Once were runners

Johannes Tlou remembered them, the little people who would slip across the sandy Shashi river, close to where it joins the Limpopo. They were the Vhasarwa, the Bushmen/San who came to collect the fibres of the ilala palm, to weave into rope.

Limpopo/Shashe Confluence

The confluence of the Limpopo and Shashi rivers. Image via Wikipedia

This was back in the 1940s, and the Vhasarwa were a fast disappearing people.
By then barbed wire was carving up the land, and there was little place for a people who hunted with poisoned arrows, and had little regard for international boundaries. 
Johannes saw the Vhasarwa on numerous occasions in the 1940s. He was a subsistence farmer who lived near the junction of the Limpopo and Shashi rivers, where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet.
He recalled seeing their temporary grass huts in what is now Zimbabwe, but what impressed Johannes was the Vhasarwa’s hunting prowess.

A San (Bushman) who gave us an exhibition of t...
A San/Bushman Image via Wikipedia

 In November 1996, researcher Ed Eastwood interviewed Johannes about his recollections of the Bushman. By then Johannes was deep into his 80s but he could still remember how the Vhasarwa before heading out on a hunt for kudu would capture the spoor. They would scoop up a handful of sand, imprinted with the spoor of the kudu, he told Ed, in both palms and blow on it. This Johannes said put strong hunting medicine into the spoor.
Johannes explained that this allowed the kudu to become unwary, so it could be approached and shot with a poisoned arrow.
The capturing spoor story so impressed Ed, he used the term as the title of his book.
The Vhasarwa way of hunting was probably the last of its kind in a modernising South Africa.
They hunted as humans have hunted for tens of thousands of years. It is a method of hunting that has surprised those who have studied it.
Humans simply outran their prey. 
University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble and Harvard University paleoanthropologist Daniel Lieberman have long argued that humans are finely tuned running machines. They may not be fast- a lumbering hippo is quicker than a human-but what they have is endurance. Bramble and Lieberman believe that we can outran just about any animal, from dogs to wolves, horses even a cheetah. A cheetah might have the drop on us over shorter distances, but quickly overheats and has to stop.
We have a better airconditioning system, thousands of sweat glands. 
It is believed that stone age hunter gatherers chased their prey until exhaustion. When they lost sight of their quarry, they would track the spoor, pushing the animal until it could go no further. Then they simply walked up to it and thrust a spear into it. Poisoned arrows, made the hunt a lot easy, but by chasing the wounded animal, the toxin would have worked quicker.
But as with all hunts, the hunters needed a bit of luck to go their way, a nod and smile from the Gods, and that is where the capturing of the spoor ritual came in.
The Vhasarwa have gone from the Shashi area.
 Perhaps their legacy survives in the helixes of DNA of the people who live along the Limpopo/Shashi rivers,  but no one captures the spoor anymore, and a link to our running way of life has faded away.

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About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
This entry was posted in human evolution, science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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