By Eline Kieft
With money from Coventry University, I was able to go on a 3-week field trip to the Kalahari desert in Namibia, to dance with the indigenous people there. Together with three fantastic colleagues, we visited the San who live in the North-East of the country. They used to be nomadic hunter-gatherers, but now live in a reservation, and their traditional ways of living are becoming more and more restricted.
We went with a specific focus to look at their healing dances. I wondered if we can learn from their views on dancing, to find inspiration for self-management, resilience, coherence and wellbeing for people in the west who are dealing with long-term chronic conditions.
We managed to attend three dances in three different villages, and interview the healers afterwards. We collected, even in such a short time, a wealth of information and some amazing footage.
At the agreed time and location of the dance, a fire would be lit. People, young and old, would gather around it. Women would start singing, a complex rhythm. This would help the healers to gather energy in their bodies to do their work.
Once enough energy was raised, they were able to put their hands on an ailing person. One woman for example was in severe pain, couldn’t walk very well, had very little energy and was very weak. The healers put their hands on her many times. Sometimes they helped each other to sustain the healing energy, so more than one person was working on her. The ‘diagnosis’ was that she was carrying the dis-ease (in this case jealousy) for the entire community, which affected her heart. The morning after the healing dance, her eyes looked sparkly, and she walked much more easily with a spring in her step.
Of course, making a translation to western context is easier said than done. After all, in our culture, we don’t tend to dance barefoot around the campfire! Our community structures are different, which has an effect on the ways we see health, and illness, and ways to support wellbeing. There, for example, healing is a community effort. If someone is ill, the community is ill, and healing is a collective responsibility.
We also have other views on living and dying. In the west we often fear to ‘die alone’ or ‘be forgotten’. Thinking in cyclic awareness, and the possibility of living on as ancestors, create a different way of looking at life and preparing for death.
The role that nature plays in our lives is also different. There, it is considered that the land has its own song, and if the land changes, the people change.
How can we learn more about nature again? Would that support our wellbeing? No, we don’t have to become hunters and gatherers, but it is nice to explore where our food comes from, where our waste water goes, and how we are all part of the bigger picture.
It was not all about the dance. We learned so much about a ‘culture in transition’, with all its paradoxes, struggles, contradictions, tensions regarding racism, loss of traditional values, skills and structures, the introduction of monetary system, and government influence.
In short, it was an unforgettable trip. If you are interested – there are three workshops for people with long-term chronic conditions coming up in June 2017, in which I’ll share some of the materials, and we will look at drawing inspiration from this in terms or our own health and wellbeing. Looking forward to see you there!