|Why ‘Thinking Threads’? Homepage
The name is taken from ideas of the late nineteenth century Cape /Xam Bushmen, as recorded in an
archive composed by a philologist Wilhelm Bleek and his sister in law, Lucy Lloyd, predominantly in the
1870s. Some /Xam Bushmen spoke of a ringing heart string or thread that is at the centre of their being.
When it ‘falls’ they die and when death is near they no longer hear it ringing.
A Bushmen named Dia!kwain gave the account that a ‘sorcerer’ named !nuin-/kuiten was walking about at
night in the form of a lion when he was shot by a Boer farmer. As his was dying he asked Dia!kwain’s
father to sing:
People were those,
Who broke for me the string.
The place became like this to me,
On account of it,
Because the string was that which broke for me
The place does not feel to me,
As the place used to feel to me,
On account of it.
The place feels as if it stood open before me.
The place does not feel pleasant to me.
On account of it. (Bleek 1936: 134)
In a forthcoming paper I argue that thinking around this phenomenon has been unclear. My reading is not
that this string equates to bow strings or is mere imagery operated by /Xam as they considered their
relationships with the earth (see Solomon 2009). The string equates to the threads or gifts of life (divine
wind) that shaman had within them. The ringing, I suspect, relates to the ringing which accompanies trance
like states or perhaps the ringing of silence. The idea of talking healing essence ‘standing’ threadlike
within people is one common to many KhoeSan. When it falls, like a falling star or a fallen heart, death
I use the term ‘thinking threads’ to capture, variously, KhoeSan ideas about how people and landscape
are ‘entangled’, in an Ingold (2011) like sense, how notions of threads feature in accounts of Bushmen
healers moving in animal form at night or being otherwise threaded into the world and, how my thinking
seeks to link up apparently diverse threads of the KhoeSan world.
Bleek, D.F.( 1936) ‘Beliefs and customs of the /Xam Bushmen. Part VIII: more about sorcerers
and charms’. Bantu Studies 10: 131–162.
Solomon, Anne (2009) ‘Broken strings: interdisciplinarity and /Xam oral literature, Critical Arts, 23:1, 26-41.