“The Death of the !Khau Lizard” was a song sung by a Bushman/San poet to Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd, in Cape Town in the late 1880s, who wrote it down and translated it into English.
To the /Xam people – who had been hunter-gatherers before their land was taken away from them – their idea of the land was not simply of a place that they physically occupied, and which provided them with food. Rather they had a spiritual and reciprocal relationship with the land; the mountains, the rocks and the trees all embodied a spiritual presence, shared by those who shared the land. The whole environment “is saturated with personal powers of one kind or another. It is alive. And hunter-gatherers…have to maintain relationships with these powers.” (Tim Ingold).
This was true, too, for the relationship between humans and animals. The men hunted, but the hunt was conducted sparingly, and always with the assumption that the prey had as much right to live on that land as the hunter – even the smallest among beings, like the lizard.
Talk About This
This poem is about the mountains of the Strandberg, which have many engravings. What does the poem, “The Death of the !Khau Lizard”, seem to say about the land? Are mountains merely inert, lifeless forms of stone and soil? Or are they alive and full of intent?
What does the poem seem to tell us about the origins of the elements of the landscape, and how they came about? How would this make you feel about such a landscape, if you lived in it, and such stories about it had always been part of your life?