Thursday, 22 July 2010

San ethno-botanical trail at !Khwa ttu

A new trail that showcases edible, medicinal and otherwise useful fynbos plants was launched at the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre, just 70km up the R27 from Cape Town, back in February 2010. I've been meaning to get back there myself to do the firsthand thing on the new trail, but haven't managed to do so yet, and rather than keep silent, it makes more sense to publish what information I do have, then follow up later with a more personal account.


The driving concept behind the botanical trail was that it "should make both San people and visitors aware of the multiple ways the San ancestors of the Western Cape used the indigenous flora, namely the fynbos plants." What I appreciate is that the process of creating the trail helped recover and disseminate this traditional knowledge within the San communities. That there are then tourists who come just to be exposed to this knowledge - for a fee - helps affirm the value of tradition and thereby San culture itself. (Yes, there's a lengthy digression about commodification and the risk of culture coming to have value only if it can be commercialised in some manner - or only if externally validated - but let's hold that for another time.)

More on the ethno-botanical trail, from the material I received from responsible tourism maven, Helen Turnbull:

It took an entire year to design and implement the plant trail as every small step was carried out by the !Khwa ttu reference group, whose members were in the majority San guides and trainee guides, their trainer – who is also a landscape architect - and the !Khwa ttu CEO. In numerous lively discussions the concept of both the trail and the exhibition were developed and finalised.

The implementation though took place on various levels. On the one hand the guides and trainee guides conducted intensive literature research into fynbos vegetation; on the other hand they manually cleared the area for the trail, which is nested between some rock outcrops. The research resulted in naming the themes of the plant circles ‘Teas and Beverages’; ‘Women’s Health, Beauty and Child Care’; ‘General Health Remedies’; ‘Food and Spices’ and ‘Hunting and Household’. It also led to identifying suitable plants in the !Khwa ttu vicinity, which were then transplanted and propagated at the newly established !Khwa ttu nursery. Some of the useful fynbos plants raised at the !Khwa ttu nursery are sold at the end of the plant trail.

The !Khwa ttu maintenance team also played an important role in setting up the plant trail. They installed the irrigation scheme, fitted the frames for the plant labels and constructed the wooden showcases.

Renowned San artists from Platfontein near Kimberley in South Africa, were invited to !Khwa ttu to paint a mural reflecting the different historical eras of the San. Their colourful mural was divided into the San’s early past, which was one of abundance; their recent past, which was sadly one of dispossession and marginalisation; and the current circumstances of revitalisation and participation. The same timeline is also mirrored in the poster photographs hanging on the wall opposite the mural and the artefacts displayed in the showcases.

There's also a lovely post on !Khwa ttu's blog written by a trainee guide and ‡Khomani woman from the southern Kalahari.

I've really enjoyed !Khwa ttu over the years and believe it's an under-appreciated experience in the Cape Town region (as I've written about previously). Happy to have another excuse to visit again!

I'm also keen to see the mural done by the !Xun and Khwe artists from Platfontein - there are several from this community whose paintings and prints are in the (exceptional and overlooked) William Humphreys gallery in Kimberley and in major collections around the world. (The Platfontein community's land also encompasses Wildebeest Kuil, one of the best rock art engraving sites in southern Africa!)

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Blogging Hiatus

Gentle Reader,

Some five years into the life of Afrika T, I now find myself unable to keep up with contributions at a level that I and you have come to expect from this blog. Partly this is because of other activities in responsible tourism (see example here, and another here), partly from other projects in sustainability (see examples here and here), and partly for reasons that are more personal.

I am certainly still active online and in responsible travel, so feel free to comment on existing posts here, to follow me on Twitter, and to note what I've been reading online via Delicious. I also hope to return to Afrika T, so am not bringing the blog to a halt, just declaring a hiatus of indefinite duration...

Thank you for your support over the years, and, if you're a newcomer to the site, may it still prove valuable.

Kind regards

Kurt

5 December 2011