There’s nothing more relaxing and energising than drifting off with the sound of the ocean’s ferocious roar only metres away and a glorious full moon illuminating the sky. That’s where I am at as I type these words. I’ve come to escape the cities and hopefully get a little closer to the Xhosa people, an indigenous population that make up around 18% percent of South Africa’s population.
I know I’m on a hillside in a tent and I had to make my way through a forrest to get here but I don’t know a lot more. I arrived at Bulungula in the dark after travelling all day on a bus and then a car. There were vast rolling hills and smatterings of round houses (roundevals) throughout the countryside and so many goats and cows dominating the tracks but then the sun went down. For the next few hours I travelled from the nearest town Mthatha in the thick night sky.
Woken up by the sunset at 6.30am, I jumped up to get a first peek at what I imagined to be a beautiful picture. Luckily I didn’t open my tent and see a big grey carpark outside or it would have been shocker!
Bulungula is a magical place and probably the holy grail that every backpacker searches for. It’s off the beaten track (literally!) and completely immersed in local culture. But it still attracts a steady stream of travellers, just the more adventurous kind as it’s a mission to get there, so a really eclectic mix of interesting souls from around the world.
A 23 year old Xhosa girl took me on a tour of her village, to check out the school, meet her people and see first hand where they live. I learnt heaps! Their quirky roundeval homes are basic by western standards and everything is done in the one round room. They are a mix of Christians and those who believe in Ancestors. There are no churches here, the Christians take turns in turning their homes into places of worship each Sunday. With Easter only a few days away, there was excitement in the air. Those that have chosen the Ancestors pathway were still excited, but they planned to umm drink.
Each village has a head, elected in and they resolve any disputes within the community. ‘So and so stole my chicken’, ‘Blah keeps getting wasted and singing all night long’. The head’s decision is respected and is final. Could this ever work in Western society? Keep the police and authorities out and deal with any issues amongst the community. Probably not but a nice ideal.
The Xhosa people’s rituals are interesting and I could probably dedicate a whole blog post to them but I’ll give you a snapshot. Aged around 18 every Xhosa boy is circumcised by the elders. There’s been a bit of controversy around this and if you believe wikipedia you’ll see that 800+ boys have died from this practice and some are left with disfigured manhood. But this coming of age ritual is incredibly important within their culture. After having the op, the boy (well now man) is led to a remote purpose built hut far away from home, where he remains for the healing time (usually 4-6 weeks). Some say rituals occur, but these are top secret. There is no pain relief as we know it, just herbs and they are painted in a white clay. (Quick straw poll, how many of you boys have your legs crossed right now?) When the man returns he’ll get rid of all his existing clothes and begin life in a new smart outfit. In the townships, they are fully dressed up with a smart flat cap too for a couple of months.
I heard that at childhood their left little fingers are cut off to prevent misfortune, well ‘just the tip’. This must be old school as I checked every single Xhosa person I met and all pinkies remained intact.
Oh and the Xhosa language! It’s so clever. I have tried and tried to say Xhosa, but it involves clicking your tongue and saying hosa as one continuous sound. So I have no hope of learning the complex series of clicking noises they use, woven into every sentence.
Whilst exploring the village I was introduced to a fascinating man called JP, a firm believer in sustainable building and living. Once upon a time a part of the corporate world JP’s travelled round communities for many years introducing his eco-friendly skills. He’s now made this community his home for a number of years with the intention of teaching local people how to make their own lives sustainable. The trouble is, teaching without an end product to show them isn’t enough so it’s taking time as a one man band to build and then show and then teach. JP’s home is like an inventor’s heaven, well an eco-inventor! There are fridges made of buckets and soil, glass bottles set within walls giving colourful circles of light and a paraffin fuelled shower. Oh and a toilet which flips feaces directly into a compost bin.
I’m going to do a quick shout for anyone looking to donate to a more than worthy cause. JP currently has five apprentices, learning his skills so that the village can continue to evolve in an ecologically sound way. As with all apprentices and teaching it takes valuable time and expenses. If you’d like to support this wonderful project please contact me via the details on my contact page and I’ll put you directly in touch with JP.
So if you’re ever looking to explore the heart of South Africa, head to the Wild Coast and stay at Bulungula. It’ll be so worth it, I promise.