Wildlife

New Xade: A Convergence of the Traditional and Modern

Progress continues smoothly here in Botswana. Within the first two weeks of arriving, I picked up my official research permit from the Office of the President. With that in hand, I met the principal of Maru-a-Pula and got the go-ahead to film on campus with Ketelelo. I’ve already had a couple of shoots with Ketelelo and will continue to film with him while in Gaborone.

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Godumetsemang poses with the shredded tire.

With logistics wrapped up in the capital, I made plans to go to New Xade (one of the resettlement villages) to introduce myself to the community and seek permission to film there. Last Friday, Ed, Philesco, Philesco’s nephew Godumetsemang, and I woke up early, loaded my camera gear into the car, and set off towards Ghanzi, a rapidly growing frontier town where we planned to pick up groceries on our way into New Xade. About halfway there – in the middle of nowhere – our back tire exploded. The inner tube was completely destroyed. Luckily, we had a spare, so we replaced the shredded tire and resumed our trip to Ghanzi.

While in town, we stopped for lunch with Kuela Kiema, author of Tears for My Land and one of the few San to attend university. He is currently working in the Ghanzi area to improve the effectiveness of education, with particular emphasis on implementation of mother-tongue courses. Currently, courses in New Xade are taught in Setswana, the majority language, and San youth who speak G//ana or G/ui must navigate lingual barriers, often on their own. Mother-tongue courses could help boost cultural pride while empowering San youth to perform well in their studies and follow in the footsteps of Kuela and Ketelelo.

After our meeting with Kuela, we drove the graded gravel road to New Xade. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived, and, despite the unfortunate start with the tire, everything went remarkably well. I met the chief and the councilor of New Xade, both of whom endorsed the project without hesitation. I was free to walk around the village with my camera.

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Stopping at a road sign on the way to New Xade.

A lot of people have an essentialist view of San culture. Media and the press often push a romantic, noble savage image, a pristine people hunting and gathering, at one with the land.

In reality, New Xade is home to a convergence of traditional and modern means of living. Walking through the village, I saw cement buildings next to beehive-shaped huts. Power lines ran overhead and a cell tower loomed in the distance. At one point, I was attending a traditional dance, and a young man in front of me pulled out his phone to respond to a text. Relocation brought developments such as a school and a clinic, and sedentism forced new forms of livelihood, including agriculture and pastoralism.

So what does this convergence of the traditional and modern mean for the San people? It’ll take more time to find out, but I wonder if there’s a growing distinction between cultural identity – such as language and values – and cultural living – the day-to-day grind. I look forward to exploring this concept more when I return to New Xade this week.

Daniel Koehler, of New York City, is one of five grantees selected from among 864 applicants for a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, which is the first of its kind. He will film a documentary on the San living near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, focusing on the loss and change of their culture.
  • Mary Kay Muders

    Very interested to see what your exploration comes up with. What is the (pouch?) that they wear around their neck?

  • Robert Hanna

    The pouch holds her mobile phone. Botswana has one of the highest mobile usage in the World, but also has one of the highest mobile changes at around $67 per Gigabyte of data compared to Kenya at $11 for 1.5 GB of data. Three network providers Orange, Mascom and BeMobile

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