When the hunter-gatherer San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert – among the world’s oldest people – spend time with the Gold Coast 2018 Queen’s Baton, one starts to get a sense of the real and incredible diversity that exists in today’s Commonwealth community.
Sixty kilometres north-east of the tidy streets of Windhoek, Namibia’s savanna spreads out in a vast expanse of mustard-yellow dust and camel thorn bush.
Here at the N/a’an ku sê (na-an-ku-se) Wildlife Sanctuary, a passionate group of conservationists are working to preserve the land, cultures and wildlife of Namibia.
As the sun drops behind a painted horizon, a small group of people emerge from the tall grass. They are San Bushmen, one of the world’s oldest people.
Light-footed and silent, they approach in single file towards the handful of tourists who are standing, slightly awkward, in the middle of the darkening savanna. Entirely unselfconscious of their diminutive stature and mostly naked bodies, the San shake the hands of everyone present and then sit in a tight circle on the sand.
The family’s patriarch, a fine-boned elderly man with a permanent grin, speaks with the co-founder of N/a’an ku sê, a woman called Marlice.
He says that he doesn’t like the fire that’s already been lit, and prefers to start his own. His son rubs two fire sticks together until smoke appears and a spark sets a handful of dry grass alight – all in a matter of minutes.
Now with a proper fire lit, the San are nearly ready to receive the Queen’s Baton. But first, they must dance, a gentle stamping of feet accompanied by clapping and haunting vocals.
Marlice explains the Baton’s role in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, she tells them about the Queen’s message at its heart and how far around the world it will travel. Finally, the San are ready to be batonbearers.
Against a black African night sky, the colourful glow of the Baton lights up their delicate faces and curious eyes. The family holds, hugs and hands the Baton between themselves, clapping, singing, giggling, asking softly spoken questions.
Could they hold on to it for just a little bit longer, they ask Marlice.
When it’s time to go, Marlice translates their parting words: ‘It is an honour to have seen this. We give it our blessings so that every hand that touches it must take our blessings with them. Our soul will be carried with the Baton here on forward wherever it travels.
The Queen’s Baton Relay will travel to all 70 nations and territories of the Commonwealth.
It arrives in South Africa on Monday, 15 May, and will be in the country till 20 May before heading off to Australia.