Up in the trees
by Ron Swilling
According to the grandfathers and old people, the name Hai||om or Treesleepers, one of the seven San/Bushman groups living in Namibia, stems from the time when people used to sleep up in the trees to protect themselves from lions and other predators.
The Hai||om might not sleep on the tops of trees anymore, but they have named their campsite in Tsinsabis Treesleeper Camp, the perfect name for the tamboti, leadwood and buffalo-thorn woodland in which it is situated, for the wooden decks built up in the trees and for the community who manage it.
Situated 65 km north of Tsumeb and 130 km east of Etosha’s Namutoni Camp, it is an enjoyable stop along the way to Etosha or en route to Rundu and Caprivi. The camp consists of six private sites, five with wooden decks, picnic tables and fireplaces, three with their own private bamboo-and-thatch ablution blocks with showers heated by solar energy.
The odd makalani palm adds character to this charming, attractive and well-thought-out camp. The decks allow for a night closer to the stars, and in the morning roosters and francolins usher in the dawn while grey louries ‘kwê’ through the peaceful day. The main makalani deck is a good spot to linger in the late afternoon and sip a cold beer.
Activities and culture
Being a Hai||om camp, Tree-sleeper offers Bushman/San activities, a bush walk, a village tour into Tsinsabis and San singing and dancing. The bush walk is an introduction into the traditional bush food and medicine of the San people, still used by the older generation of Hai||om today. The village tour gives a glimpse into twenty-first-century San life and provides a brief history of Tsinsabis, with the influence of the western world and the harsh hand dealt by history and humanity on the once nomadic hunter-and-gatherer group, clearly evident.
On well-laid-out paths through the trees, the bush walk led by guide /Goâ-ta ke, or Paul as he is called in English, begins with a discussion on Sansevieria aethiopica, mother-in-law’s tongue, a plant once used to make fibrous ropes for hunting traps, with its sap a cure for earaches, and ends with Paul donning his traditional attire and making a fire by twisting a hard stick against a soft one.
It includes an explanation on how to make poison for arrows from the larvae of the Diamphidia locusta beetle mixed with the milky sap of the tamboti tree or the blinkbaarkanniedood, the common poison plant, and a lesson on reading tracks.
Walking past a termite hill, he explains that the older Hai||om can recognise the eyebrow-shaped mounds that the red-headed soldiers make when the flying termites are ready to emerge, as well as the small mounds made three weeks to two months later, depending on the rain, for the second catching.
They wait with bags to collect the swarming winged termites, keeping them overnight, and when the sun is out, spreading them to dry and for the wind to blow away their wings. Alternatively they can be slightly roasted, making a delicious meal. Today, a hole in the ground marks ownership of a termite mound.
A Bushmen’s banquet, a breakfast in the bush, can be pre-booked for a minimum number of six people, the meal accompanied by San singing. Simple potjiekos (a stew cooked in a three-legged iron pot) meals are also available on request.
Tsinsabis was once a German stopping point for those travelling from Okaukuejo to Grootfontein, to water their camels at the Tsîtsaub spring. In the 1970s and 1980s it was a South African army base that made use of the skill of Bushman trackers. After Namibian independence in 1990, it was declared a rural and resettlement area for landless Namibians, the Hai||om making up the majority of the population today with a small group once living in Etosha joining the Tsinsabis settlement.
Sitting on the makalani deck, Manager Moses //Khumûb relates how Treesleeper Camp began as a result of a Dutch student Stasja-Koot’s research on the San people in Tsinsabis for the Namibian Ministry of Land and Resettlement. He recommended a tourist project because of the Hai||om’s links and proximity to Etosha and started fund-raising for the project in the Netherlands. In 2000 he returned and formed the Tsinsabis Trust.
In 2004 volunteers from the community, including Moses and Rally International volunteers, began building the campsite, opening it to visitors in 2006. Today the campsite is 100 per cent community-owned and administered by the Tsinsabis Trust. The seven employees, crafters supplying the small craft shop, traditional singers and the village families that are visited, all benefit from the money generated from the campsite, each person sometimes sup–porting up to six people.
Treesleeper Camp is well worth the visit, especially if your journey takes you into the vicinity of Tsumeb, whether in eastern Etosha or heading north. With its attractive campsite and tree-filled land, the stopover is pleasurable. Sleeping on a wooden deck under a leafy tree and a heaven of stars or in the moonlight is such a uniquely good experience, that it makes you wonder whether it’s because of some kind of arboreal origins or a never-ending quest to reach the stars. Whatever the reason, Treesleeper Camp is refreshingly lovely.
This article was made possible by Cymot Namibia
This article appeared in the June/July ‘09 edition of Travel News Namibia.