The Introduction to
The Wild Dancing Bushman
Cape Town was a novel experience for me. I had lived and worked for many years in other African countries, but never inside South Africa. The university had advertised films that were connected somehow with Bushmen in the Kalahari, and I walked down the hill into the cavernous lecture hall where they were to be shown. Much to my surprise, the first film turned out to be an old black-and-white episode of the BBC’s ‘Face to face’ interviews conducted by the late John Freeman, acerbic editor of the New Statesman. The interviewee was a jovial and relaxed Carl Jung, the great psychologist. Once the film was over, the lights came up and a lecturer from the Carl Jung Institute in Zurich stood before us. I looked around the audience and saw a couple of hundred middle-class and middle-aged white people, nearly all wearing glasses, in woollen dresses and tweed jackets, and there were plenty of beards and bald pates. Though myself visibly white and middleaged, I was unused to finding myself in such company in Africa. I felt as if I did not belong—as if I had stumbled into the coven of some cult, or at least into the wrong performance.
The lecturer launched into an account of one of the master’s dreams, on the night of 18 December 1913. It had been a fraught year for Carl Jung, breaking away from his mentor Sigmund Freud to develop his own ideas— ideas about dreams in particular. In March and April 1913 Jung had travelled to the United States, to give a paper at the New York Academy of Sciences. In August he had gone to London to give two papers: one at the Psycho-Medical Society on 5 August, rejecting Freud’s dream theory, and another—a recap of his New York paper—at the 17th International Congress of Medicine between 6 and 12 August 1913.
The break with Freud was sealed. From about October 1913, Jung felt he was alone on a journey across an ocean turning to blood. Europe was in turmoil, with industrial strife from Cracow to Cardiff and rumours of pan-continental war in the offing. May 1912 newspapers had headlined ‘The coming Armageddon’. Jung’s particular concern was the bellicose stance adopted by the German empire. In his Swiss refuge on the edge of Lake Zurich, not far from the German border, Jung dreamed his most significant dream that night in December 1913. ‘I was with an unknown, brown-skinned man, a savage, in a lonely, rocky mountain landscape. It was before dawn; the eastern sky was already bright, and the stars were fading. Then I heard Siegfried’s horn sounding over the mountains …’
At this point Jung adds, ‘and I knew that we had to kill him’, later noting that ‘the small, brown-skinned savage’ had taken the initiative. Jung and this companion lay in wait with their rifles until Siegfried ‘appeared high up on the crest of the mountain’, the rays of the rising sun behind him. The great warrior was furiously driving a chariot—a sled made of dead men’s bones— down the mountainside. Together Jung and ‘the small, brown-skinned savage’ fired their guns at Siegfried, who plunged to his death on the crags below. Fresh rain then fell, wiping out all traces of the assassination.
The resplendent Wagnerian figure of Siegfried, no doubt with shining breastplate and winged helmet, was easy enough to explain as a symbol of the aggressive Germanism that Jung realized he must kill within himself. Siegfried was drawn from the ‘amplificatory material’ of culture—myth and legend, art and literature. He could also have been the father figure whom Jung had just killed off—Freud.
‘The small, brown-skinned savage’ was more of a problem. Was he drawn from cultural symbolism or from personal experience? On reflection, Jung thought not. Psychoanalysis suggested ‘infantile or other early or primitive mental and emotional processes’ lying deep within the unconscious mind. Jung concluded that the small brown man was ‘an embodiment of the primitive shadow’ of a common human ancestry, an archetype surfacing from the collective unconscious memory of a primeval past thousands and thousands of years before.
Jung’s voyage of discovery continued after the First World War with travels in North Africa, North America and East Africa, where he experienced key moments of self-realization in contact with ‘primitive’ peoples. But he never found anyone like his small brown man.
Perhaps, the Zurich lecturer in Cape Town suggested, the small brown man—the living shadow of our primitive ancestor—had been found later in southern Africa by Laurens van der Post. (The lecturer now wanted to show us a film about Bushmen in the Kalahari.) Sitting in that lecture hall, I held my breath. I wanted to blurt out, ‘But I know who the small brown man was!’ Sampson-like, I would pull down the whole Jungian edifice—by exploding the ultimate archetype:
Jung was in London in August 1913 and probably passed through Paris thereafter. Likewise a small brown man from South Africa, a Bushman dancer called Franz Taibosh, who first appeared in London music halls in June, attracting attention in academic circles. Letters about Taibosh by the Cambridge anthropologist W.L.H. Duckworth were published in The Times newspaper in October and November 1913—at the same time as Taibosh was appearing in a Paris circus. Duckworth had been present and had given a paper at the same London conference as Jung in August.
