TESTAMENT TO THE BUSHMEN by Laurens & Jane Taylor van der Post


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That grand old man and legend-bearer of the Bushmen contributes an intimate essay of farewell to conclude this homage to a dying culture (subject of a BBC-TV series, photographed by co-author Taylor). In a Bushman legend, ""The Lynx, the Hyena, and the Morning Star,"" van der Post sees the essence of the struggle between man's nobler qualities and the forces of mean-spiritedness, jealousy, and betrayal (with correspondences to Hamlet, The Tempest, and other writings). The preceding three-fifths of the book is occupied with Taylor's serviceable, pedestrian account of remote and recent history. Taylor summarizes the arrival of the Bushmen and their first human rivals, the Hottentots, kinsmen who were cattlegrazers as well as hunters and gatherers. Subsequent years brought the dark-skinned Bantu, and with the arrival of the Dutch and English the decimation of the tribes and retreat to the Kalahari began in earnest. Today acculturation is hastening the end of the culture, bringing about a sedentary way of life with all its implications for new habits, new acquisitions, new diseases, new mores. Taylor has focused on what remains of the old ways, and with her camera has captured the few remaining nomadic tribes in traditional pursuits: a man adroit with firesticks, an old woman who can still siphon water from underneath sand layers, children and young people making music and dancing. In addition, there is a celebration of Bushman art, with rich color plates. The book does not always avoid romanticizing the primitive, especially given van der Post's Jungian interpretation of its nature. But Taylor's straightforward reporting is tonic in the regard--and there's no question of both authors' sincerity.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking