Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 April 2018
The dance is our religion … The Bushman has always known the Big God and the way to him through our dance.(Tete, a Ju|’hoan healer)
When I dance and the people sing loudly, the power comes to my feet. It is the power of the music and the seriousness of the occasion that makes me very hot. N|om is also heat … I only feel power in the dance.(Twele, a Ju|’hoan healer)
Once upon a time, in the remote elemental past of southern Africa, myths concerning San cosmology have it that a trickster deity called Pishiboro first appeared in this world. He emerged from the depths of the earth's subterranean bowels by climbing upwards through a deep waterhole onto this earth. Until his arrival, the carnal world had been characterised by a state of inertia. This was the dramatic beginning of the creation of humankind, natural life forms and landscape features, according to the mythology of the G|wi, one of several San groups of the central Kalahari Desert. In another twist to this creation myth, this foundation of all creation was a culmination of Pishiboro's agonising demise from a fatal puff adder bite to his genitals. His kicking and writhing limbs gouged out the ancient dry valley beds and his decaying body became the rivers, while his black hair created the rain clouds. Today, these pans and dry river beds are called molapos. As a result of Pishiboro's emergence, the G|wi believe that the unfamiliar underworld and this present world of the living are linked ‘through certain deep waterholes’, some of which can still be seen in the arid Kalahari landscape. In other similar San creation myths, deities like Pishiboro ascended into the sky realm, where they reside to this day as sky gods. George Silberbauer writes of the G|wi divinity N!adima, who created the heavens, earth and seasons and is called upon in all matters of religious significance. N!adima is the G|wi's cosmological portrayal of the Great God while Pishiboro is almost invariably presented in their folklore as the earthbound trickster deity.