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Afrikaburn

Veld Fire Psychedelics

by Rob Scher / 26.04.2011

Music is pumping out of the Ouma Rusk living room, mounted on the back of a jeep. Between bursts of heat, provided courtesy of flamethrowingvuvuzelas, and a DJ hitting the decks from a hole in the wall of the living room, next to a framed portrait of a tannie, it’s hard to discern dream from reality. For roughly a week each year, people from around the country make the pilgrimage to the Tankwa Karoo to experience Afrikaburn… and it’s happening this week.

Tankwa Town is the name given to the collection of art, people and mutual cooperation that forms the nexus of Afrikaburn. An official regional event of the original, legendary Burning Man Festival in the Nevada Desert, described as “an art festival, promoting the creativity and freedom of expression through building a temporary community of collaborative arts projects, non-commercialism and interaction”. Which provides the perfect impetus to breakthrough the usual boundaries imposed by society, so that walking into someone’s campsite and joining into their conversation or licking hot sauce off a stranger’s nipple in return for a shot of whisky, are considered common practice.

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Taking on a landscape reminiscent of Dali’s Persistence of Memory, the arid plains are transformed into a psychedelic Utopia. Some of the country’s foremost design and architectural minds use the opportunity to completely break out of the box of conformity that guides their working lives to produce some awe inspiring desert-art. Previous works by noteworthy set designer, Brendan Smithers, have included the glowing orb of white light entitled, “Wish” – a dome of concentric circles lit at night by a flashing strobe; and last years “Echo” – a twisted tunnel, constructed out of wooden planks, that left you feeling like a trapped Jonah in a whale. As the festival’s name would imply, the pieces are ultimately burned during the course of the week, or at the following year’s event. Finally the whole thing culminates with the burning of “the man” itself, taking place this Saturday night.

“Gifting” is another intrinsic part of the experience. Since you can’t actually buy or sell anything other than ice or coffee, you literally need to come prepared, trade and generally just rely on the kindness of strangers. This is the central non-commercialist culture that defines a “burn”. Anything from a cooling spray of water to ice-cold beers, are exchanged for merely a word of thanks. If you’re thinking this sounds like a great opportunity to benefit off the kindness of hippies intent on giving away their shit for free, then, yes you would be right. But no matter how cynical, when you experience the rampant sharing on that Karoo plain, you won’t be able to resist the deeper and more rewarding feelings associated with “gifting”. And soon you’ll be trying to palm off your precious stuff just to get involved. And if you can locate a greyish stretch tent, somewhere between 4ish and 6ish (the street names running around the perimeter of the circle) sometime during the course of Sunday, you can indulge in a delicious plate of mahala vegetable potjie that our camp will be “gifting” to the community.

Afrikaburn is a beautiful thing. It’s an escape into a transient outdoor community that offers a radical alternative way of being. Yes, it’s also a Disneyland for psychedelics but it’s also incredible enough to experience without the aid of mind-altering substances. It’s an attempt to temporarily glimpse into a Utopian society, with far too many sights, sounds and experiences to try and capture in the space of this article. See you over the next few days in Tankwa Town.

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