A Bow Hunter is born

By Allan Cilliers:

Wayne Hunting with the Bushman

As I sat in a bowhunting blind, fond memories of my days as a conservationist came to mind, and I thought about the Ju/hoansii people and the mentorship my children were privileged to have gained from these remarkable people.

As a young Senior Ranger stationed in Kavango, I was tasked with multiple, very challenging responsibilities, such as the development of the Khaudum, Mahango and Mangetti Game Reserves, the management of the West Caprivi Game Reserve (known as Bwabwata National Park today), regional services, the implementation of the first Game Guard system in Namibia, and training game guards regarding human-wildlife conflict and Park management systems.

One Saturday afternoon, game guard Anton Kavera and I departed from Rundu for the Khaudum Game Reserve, travelling south along the Fountain Omaramba, a tributary of the Omataku Omaramba. We first went to attend to an elephant problem at a settlement called Ncaute. Upon our arrival, we were informed that elephant had just passed by the village three days ago, heading east towards the Khaudom Game reserve. Continuing our journey along a bad, sandy two-track road, at dark we eventually arrived at place called Karukuwisa, made camp, and cleaned the radiator.

Early the next morning we departed, and after three hours we eventually arrived at a remote village, Samagaigai, at least a two-day walk from any other civilization. Situated in a very picturesque area, the small village settled under huge false Mopani and camel thorn trees. We were greeted by barking dogs, and eventually by a few Ju/hoansi slowly appearing from their simple grass huts, wrapped in old blankets on this cold winter morning. Smoke from early morning fires lazily hung over the village, creating a ghostly atmoshpere. A tall figure approached me armed with a .303 Lee-Enfield rifle.

“Morning, Allan,” he said. ”You are just in time. We have lion problems. You are early, and I have not yet sent a message. How did you know about the lion problems?”

“Morning, Pinias” I replied. “I received a message from the medicine man and drove through the entire night to help you,” I joked. A respected Kavango traditional cattle farmer from that area, Pinias just smiled.

“It is like the old days,” he said, “when I farmed with a few cattle at Soncana in the Khaudum, and lion problems happened daily. I have fewer problems now. At least there is a 30 kilometer distance between the Khaudum and Smagaigai, and I have you to look after me. This is another story.”

Khaudum, I thought. What a gem—remote, untouched wilderness, and harsh terrain. Except for a few natural springs in the Khaudum omaramba in the north and one bore hole in the south, that supplied water for game, the remaining area was waterless. I was on my way to continue making roads to future waterhole sites, alaong with some Ju/hoansi scouts who were familiar with the area.

Making a road by hand all day and exhausted, we eventually reached the eastern boundary of the Khaudum, a fence demarcating the border between Namibia and Botswana. I noticed a ladder constructed over the fence, specifically there so the Ju/hoansi people could venture back and forth to visit families. With Tsissiba standing on the ladder, /Gou reminded me that we use to hunt these areas, on both side of the fence, when I was a young boy. At that time there were no barriers then. They are bad for wildlife, which cannot naturally move to the west anymore, especially when the rains come. He picked up his bow, put his mouth over the bowstring, tapped it with an arrow shaft, and started to play a tune. “I am singing to the animals,” he said. “Come back, you will be free, we will walk together towards the west when the rains come.” These people are the true wildlife managers, I thought.

“You have no children, Allan,” Tsissiba said. “One day when you do have children, we must teach them well about the bush and the Ju/hoansi way of life.”

“I would like that very much,” I said. “That would be an honor.”

In September 1985, my son Wayne was born at Otjivasandu, a remote ranger station in western Etosha National Park. He was the first white child to be born here, and his birth was celebrated with a traditional gift, a goat, from the Herero scouts and their families. He was adopted by all—my rangers and my scouts, who would look after him most days, teaching him about the wilds and respect for the environment. His pet a bat-eared fox was the only small friend he had and the two were inseparable, hunting insects together and often disappearing into the bush. My trackers were often called to look for them, only to find the two sleeping under a bush after a long morning’s hunt for insects. Wayne would always accompany us on patrols, game capture operations, and when feeding captured animals. His favorite was an orphaned black rhino calf which was successfully raised and released back into the wilds.