But I could not speak: my heart was beating too fast and I hesitated and lost the right moment. I could now see in my mind’s eye, not astonishment on the faces turned towards me, but bemusement as I stumbled through an explanation. The lecturer would have mercifully cut me short, telling me to come and see him afterwards. So I kept the drama in my skull to myself. Needing fresh air, I got up and left the hall. Later a member of the audience asked me why I had walked out so abruptly. Was it a protest, or had I felt ill? I found it difficult to explain.
A few months later, I took the overnight train from Kimberley to Cape Town and booked myself into a second-class sleeping compartment. My fellow passengers were five men who were self-identified as Coloured (people of colour including Khoe and San), black (Bantu-speaking African), and white (of European ancestry). The middle-aged white Afrikaner disappeared after tipping the ticket inspector to find him a private couchette. A black youth, rather naïve, I mentally dubbed the Mother’s Boy. He told us that he had spent virtually his whole life closeted inside an affluent Soweto cantonment. Two of the Coloured men were tall and chubby, possibly schoolteachers or small businessmen, with bellies beginning to burst out of cheap three-piece suits. The third Coloured man was very short and slight and rather wizened, but evidently not more than thirty-five years old.
The short man sat on the edge of his bunk and prattled on and on, in lilting Cape Afrikaans, to the continual amusement of all except the Mother’s Boy and myself who could not follow what he was saying. He occasionally turned to the two of us, and translated his jokes and stories into an English touched with the same singsong cadences.
He told us that he was on his way home to Cape Town, after three or four years in the notorious Barberton jail of the eastern Transvaal. He had been jailed for smashing shop windows when drunk, and regretted that he had not given the magistrate a political excuse for doing so— as that would have got him released two years earlier under the amnesty for political crimes. Now, he was simply glad to be going home. Today was the first time in years that he had not been kicked around and continually disparaged as a ‘stupid Bushman’.
He was obviously a man of intelligence and sensitivity, roughened but not defeated by the prison experience: a wounded man who found consolation in spontaneous humour. For the rest of the evening he kept us amused with a stream of jokes and comments on the pretentiousness of the New South Africa, shouted above the rattle of the train and punctuated by sips from a bottle of brandy—about blacks who thought they were whites, whites who pretended they were blacks, and Coloureds who were caught between. After a few hours of sleep, the commentary and the drinking resumed as the train slid and wound its way down from the escarpment mountains on to the plains of the Western Cape. I cannot recall now what he talked about; it was certainly of no great moment. But as I looked at this short brown man in the light of dawn, I knew that I had met someone like Franz Taibosh.
A note on the term ‘Bushman’
Franz Taibosh fitted the Western stereotype of a Southern African Bushman in being short and brown-skinned, with a muscular body and wrinkled face. The word Bushman is actually extremely vague but has long been applied to people speaking Khoe and San languages whose recent ancestors lived by hunting and gathering. The English appear to have picked up the word Bushman (Bosman, Bosjeman, etc.) from Dutch people in South Africa. The word is not intrinsically insulting, but it can become so—like the words peasant and pagan for a country-person (from the French ‘paysan’), boor meaning small farmer in Dutch, heathen (i.e. heath people), and yokel being the name of a green woodpecker. Today, on the contrary, identity as Bushmen has been re-adopted as a badge of pride by some Khoe and San people in Namibia.
Most Bushmen in Angola and northern Namibia speak Northern San languages, such as !Kung or Ju/’hoansi. Most Bushmen in Botswana and central Namibia speak Khoe languages, such as G/wi and Nharo. Bushmen within the present borders of the Republic of South Africa, such as the !Ko and Xam, used to speak Southern San languages. (The word Khoe means a person in Khoe languages; the word ‘San’ being given by Khoe-speakers to other people. Southern San people actually use the terms !Ui or Taa to refer to themselves as a person.)
One or two thousand years ago some Khoe-speakers migrated southwards from the Kalahari, herding sheep and cattle as far as the Cape of Good Hope. They called themselves Khoekhoe (i.e. super-Khoe) to distinguish themselves from surrounding Southern San people. Early Dutch settlers gave Khoekhoe the insulting epithet of ‘Hottentots’, probably meaning stutterers. Franz Taibosh’s father was descended from the Korana clans of these Khoekhoe, but his mother was quite likely of San ancestry.