The term bushcraft refers to the survival skills traditionally used by the indigenous people of Africa and other countries – skills we once all had but which have largely been forgotten by modern society.
Bushcraft is all about living off the land, in harmony with nature and using nature’s resources for food, water, shelter and culture. We have included bushcraft in the conservation section of this website as we feel it is an important attribute to our civilisation and that modern man can learn much from his ancestors through the ways of the bush. In this respect, bushcraft can be seen as a form of conservation – not only in the conservation of our ancestor’s survival methods, but conservation of nature by living in harmony with it.
As this is a broad subject we will highlight some of the fundamental basics of bushcraft to get the novice acquainted with what it means.
The term ‘survival’ is often misinterpreted as a ‘struggle’ against nature, surviving against the odds in a wild, unfriendly landscape. In real survival situations, this is exactly what you shouldn’t do. Never try to compete or fight against nature, as you will always lose.
Bushcraft is the art of harnessing nature and living in harmony with it, as a part of it. Remember that we too are just animals and there are some very basic needs that we must cater for to ensure our survival and comfort, whether living in a city or out in the wilderness.
Water is the most essential survival requirement, other than air. Without water, we can only survive for a few days before dying of dehydration, and in a hot environment you will die even sooner.
In the bush, water is often scarce and anyone living in the bush needs to know how to obtain water, whether it’s by following animal trails to the nearest watering hole, or by extracting water from plants, or by collecting rain water.
In the bush there are a number of elements that one needs protection from, including the heat of the sun during the day, the cold at night, and protection from dangerous animals.
The bush provides a wealth of building materials including tough woods from trees, and fibres used for binding. There are also a number of natural shelters such as caves and rock formations that can be easily turned into a shelter from the elements. With a small amount of knowledge about how to build a decent shelter, you will have no trouble utilising the resources available to you.
The primitive nature of creating fire is both important as a heat source, as a cooking method, and as a psychologically satisfying and reassuring act.
Fires also tends to deter a number of animals, but contrary to popular belief, some animals such as lions and hyaena are actually attracted to fires, being curious creatures.
There are a huge variety of woods in the bush, most of them suitable for burning, although wood such as tambotie must be avoided as the smoke will poison any food cooked on the fire and inhaling the smoke can cause headaches and nausia.
There are also a number of ways to build a fire, from a slow burning, heat emitting fire for cooking, to fast blazing fires to create smoke and light.
Humans can survive without food for weeks, though when you are living off the land you need food to keep your energy levels high to assist you with the rugged, physical way of life that bushcraft dictates.
The African bush is full of edible food for humans, with a huge variety of plants available as food sources in the form of fruits, leaves, roots and even sap. Animals are an obvious and great source of food. All mammals are edible provided they are not sick from disease, and most reptiles and insects can also be eaten.
The Bushmen, sometimes referred to as the San, are the indigenous inhabitants of Southern Africa, tracing their routes back some 20,000 years (and probably earlier) with genetic studies that suggest they are amongst one of the oldest gene pools alive today.
Living mainly in and around the Kalahari area, the Bushmen were for a long time hunter-gathers, living off the land and using traditional bushcraft skills that had been passed down through the generations. They follow a way of life closely harmonised to the natural habitat around them.
Today many of the Bushmen tribes are using farming methods, but some still partake in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, with bushcraft still at the core of their lives. There are a few bushcraft schools who run courses with the Kalahari Bushmen. This can be a fascinating and enlightening experience.