It was January, 1999. As a Nature Conservation officer in the Nyae Nyae and Khaudum National Park areas in northeastern Namibia, I had been called out to Boebi post where Wild Dogs had killed three cattle.
About the Author: Andries Alberts, Game Warden of Bushmanland and the Nya Nya conservation area. Find out more here.
!Xashe was a bushman belonging to the Ju’hoansi tribe, and it was him whom had suffered the loss.
!Xashe had seen many moons, his skin was rumpled with the years gone by. As we sat down together he explained to me what had happened.
Fourteen Cape Wild Dogs had killed three of !Xashe’s milking cows. Taking notes for my report, I explained to him that unfortunately there was no compensation for damages incurred by wildlife and that there was very little that we could do for him. His voice was soft and gentle as he told me that he understood.
As I was turning to leave, !Xashe called me back, knowing well I had to return to my station. I marveled at his existence – this simple way of life with so few things to call his own. I told him that he was a very tough old man to grow so old in such a harsh environment. He smiled and said to me, “I’ve got many secrets.”
As we shared a simple lunch, !Xashe told me it made him proud to see the Namibian people working. He touched the scar on my face and asked what had happened. I explained how a leopard had crossed my path whilst I was hunting as a boy on my father’s farm.
As he rested his shaking hand on my shoulder I saw the expression in his eyes change.
“A leopard?” he asked. “Yes.” I replied. He questioned my work and asked if I had found my peace yet.
” I am a keeper of the game, they talk to me,” I jokingly answered.
“And they listen to you? he asked.
“We both are Africa’s children, and as you are the Keeper of the Game, I am the Keeper of the Stars.” !Xashe said, referring to the many myths and stories of the bushmen.
A week later I was called back to !Xashe’s village. His last milking cow had also been killed by Wild Dogs. I expressed my condolences for yet another great loss. We sat around the fire as his wife made us a cup of coffee.
We talked about many things that day; about the rain and the way of life. I realized that he was a Holy man as he told me that his life would end soon, that his ancestors were calling for him.
!Xashe looked up into the sky and pretended to touch the clouds as he told me this story.
“I am telling you this, because you are one of Africa’s children. You admire and love her just as I do. Her secrets should always be kept. There are many people that don’t have the time to sit and stare at the beauty that is Africa.”
When he was a young man, he one day went out hunting with his bow and arrow. He walked past ten large trees and the soil changed from red to white. That night he woke to hyaenas walking right past him. No longer able to sleep, he made a fire under the full moon. His heart was racing, though he knew not why. He sensed magic in the air, and as he had been taught by his father, and by his father’s father, he started dancing around the flames, paying homage to the mighty elephant. Soon he fell into a trance. He felt dazed and confused, but still he kept dancing until the logs had burned out. Exhausted and sweating he fell to the ground, staring up at the moon.
“What is it that you want from me?” he asked the moon. “What do you want to tell me?”
!Xashe rose to his feet and in the distance he saw a bright, luminous glow. It looked like a fire, but as he stumbled closer, he could see that the light was different. He walked over fields of thorns and crawled underneath thorn bush, but his body was not harmed. As he reached this place of light, he looked down onto a pan, filled with stars. Picking up one of the shiny rocks, he felt a strange power crawl into his veins. He then knew he had been called to protect the holy place, to be the Keeper of the Stars.
I was speechless, could not believe my ears.
When I asked !Xashe if he could find this place again, he smiled at me and said that only he could go there and return unharmed, others would be cursed. Visions of wealth disappeared from my thoughts.
“The secret should be kept for Africa. I tell you only because I will leave this earth soon, and someone should know. How I wish I could see the stars again.”
Returning to !Xashe’s village one month later with a horse and saddle, I was told that !Xashe’s wife had passed away. He walked slow, with eyes heavy and dull. He saw the horse, smiled and said, “You understood. Leave the horse and I will make the journey soon!”
I asked !Xashe if he could bring me a star so that I could admire it. Immediately I felt ashamed at my greedy request as just days earlier, he had buried his wife.
“I know your intentions are good. But Africa holds many secrets that should be kept. Things that no man may see, no one can hear about. I only pray that you understand.”
A week later I was told of !Xashe’s death. I went to Boebi Post to collect my horse and I could see that it had been ridden by the saddle’s imprint on the horse’s back.
Since !Xashe’s death, many have attempted to find this place where the stars lie on the ground. None whom have sought this wealth have returned alive. As you read these words, there still lies a pan somewhere in Bushmanland, covered with diamonds !
– And !Xashe is the Keeper of the Stars.