TESTAMENT TO THE BUSHMEN
30 mins X 6. TV series. Narrated by Laurens van der Post. Directed by Paul Bellinger.
TOPICS: Anthropology, Jung, Kalahari, San
USES: H, U, D, A.
The series is a follow-up to The Lost World of the Kalahari (1954). Extracts from this film are used to illustrate certain sequences in Testament to the Bushmen.
The first episode is an introduction where Van der Post outlines his purpose. He introduces viewers to the San and sketches historical background. The second episode, Children of the Desert, deals with problems associated with survival in this environment. Episodes Three and Four (Man the Hunter) concentrate on the roles of females and males in the San socio-economic system. The penultimate episode, Of Gods and Medicine Men, deals with ritual, dance, mythology and the role and function of the medicine man in a social context. The final episode, The Beginning of the End, outlines the contemporary plight of the San following their assimilation and forced insertion into the Western money economy. The young men have gone to work on farms, and are employed as trackers in the South African Defence Force. One is even shown driving a Mercedes Benz, the reward for being a Minister of the Turnhalle interim government in South West Africa. The women are tempted with prostitution and often eke out an existence as lowly paid farm labor. This episode shows the permanent dwellings, the portable radios, inadequate water supplies and destitution brought upon them by `civilization'.
Rock art is used throughout to sketch historical background. Alternatively, it is offered as tangible evidence on which to base complex interpretations of San mythology, ritual and world view.
Testament to the Bushmen both `tells a story' and `shows us something'. The Series is Van der Post's personal voyage and testament of a people he knew as a child. He makes reference to his grandfather who was partially instrumental in the demise of the `Bushmen' following several massacres in the eastern Transvaal before he was born. As a young boy Van der Post remembers making an entry in his diary promising he would one day return to the Bushmen and "beg their pardon for what had happened in the past". Remorse is a consistent theme. This intense emotion is indicated in what he says, voice inflection, facial expression and in his constant use of Biblical metaphors through which he tries to elevate the `Bushmen' to an almost divine and innocent status. The Series is true to some of the most important attributes of ethnographic film, including holism, whole bodies in whole acts, and contextualization. Socially contextualized events include the educative value of games, such as melon tossing, stick throwing, beadmaking, the collection and use of tubers, collecting water from tree hollows, a hunt and the sharing of meat.
Van der Post's sincerity and emotional involvement in the series is mediated through both the tone of his voice and the sometimes complex metaphorical use of language. However, this emotion is almost self-reflexive as he leaves no doubt that his presence in the film is more than simply an anthropological exercise -it is a personal crusade as well.
There is, however, a marked degree of mythologizing and romanticizing of the San in some of the earlier episodes.
Adapted from Tomaselli, K.G., Williams, A., Steenveld, L. and Tomaselli, R.E. (1986). Myth, Race and Power: South Africans Imaged on Film and TV. Bellville: Anthropos Publishers
Wilmsen, E. (1995). "Primitive Politics in Sanctified Landscapes: The Ethnographic Fictions of Laurens van der Post", Journal of Southern African Studies, 21, 201-223.