Part of the Afrika Burns synchroblog, (for all participants see below).
A friend of mine who lives between San Francisco and Durban first told me about Burning Man in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert about 10 years ago. It sounded fascinating, but a little beyond my mien. Too dirty, too hedonistic, too hot, too freaky, too fiery; maybe these were my thoughts. But Steve’s recommendations have on a number of occasions proved to be significant dwell points on my journey (big up for Matthew Fox, Jay Bakker and Easy Star All Stars for starters).
When I first heard that BM was incarnating as Afrika Burns, I sensed an opportunity. Together with a few others, I started to investigate the culture. We went to a planning session for one of the “themed camps” and met several decidedly alternative people who were ecologically aware, spiritually seeking, largely vegetarian, and holistically creative.
All this has gone hand in hand with my own exploration of various aspects of spiritual life, largely reflected on this blog, see for example Ecclesia as Sacred Tribe, in which I have come to my own thoughts about what constitutes being a Jesus-follower and a human in this time of change. Read it if you want, for background.
So when I studied the Core principles(communal effort, participation, civic responsibility, immediacy, decommodification, gifting, leave no trace, radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression), I thought, Hmm – I can embrace that. The Liturgist in me went into overdrive; I saw all sorts of possibilities. Long story short; I dumped the plans and went with the flow. A wise move.
Because the flow was dusty, hot, festive and loud. Anything too contemplative was bound to be drowned. Besides, my greatest desire was to connect and build trust. Opportunities for expressed worship would come in their time. This was a time to celebrate.
5 dusty hours out of Cape Town, we rolled off the R355 into Stonehenge “Farm”, a lunar landscape of rock and sand, pans and bults(rocky hills) and a huge sky. We were greeted by a hostess with a clipboard and a pamphleteer festooned with nowt but a scarf. We headed into the “temporary autonomous zone” Tankwa Town and found a spot near “4ish street” at the edge of the scrub. A howling gale and 6 inches of sand before bedrock made tent erection a major challenge. In the end we tied the guy ropes to the wheels of our vehicle.
At sunset we attended a Mayan Sundown Ritual. Besides the incessant wind, a wine bottle clutching, howling/growling participant all but drowned out the subtleties of the offerings. Inclusion was being put to the test. But we did manage to dance to djembe rhythms for about 10 minutes.
That evening we mosied on down to “partycipation”, hosted by the friends we had met 3 weeks earlier. A Bedouin-style community tent gave some shelter against the elements, and the resident DJ battled with dust but managed to put out some fine trance tracks. I did an AVJ Twinstar VJ set against a VW combi, and the sheer volume of dust was apparent for all to see in the projectors glare. We filmed and projected the full moon and energetic dancing; people loved it. But after an hour I was beat back by the elements, gills stuffed full with sand, (not to mention my new Sony Vaio).
Afterwards we went across the plain to “Camp Vuvuzela” (Vuvuzela– soccer trumpet) who were doing a balkan-mediteranean set. There were hundreds stomping up dust to the beats and the most incredible atmosphere. Burners spewed flame into the night sky; a 3M high “white man” danced with lasers in front and moon behind. Bedtime: between 2 and 4.
Maybe it’s in the genes: my brother, my brother-in-law and I decided to do a skyclad saunter around the binnekring (inside circle). That’s a slo-mo “streak” of about 20-25 minutes, with hats and shoes on of course. It was unashamed promenading, pre-fall Adam style; and we were met with nothing but admiration and support, and many a comment about having used enough sunblock. Half way along we heard a yell behind saying “Wait, wait, wait for moi” and were joined by a REAL (and female) nudist, our Eve, for the rest of the walk. She seemed to think we were the real thing, little did she suspect how much the imposter we were playing.
So having reclothed we took in the sites : a flock of balloons tethered to the ground, major construction on 4 story high burn works, a scorpion sculpture made of old car tyres, a blender powered by a bicycle for make-your-own smoothies, a fully functional snailmail post office. A series of dust devils started passing through, some sucking the contents of entire villages high into the sky. I just had to; and successfully got into the path of 2 and lived to tell the dusty tale.
At the hot point of the day, 3 pm, we had a sweat lodge in our tent, a blank canvas for meditation and cleansing. We received a word, too: “Freely give and you will be clean on the inside and the outside.” This was followed by the luxury of a shower gifted us by our highly evolved neighbours (4 families with about 12 kids). Later afternoon was spent chilling at partycipation and playing djembes and once more being gifted with icepacks to the face and neck.
Sunset was one of the most amazing co-incidences I have witnessed, and for which I praise the Creator. A group of dancers and drummers gathered around the fine “Sand pendulum” installation to watch the sundown. Not 5 minutes later, directly behind and due east, a huge full moon rose. People turned and fell to their knees. We all had a good howl, and saw one of the most beautiful moons I have even witnessed. We blessed babes in arms and a profound sense of Awe prevailed.
Saturday ce soir
Finally, it was time to give my new portable VJ screen a run. We headed for Camp Vuvuzela, and got set up. The vibe was quite electro/psytrance this time, but still the feeling of goodwill and celebration predominated. But as we got the projections going, the highpoint of festivity was upon us: partytime with luminous hoola hoops and sumptuous dancers. The whirling, the riot of colour, the primal energy, was palpable.
The only announcement of the entire weekend, (such was the sheer positive anarchy of the event), was that the main burn was postponed due to high winds, but a less dangerous immolation was going to happen at 12 midnight. So we packed up a mess of metal, plastic and dust and headed out west across the vlaktes (flat ground) to “Temple”. About 200 people stood expectantly around while “officials” kept order.
In a somewhat South African way, there were chants of “burn! burn! burn!” which I found distasteful – it seemed like sheer reactionary pyromania rather than reflective spirituality. The organisers had asked us to be reverent, but some people didn’t seem to take this admonition seriously. You can take the rugby nation into the wilderness but you can’t take the rugby spirit of bliksem-ming (vigorously deconstructing whatever comes to hand) out of the nation, it seems.
The temple burn was far slower than I had imagined it – it was not an instant fireworks-like thrill, but an opportunity to collectively gaze at the flames over about an hour. We missed the other burns, and the one I would have loved to see in addition to the man, was the “Turbine” by the Upsetters, possibly the most impressive work on display.
I reflected upon Christendom’s use of fire in times past, and felt a deep revulsion at its cruelty, its fear of the primal, its repression of festivity and creativity, and its arrogance. A time of repentance, for me, as a part of the ecclesia.
Sunday morning we packed up but not before doing a lot of gifting. I placed my “Middle of it All” CD on sleeper’s pillows, and handed it out to those I had connected with over the previous days while my brother handed out postcards of his art … commerce-free, unmediated transactions of giving.
As we drove back towards civilisation, we listened to the Shamen’s “Axis Mutatis” and Stephen Micus’ “Desert Poems”, and began to reflect on how we had been transformed in our various ways, by the inaugural Afrika Burns.
Afrika Burns Synchroblog participants:
Other writings of note: