I and many others like myself went to Kuru to search for our native Gods under the full moon; we went looking to commune with the Gods of the first inhabitants of our country.
What did Kuru mean to me? I have been pondering this question for a while now trying so hard to find a word that would beautifully capture my Kuru experience but after four whole days I have nothing, Kuru was so many things but had no collective energy that would summarize the experience of the festival. Kuru has the potential to be Africa’s best ethnic dance and spiritual fest, but unfortunately after nineteen years it lacks spirit, presence and the feeling of community and celebration that makes a festival. We had gathered to celebrate the culture of the first people of the Kalahari but it was not a celebration, it was entertainment, a spectacle. The Arena resembled a 20th century gladiator ring, the various San groups performed beautifully and graciously obviously used to being observed, studied, explored and ogled. The whole festival had a trophy hunt feel to it, people hungry for exotic experiences shoved their cameras and mobile phones in people’s faces, worse of these was a Cecil the lion moment where masses were making pre-school kids perform for pictures. It was vulgar and uncomfortable to watch.
Kuru started on the 4th with a healing ritual dance that for me was the highlight of the event. It felt real and authentic; it was such a mesmerizing dance. I could tell that it was not a show; it was a real healing dance performed not for the approval or enjoyment of the crowd; the people of the Kalahari simply gathered around the fire to heal and worship under the full moon. I thought it a beautiful gesture when members of the public were invited to join the healing circle. We cannot entirely fault the organizers or the dancers for the crude and disrespectful behavior of some audience members who significantly lowered the quality of our experience with their lack of sensitivity. These individuals held no reverence for the worship and space of others, they decided that getting drunk and then joining the healing circle was such a great and awesome idea. It was heartbreaking to watch. There was also disrespect on the stands from people who thought the whole thing was hilarious, talking indecently loud, pointing and laughing at the dancers, they ruined the experience for me. Probably ruined the experience for the healers as well, the dance that was supposed to go on until midnight ended at 10 pm, the dancers just stopped signing and clapping exchanged some words in Naro and it was over, they were tired and they were going to bed, the fire was still burning strong when we abandoned the dance.
I blame the organizers for not enforcing their own rules, it is clearly written on the event webpage that; “Kuru Dance Festival is an alcohol-free event, in order to respect the culture and security of participants. Do not bring alcohol to the festival.” Not only was alcohol allowed in for some VIP people, it was also sold at the Dqae Qare farm, by dong this the organizers greatly compromised on the quality of their own event. Not only was there drunkenness at the healing ceremony, life at the the tents was even worse; I went to Kuru to escape the noise and the general disorder of the G-West bars in my beloved ghetto only to find such alive and very much happening in the heart of the Kalahari.
After the main ritual, unable to sleep in my tent because of the noise, I followed the drums and the songs to the tents where the healing ceremonies were still very much alive. These ritual dances were smaller more intimate and I enjoyed them up until early morning.
Saturday was split into two sessions; morning and afternoon. The morning session was a bore; it was like watching Botswana Television on a day when all your friends were out on a party. Government officials, sponsors, representatives from the Kuru trust etc. took to the stage to glorify themselves on how they were saving the indigenous people. It was intolerable. The afternoon session was better, it was more festival and less bureaucracy. It was quite refreshing to witness not only San dances which were absolutely beautiful but also dances by the Mbukushu, Kalanga, Zulus, Bakwena and the Hereros. Amongst the dancers who came from all over Southern Africa, there really was a spirit of festival, community and celebration.
Even with all these little frustrations, I would still attend the festival again. Reason being that although the festival organization itself has a lot of shortcomings; the performances are real, the exchange is invaluable, the venue is beautiful and the Dqae Qare farm staff is made up of beautiful people who will make you feel welcome. My sincerest gratitude to Six Pence, Swana and Segametsi who made sure that at least my bed was warm and I had food in my belly, they also taught me a few Naro words and phrases. Although some came to Kuru for the sole reason of being absolute nuisances, they were some audience members who came to celebrate, to learn and who were respectful throughout the event. Note to the organizers: these people deserve a better festival. I however do not see a change in the alcohol and behavior issues of the attendants in the foreseeable future as the majority of these ill-behaved audience members were the so called VIP and media personnel, who will keep getting invited to Dqae Qare as long as there is a festival because even though their behavior is deplorable their money and the services they offer to Kuru have real value.
Onwards to Uhuru, Love and Light,