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  • Bushmen

    When nutrition is only "a few small berries and an odd tortoise" ...

    This is a short extract from Chapter XIX of A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa by Frederick Courteney Selous. I thought it was remarkable as illustrating what dignity and perseverance people are capable of under the most trying circumstances. I ought to blush, if I were to recall some of the trivial things I've thought have made my life difficult from time to time.

    At this place we found living a family of three-quarters-starved Bushmen. It is a marvel how these poor wretches managed to keep body and soul together. They had been living for a long time past, they said, on nothing but a few small berries and an odd tortoise, and were in such a fearful state of emaciation that it made one shudder to look at them. Their hollow shrunken faces looked like skulls with dried skins stretched tightly over them. All the flesh on their limbs seemed to have atrophied, the knee and elbow joints and the bones of the pelvis standing out in unsightly knobs, whilst (owing to their having to eat a great quantity of very innutritious food to sustain life at all) their stomachs were enormously distended ; altogether they were as pitiful-looking objects as it is possible to imagine. I gave them some meat and a little corn, and told them that on the following day if they would go with me and show me game, I would shoot them a good supply of meat. This they willingly agreed to do, though the old gray-headed father of the family said that game was very scarce about here, and that, unless God helped us, we should not find anything.

    According to agreement, I was up at daylight the following morning, and after having a cup of strong coffee took the field under the guidance of the old Bushman and his son in search of game. We were out nearly the whole day, but never saw a living thing, nor the spoor of any large game such as giraffes or elands fresh enough to follow. Wretched objects though the Bushmen looked, they stepped along briskly the entire time in front of my horse with a dogged perseverance that an unkind fate did not reward. The following day, May 13, I started the waggons at sunrise and then rode out again in search of game. The young Bushman was knocked up with his exertions of the previous day, but the old gray-headed sportsman again accompanied me. Once more we were unsuccessful, seeing nothing larger than a steinbuck. It seemed hard that Providence did not throw an eland or a giraffe in my way to kill for these miserable children of the desert, who seemed to be starving to death by inches.
    Here's an online version:

    I thought it was quite something that men who were "three-quarters-starved" had the perseverance to go "briskly the entire time in front" for "nearly the whole day".

    It also struck me as remarkable that while the young man was, not surprisingly, "knocked up" after that, his "old gray-headed" father was capable of turning out for a second day of it.