The Healing Land: The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert

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Brought up on stories and myths of the Kalahari Bushmen, Rupert Isaacson journeys to the vast, dry grassland that stretches across South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia to discover the truth behind these childhood tales. Deep in the Kalahari, Isaacson meets the last groups of Bushmen still living the traditional way, caught between their ancient culture and the growing need to protect their dwindling hunting grounds. He is slowly drawn into a fascinating web of ritual and prophecy -- shamans turn into lions, ...
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Overview

Brought up on stories and myths of the Kalahari Bushmen, Rupert Isaacson journeys to the vast, dry grassland that stretches across South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia to discover the truth behind these childhood tales. Deep in the Kalahari, Isaacson meets the last groups of Bushmen still living the traditional way, caught between their ancient culture and the growing need to protect their dwindling hunting grounds. He is slowly drawn into a fascinating web of ritual and prophecy -- shamans turn into lions, leopards spring from the landscape as though by magic, and at trance-inducing dances he witnesses incredible healings. But the heart-wrenching social problems of a dispossessed people are exposed as well, and what follows is an adventure of an intensity he could have never predicted.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
In The Healing Land: The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert, Isaacson's sensible writing about the Bushmen's drunken, violent life in exile from their lands is hugely enriched by his sense of what it might mean when healers talk to lions or men become leopards in a trance. The survival of the Bushmen is tangled up with the story of Isaacson's own family's longing for the Africa they once knew, as irrational and exasperating and sometimes lovely as a dream. — Michael Pye
Publishers Weekly
The son of a South African mother and a Rhodesian father but raised in London, travel writer Isaacson felt a longing for the Bushmen of his mother's stories and of Laurens Van Der Post's The Lost World of the Kalahari. Things are different today; in postapartheid South Africa, the question of the survival of the Bushmen is framed by their struggle to gain back their land. Dispossessed from their wide roaming areas by a series of foreign invaders over the course of the 20th century, Bushmen have gradually been moved to reservations where they can't hunt or heal in traditional ways. Alcohol abuse and domestic violence have become common. At first, Isaacson looks for the mythical Bushman, who rises before dawn to track and kill wild animals, stops for a reflective pause in the shade to offer spiritual parables and caps the day by a campfire barbecue with singing and dancing into the small hours of the night. But as Isaacson struggles with drunk villagers, broken-down vehicles and petty scamming by people accustomed to living off the stupidity of tourists, he loses his na vet and finds his real Bushmen, eventually forming his own bond with them. This isn't spiritual tourism; Isaacson's account is too funky and too honest about the very human weaknesses of real-life Bushmen. Still, readers come away with respect for the struggles of all indigenous people, coupled with an awareness that they may not live particularly pretty lives themselves. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Mar.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The author of several guidebooks (e.g., Southern Africa on the Wild Side), Isaacson grew up in London listening to nostalgic stories of the Kalahari from relatives, and his desire to visit the strange and mystic land led to a grown man's adventure. Isaacson demystifies the Kalahari of his boyhood imagination to present a sincere and charming chronicle of vanishing lifestyles and a touching account of the Bushmen and their land. His images are sometimes as exotic as those conjured by his relatives, but his story is warmer and more empathetic. Though history, adventure, and social commentary intermingle with the mysticism of legendary healers and trance dances, the book remains a journalistic report on a clash of civilizations and a microcosmic portrayal of a continent's evolution. Isaacson writes simply and well. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Edward K. Owusu-Ansah, CUNY Coll. of Staten Island Lib., NY Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Encounters with the Bushmen of the Kalahari, retold by journalist and travel writer Isaacson. The Bushmen have been forced to move time and again, both within and outside their traditional lands. But, as Isaacson (The Wild Hunt, not reviewed, etc.) explains, they are currently facing a new threat, sort of their own private Highland clearance, as cattle ranchers fence the land they use, driving off or killing the game that Bushmen hunt for their livings. The Bushmen are perhaps the oldest surviving culture on Earth, so it isn't surprising that they aren't taking this state of affairs lying down. Land claims have been filed in the courts, and violent resistance has been resorted to. But suddenly the Bushmen must contend with a bureaucracy, and the methods of approach have caused crises and dissention in their ranks. There are quarrels between traditionalists and moderns and between young and old, the squabbling that comes with too much alcohol, the cultural anomie, the toll taken by years of genocide and degradation. Then again, Isaacson encounters the pure fabric of everyday resistance: Bushmen living by the hunt and women gathering foodstuffs, the dance and song that manage a cross-cultural leap and touch Isaacson's soul. There are also the healers, shape-shifters, and mischief-makers, one of whom performs a healing dance for the author-and it's impossible to doubt his feelings of bien-être after the experience. Isaacson polls the black ranchers, the remnant white population, and members of the game park profession, and he finds the whole range of feelings, from outright hostility to the Bushmen, through a bigoted paternalism, on to genuine respect. Isaacson reveals a world in flux andready for new seismic shifts. An expectant moment in the history of southern Africa-a whole culture's survival hangs in the balance-portrayed by an author who digs enthusiastically for signs of a genuine persistence of the Bushmen. Agent: Kim Witherspoon/Witherspoon Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781857027693
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/2001
  • Pages: 272

Meet the Author

Rupert Isaacson

Rupert Isaacson was born in London to a South African mother and a Zimbabwean father. Isaacson's first book, The Healing Land (Grove Press), was a 2004 New York Times Notable Book. He has travelled extensively in Africa, Asia, and North America for the British press and now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Kristin, and their son, Rowan.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Glossary
Pt. 1 Ancestral Voices
1 Stories and Myths 3
2 Lessons in Reality 20
3 Under the Big Tree 32
Pt. 2 The Mantis, the Mouse and the Bird
4 Regopstaan's Prophecy 55
5 A Human Zoo 78
6 Old Magic, New Beliefs 93
7 Trance Dance at Buitsevango 113
8 Into the Central Kalahari 130
Pt. 3 The Good Little Donkeys
9 Revelations at the Red House 147
10 The Same Blood 159
11 Dream and Disillusion 170
12 The Leopard Man 190
13 Dawid Makes a Request 201
14 Bushman Politics 221
15 Off to See a Wizard 238
16 The River of Spirits 249
17 What Happened After 264
Epilogue 273
A Note About the Cover 277
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