrik Kooper and his family, it is imperative to live close to nature and his ancestors. For him, the Kgalagadi is an integral part of his identity, but over time modern life has forced these communities to break with their nomadic lifestyle and traditions to earn an income to provide for their children.
At !Xaus Lodge the Khomani San manage to keep the spirit of their ancient culture alive. They combine modern living with a more traditional San existence. When Henrik puts his “velletjie” (his loin cloth) on and goes to work, he says “it is like becoming whole again”. That is when I realise that this crafting workshop is far from the contrived cultural village examples I have seen around Africa. It is the epitome of authentic. It’s a place for the ǂKhomani to keep their traditions and culture alive, something they take great pride in. A nutty smell hangs in the air from burning holes in seeds. I watch mesmerised the way Zorris scorches rock art style figures into wood and bone fragments. Using simple, low-tech tools and beads made from seeds, ostrich shell, porcupine quills and bone found in the desert, they collectively create beautiful and unique jewellery they sell.
Access to customers offers this crafting community a vital income in this remote location – Upington is 350 km away! It offers an involvement in tourism to be proud of.