Words by Rona Van Der Merwe.
The San heritage centre is an 850 hectare Nature Reserve on the R27 near Yzerfontein and Darling.
In a bid to combat the negative effects of ,mining on marginalised communities along the West Coast, PTWC recently partnered with Doringbaai Primary School to facilitate curated experiences as a way for learners to deepen and rediscover an understanding and love for their natural and cultural heritage.
Part of this ,educational programme included a recent visit to ,‘!Khwa Ttu’ San Heritage Centre near Darling. It was Doringbaai Primary’s first camp outing in 15 years, during which the children learned more about their natural environment, and how intimately connected it is to their indigenous heritage.
Where environmental and social justice meet
Access to pristine natural areas is reserved for those who can afford it: There is undoubtedly a great advantage in growing up from an early age in a small, coastal town with connection to the ocean. But in the face of economic challenges and historical and present-day injustices, physical proximity does not ensure a deep relationship with the natural world is fostered or maintained.
The West Coast is an ecological and cultural jewel, yet many of its inhabitants rarely get the chance to experience and discover all its wonders due to a lack of accessibility, such as land ownership and transport restrictions.
Access to nature benefits the self: Many people of the land have been historically – and it continues from outside influences – estranged from nature to a degree of unfamiliarity and discomfort.
This results in an uprootedness from a sense of home and belonging in self and the world – the ‘Western Way’. Going ‘Back to Nature’ can address these fundamental challenges of belonging and meaning in a disconnected world, in turn addressing modern psychological and social challenges.
Access to nature benefits the whole: a social filter for ecological sciences. Without access to nature, humans are less likely to access science education and participate in important conversations that lead to the formulation of future policies and nature solutions that should directly benefit marginalised groups.
Access to nature is the entry point to academic and political conversations that directly affect lived experiences. ‘Frontline’ communities are most at risk from resource destruction and climate change and must participate in the conversations that lead to policy making. These discussions and solutions are also in need of voices that hold a deeper understanding of the land and different ways of knowing beyond mainstream sciences.
“If we are alienated from that which we are made of, we are bound not to have any stake in what happens to it. If we are not stakeholders in that future, we are a silent non-voting majority.” – Suzanne Pierre
Experiential nature education is vital in today’s age in order to reintroduce children to their inherent wildness, reverse the impact of nature deficit disorder and other psychological and physiological challenges, and to ensure the continued protection of our natural world through future generations.
The Way of the San exhibit.
In order to reclaim our relationship with nature as one of reciprocity and love, we must first reclaim our relationship with our wild selves, our indigenous roots and our first beginnings: Who are we and where do we come from? Nature is not only a teacher, but also a healer.
Facilitating experiences for West Coast children helps them to rediscover their roots and reconnect with nature. !Khwa Ttu – meaning waterhole or water pan in the ancient/Xam (San) language – is a San heritage centre based on an 850 hectare Nature Reserve on the R27 near Yzerfontein and Darling.
Beautifully, sensitively and accurately curated, !Khwa Ttu aims to preserve and share San culture and indigenous knowledge through tourism and environmental restoration activities. Tours are conducted around the property by expert San guides. Attendees are trained through internship programmes at !Khwa Ttu, in order to experience the various curated exhibitions and lived experiences of San peoples around the themes of San mythology, human origins, injustices, etymology, and ethnobotany.
With a focus on tourism, !Khwa Ttu is mainly visited by outsiders and foreigners, while many West Coast locals are not even aware of the centre – as was the case for the pupils of Doringbaai Primary School. Through Protect The West Coast’s newly established partnership with the school and support from the amazing !Khwa Ttu team, the first group of local West Coast children were able to attend a weekend camp at the facility.
The group on their First People tour on day 1.
After a week of heavy rain, the group of 12 selected Grade 6 students, school principal David Fredericks and two adults, left school early on Friday for the drive from Doringbaai. They arrived late afternoon and were able to settle in comfortably at the tented camp where the !Khwa Ttu team prepared their supper on the fire, accompanied by campfire stories.
Saturday was fully packed – starting with breakfast at !Khwa Ttu’s restaurant and followed by the first tour of the day: First People, which tells the story of San mythology and the world’s beginnings through incredible artwork, after which they were guided on a short walk to identify useful plants and stop at a representation of a San homestead, where the students got the chance to prepare springbok fillet on the fire.
The second tour, Encounters, explained the grave injustices that were inflicted upon San communities through encounters with colonists, which resulted in the loss of indigenous languages.
!Khwa Ttu’s ‘Green Team’, who are responsible for growing seedlings and restoring and rewilding what were once cultivated fields in what is now a nature reserve, took the group on a tour through the nursery, explaining the medicinal properties and uses of different plant species as well as the importance of restoration work. The children were offered a freshly brewed medicinal concoction of ‘cancer bush’ (sutherlandia frutescens) and other herbs to boost immunity. The group’s taste and smell senses were highly activated after this tour.
The ‘Way of the San’ exhibition showed the group what it was like to live in a San community, with different rituals and day-to-day activities. They learned about hunting, collecting plants, dancing, raising children and family life, as well as the connection with, and importance of, different animal species, such as the eland.
The group learning about what it was like to live like the San at the Way of the San exhibit.
After another delicious meal at the restaurant, the group went on a game drive to see the different animal species at !Khwa Ttu and learn more about animal tracking. They saw eland, springbok, ostrich, zebra and blesbok. Another night was spent around the fire at the tented camp with more leisure time to explore !Khwa Ttu on Sunday morning before departing back to Doringbaai.
Experiential education, education beyond the classroom that leaves a meaningful impact, can change perceptions and lives. Experiences like these, a full weekend immersed in nature can help lead us back to who we are and where we come from: We are from nature as we are nature.
“To be native to a place we must learn to speak its language.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Reconnecting with nature, as a rite of passage, enables us to become re-enfranchised, to stand up and vote for our home through our daily life choices and our ways of being and relating to all of life.
The group patiently waiting to go on their game drive.
Protect The West Coast is extremely grateful to the wonderful team at !Khwa Ttu who supported and hosted the group, making the entire weekend possible, and we look forward to collaborating with you again.
Make sure to stop at !Khwa Ttu next time you head up the West Coast or for the perfect day outing, a mere 70 km from Cape Town.
We would appreciate your support to expand this project and other similar programmes. Please visit our website to find out more about how you can get involved: