November 13, 2014

Guiding: A means of educating people in the ways of the natural world

Guiding is all about connecting things, be they other organisms, abiotic factors of the ecosystem or cultural uses.  The sandpaper raisin (Grewia flavescens) offers an educated guide the opportunity to show off their ability to link these aspects. 

Easily identifiable due to its square branches, the sandpaper raisin is often found on rocky areas, termite mounds and riverine bush.  Its fruits provide a great source of nutrients for a plethora of animals, including elephant, warthog, baboon, a variety of antelope species and a myriad of frugivorous birds.  These same fruits can also be soaked in water for a few days to make a refreshing drink that is popular in Keokoland, northern Namibia.

The wood of the raisin family is hard and durable and its branches often grow very straight, leading to its cultural use as fire sticks and also for making arrow shafts.  In this area, the Shangaans have adopted an unusual ritual to test the manhood of young boys:  3 pieces of wood are cut from a large branch and placed between the fingers of the hands, with the square edges pressing into the nerves at the base of the fingers.  The fingers are then squeezed closed and the recipient must not show any signs of pain to prove himself.  Alasdair Armstrong was my unfortunate guineapig as I demonstrated the ritual and as you can see, he failed to prove himself!

Guiding is as much about entertaining your guests as it is educating them in the ways of the natural world.  Too much science can saturate guests and thus an essential guiding skill is interaction.  

Guides must learn to use all 5 senses when taking a guest on safari and immersing them in the cultural history of the area is an important tool.  The bush is full of things to touch, taste, smell and hear and it is demonstrations like this that can take a guest’s, often once in a lifetime, experience to the next level.
Photos and article by Ben Coley
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