Leaves huts as temporary shelters for shade

Members of the Khoi San (Bushmen) tribe named Ju/’hoansi are also called !Kung. Both, /’ and ! denote click sounds. It is a society of about 30,000 people spread over Namibia, Botswana, and southern Angola, with a central area at the Botswanan-Namibian border area around Tsumkwe. During foraging or hunting expeditions they are using leaves huts as temporary shelters providing shade.

Why is a temporary shelter necessary?

During wild food gathering and hunting in the months of September and Oktober, when the weather is very hot and leaves have only evolved very sparingly, they are building temporary grass- or leave shelters for protection against the scorching sun and spend the time from around 11 am to 4 pm under this protection. These shelters got the same design as already used since ages. The Curator of the Austrian Natural History Museum in Vienna took and published photos of such shelters on his expedition to !Kung bushmen in 1927 (pictures below on the left side) and K. Weule published a drawing of such shelters in 1911 (picture below on the right side).

Building these shelters is technically not difficult, but very strenuous due to the environmental circumstances. Location of the intended site should never be where cattle, donkeys, goats, or antelopes regularly rest in greater numbers, as there will be a concentration of ticks, notable sand tampans, which have to be avoided. And – on a side-note – it is anyway not a good idea to approach domestic animals resting under shade in the African bush, as many of them will defend their place and are not infected by peaceful behavior yet.

Building the temporary shelter

After a suitable spot was found with enough well-leaved, non-spiny poles and enough grass or green leaves around, the place is cleared from plant material until only sand and small matters will remain.

Next, opposite to each other and about three meters apart, two holes will be dug into the sand, each about 40 cm deep. They serve to hold the two entrance poles, which are the main poles of the whole contraption. Thereafter labor is being divided. Two people will dig holes in a semi-circle behind the entrance poles: each about 50 cm apart. And two other members of the band will cut suitable poles and bring them to the site. Covering is done either with dry grass from bottom to top, or the leaves on the poles are left in place and interwoven with other twigs of neighboring poles. Between ground and earnest leave- or grass covering, a space of about 50 cm is left open in order to allow air to flow across the floor.

Working time for the whole construction took in our case about half an hour, but after a 6 km walk over rough, pathless, thorny country and working under midday sun, energy was fast vanishing. Shade however was really dense in the shelter, and airflow was cooling the body somewhat from the 38 degC surrounding temperature in shade.

Lessons learned from Ju/’hoansi temporary shelter:

  • In September/October it is necessary to build an artificial shade in the wild of Namibia’s northern savannah biomes, due to the relentless heat
  • From 11 am to 4 pm it is highly advised to stay within this shelter, otherwise heatstroke can easily occur
  • Ju/’hoansi people developed long ago a fast to be erected and efficient temporary shelter design, which is still in use in modern days