Namibia's Living Museum
I have always been an admirer of the San (commonly known as Bushmen). I had read about them in fiction and non-fiction on many occasions and it was clear they were one of the hardiest and most resourceful of indigenous peoples to be found anywhere. Pushed into marginal arid area's of Africa (places like the Kalahari desert) by more dominant and war-like Bantu peoples, the San had to survive where others could not. They were highly skilled hunters and trackers and adaptable gathers. They made use of any available resource they could find to ensure their survival such as burying caches of water filled ostrich eggs where it was needed most and make hunting implements from tree's and animal products.
This culture is fast disappearing like many indigenous cultures. I'm not a cultural relativist and don't believe that all peoples should live within their own culture to the exclusion of others. Assimilating indigenous cultures into modern cultures is an imperfect process fraught with issues like poverty, disadvantage and alcoholism but at its core is the right of all people to receive medical care, schooling, housing, voting rights and access to the economic system. Regardless of this assimilation it is important for the self identity and pride of people from an indigenous culture to be able seek respect for their traditional culture and practice it as much as circumstance and modern societal norms allow.
One example of assimilating but maintain a pride in culture is implemented in Namibia's Living Museum of the Ju/'Hoansi-San. I visited this project while in Namibia last time. (The closest accommodation is the eclectic and eccentric Roys Camp.) Here the local San have a village and craft store where they can introduce guests (tourists) to their way of life.
I found them to be very friendly and open to being photographed (something I'm sure they had to endure on a daily basis). I went in with my default kit for people photography - Canon 5D mkiii and 50mm f1.2 lens. I love the quizzical expression on this ladies face, but the image also shows how perfect a lens the 50mm is for this type of photo. It's field of view and distortion amount lends itself perfectly to a head and shoulders framing and the thin depth of field creates a beautiful soft background. The key is getting the eyes in focus and I tend to take 2 or 3 shots at any given moment using continuous AF to ensure at least one is sharp especially as the aperture gets close to the f1.2 max.
One of the activities that guests can participate in is bead and necklace making. Ostrich shell is one of the materials use for the beads and type of dried berry is another. My wife and 9 year old daughter who were with me at the time, were able participate in this with much laughter and friendly banter from the San ladies. We also watched a fire stick demonstration and I was able to help craft a small bow and an arrow which we then saw used in a hunting demonstration. The San guide and translator present was able to answer questions and facilitate conversations with the people there.
Photographing the people in this situation felt a little less 'authentic' than photographing the Himba people of Epupa Falls who are still actually living mostly traditionally. The Living Museum is set up as a display of the culture rather than a living of the culture and I am not actually sure how many of these local San were living totally traditionally - I expect very few as the resources available to them just aren't as available as they once were due to farming and game reserves. However this open-air museum concept made the photography feel less like an intrusion than Himba photography does (at least for the average visitor who does not have the time to get to know the locals) and more like a way to help an indigenous culture maintain its traditions and educate people about them so for that reason I would encourage anyone, particularly those with kids in tow, to pay a visit.