As life in the Kalahari is governed by the seasons, the Moon, the Earth, and the ever present Sun, dance is the purest expression of communal and individual life to these Stone Age people. Ritualistic dances accompany many an occasion.
There are two dances that are danced throughout life, one is the dance of the Little Hunger and the other is the dance of the Big Hunger. The dance of the Little Hunger is danced to meet the need for food and the dance for the Big Hunger underlines the need for love and belonging and meaning. In other words, to echo the words of the Bible, “man shall not live by bread alone”.
In his lovely book, “A Mantis Carroll”, Laurens Van der Post tells us about the intersection between the ancient and the modern. This little book explores the crossroad of modern unconscious and the primitive consciousness. Surprisingly, the tale reveals that man’s distant ancestors, the Bushmen of the Kalahari, shared a search for meaning expressed through the dance of the Big Hunger. The Bushmen have two terms for dance, one is the dance of the Big Hunger and the other is the dance of the Little Hunger. Laurens Van der Post recounts the periples of one lone Bushmen from the Kalahari who was “parachuted” by an accident of history into the jungle of New York City in the 1970s. There he wins over contemporary men and women by dancing in a circus, completely oblivious to the degradation of his circumstance so joyous and life-giving is the nature of dancing to a Bushman.
Photo by Unknown Author (CC BY 3.0)
This was a lovely realization for me, to remember from my own life in the Congo how vital dance is to life in tribal communities. This book touched a deep chord in my heart because it underlined that from time immemorial, man(woman) has looked to fulfill the need to belong to something Bigger than him(her)self. It reminds me that our deepest longing is for belonging, love and something bigger than ourselves.
That the Bushman found joy and immeasurable vitality through dance is a reminder that dance can lighten our burden by encouraging us to the pure abandon of joy in movement. Like twirling dervishes from the stone age, the Bushmen of the Kalahari remind us to feel and touch our deepest humanity by dancing to Life itself.