“A more clear-sighted view [of the Bushmen] is long overduewhich makes Rupert Isaacson's book most welcome.” The Economist
The Healing Land
The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert
978-0-8021-4051-7 • $13.00 • Paperback • Mar. 2004
Although brought up in “grey, drearily ordinary” London, Rupert Isaacson’s links to Africa were strong. Polly, his mother, was a South African and his father was raised in what is now Zimbabwe. Polly kept her memories of Africa alive and handed them on to her children via remembrances of her early life there. Thus, from an early age, Isaacson was fascinated: “Long before I ever went to southern Africa, its names and regions had been described to me so many times that I could picture them in my mind’s eye.”
After growing up with these tales and mythsmostly of the Kalahari BushmenIsaacson journeys to the dry vast grassland, which stretches across South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia, to discover the truth behind these childhood stories. Deep in the Kalahari, Isaacson meets the last group of Bushmen still living the traditional way, caught between their ancient culture and the growing need to protect and reclaim their dwindling hunting grounds. Dawid Kruiper, leader of these Xhomani Bushmen, allows Isaacson to observe their daily life, and he begins to understand the extent of their disenfranchisement. They have not only decreased in number, but have been literally reduced to beggars, having lost their land and their means of subsistence, and with that their identity as a people has been profoundly threatened.
Throughout his travels and interactions with the Bushmen, Isaacson’s narrative displays an unusual sense of humanity, warmth, and openness. It’s precisely these qualities that make The Healing Land so distinctive and allow Isaacson to bring out the truly extraordinary spiritual legacy of the
Bushman, which in spite of the ongoing oppression remains at the very center of their identity. He bears witness to some remarkable displays of the Bushman healing techniquesepisodes of what appear to be genuine magic. There are shamans who turn themselves into lions, who conjure leopards from the landscape with sacred songs. Isaacson attends trance-inducing dances and witnesses incredible healings. But he also sees the heart-wrenching social problems of a dispossessed people. Then, Dawid, the Bushman leader, demands that Isaacson bring his motherthe original storytellerout to the Kalahari. What follows is an adventure of an intensity he could never have predicted.
The Healing Land records Isaacson’s personal transformation amid these extraordinary people and his passionate contribution to their political struggle. It captures his enchantment with the character, kindness, and confusion of a place that has wrenched itself from the Stone Age into the new millennium.