The Healing Land: Research Methods in Kalahari Communities

By McLennan-Dodd, Vanessa | Critical Arts, July 2004 | Go to article overview

The Healing Land: Research Methods in Kalahari Communities


McLennan-Dodd, Vanessa, Critical Arts


Abstract

The Healing Land (Isaacson, 2001a) is a vivid, experiential account of Rupert Isaacson's journey towards personal and community healing among the [not equal to] Khomani Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. This paper provides a detailed analysis of The Healing Land in relation to Isaacson's research methodology and interaction with the [not equal to] Khomani, examining how the story he tells is influenced and shaped by his own perceptions and experiences. This article echoes the journey of autoethnography from the inter--to the intra-personal. Factual, text-based information on the [not equal to] Khomani and a synopsis of The Healing Land leads to the incorporation of the author's voice into the article, as she refers to personal interviews conducted during research on the book, and shares inner reflections on the article's conclusion.

Introduction

The Healing Land (Isaacson, 2001 a) is a vivid, experiential account of Rupert Isaacson's journey towards personal and community healing among the [not equal to] Khomani Bushmen (1) of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. This paper provides a detailed analysis of The Healing Land in relation to Isaacson's research methodology and interaction with the [not equal to] Khomani, examining how the story he tells is influenced and shaped by his own perceptions and experiences. Although Isaacson would probably describe himself as a travel writer or journalist, rather than an auto-ethnographer, his writing incorporates many aspects of auto-ethnographic methodology, as he locates his encounters with the Bushmen within his personal experience and frames of reference. This analysis of Isaacson's work with reference to auto-ethnographic research methods aims to demonstrate the degree to which reflexive methodology call lead to transparency and honesty, and allow the reader to develop a deeper and more complex understanding of the people and situations in the story. Insight into Isaacson's research and encounters in the Kalahari is gained through extensive textual analysis as well as in-depth discussion with the [not equal to] Khomani involved in the production of The Healing Land.

The [not equal to] Khomani of the Northern Cape

The [not equal to] Khomani of the Northern Cape number around 70-80 at Witdraai, one of the farms allocated to the community in 1999, where many of the [not eqaual to] Khomani featured in The Healing Land now reside. The total number in the region is thought to be approximately 1 500. The [not equal to] Khomani originally lived, hunted and gathered in the area which is now the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KGTP), and were evicted soon after the formation of the original Kalahari Gemsbok Park in 1931 (Chennells, 2002, p.51). More forceful evictions took place under apartheid in the early 1970s. Many of the [not equal to] Khomani settled in Welkom, a dusty township just outside the KGTP. During the apartheid era, they were classified as 'coloureds', Bushmen being no longer considered to exist in South Africa. The people lived in harsh, poverty stricken conditions, marginalised economically, politically and socially. The violence and dislocation wrought by colonialism and apartheid resulted in the [not equal to] Khomani being widely dispersed, and their language and cultural practices becoming almost extinct. "In common with other displaced indigenous peoples, they had to a large degree become assimilated in or dominated by the local pastoralist groups, and their ancient cultural practices were sporadically maintained in isolated groups" (Chennells, 2002, p.51). The [not equal to] Khomani all speak Afrikaans as well as Nama, an indigenous tongue, having learnt Afrikaans through working for local farmers. Nama, unlike many ancient dialects, is understood by several different communities. Several [not equal to] Khomani left the Kalahari in 1990, to seek income from cultural tourism at Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve in the Western Cape. …

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