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The Story of Fire

September 26, 2018 Written by Eric Lake

FIRE! It provides light, heat and warmth. Used by humans for cooking, surviving the cold, and for the skillful burning of landscapes to encourage new growth, fire is an essential transformational element. But how did we learn to harness the power of fire? Nxisa, a Naro Bushmen elder and grandmother tells the story of how the Bushmen got fire.

The Story Of Fire

In the old times of the past, the early years when humans could still talk with the animals, the Bushmen knew about fire. But it was very hard to make fire. The only way they could make fire was by watching for rainbows when it rained. If they were lucky, the rainbow will throw off the red color onto the ground.

When someone saw this, they would go off looking. At that spot, a special mushroom would be growing. The Bushmen would pick it, leaving it out in the sun and it would start to burn. If there wasn’t a rainbow or they didn’t have any of the special mushroom they couldn’t make fire.

One day, when the hunters went out on a hunt, they came across an area where Ostriches lived. They followed the tracks of the Ostriches and when they came close to them, the hunters hid away in the bushes and watched what the Ostriches were doing. To their surprise, they saw one of the Ostriches using funny sticks and from those sticks, there was fire!

After seeing this, the hunters came out of their hiding place and asked the Ostriches what they were doing. “We are using these sticks to make fire,” the Ostriches explained. They agreed to show the Bushmen hunters how to make and use the sticks. From then on, the Bushman knew how to make their own fire whenever they wanted or needed it.

San Bushmen making fire sticks

In the picture above, Bushmen hunters are making fire sticks from branches they gathered earlier from the “Fire Bush.” They strip the leaves off the branches, drying and straightening them by placing them into the coals of a fire. Below is a picture of the finished fire sticks, which are used to create a fire by friction.

San Bushmen fire sticks

The Bushmen carve a point on one end of a fire stick and use it to drill into a second stick, held steady on the ground with one foot. Under the the bottom stick, dry grasses are placed for tinder. The firm, steady pressure of the drilling stick eventually causes enough friction to create a spark, which is caught in the tinder bundle and gently blown until it becomes a flame.

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