I think it’s official – I am a Burner. WTF is a Burner? Well, for the last 3 years I have migrated to Tankwa Town in the Karoo where the South Afrian regional Burning Man event Afrika Burn is held. Afrika Burn is something that I think everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime, provided you can handle the expansive open-mindedness.
What is Afrika Burn you ask? It’s a spectacular result of creative expression from its participants to create a temporary city where art, theme camps, costume, music, mutant vehicles, performance and the nightly ritual of burning structures in the Binnekring form our desert home. Absolutely nothing is for sale, except for ice. The desert can be a hot hot place. There are no vendors, no advertising or branding. It’s not even a barter economy. It’s a gifting economy where you give without expecting anything in return. Giving can be done in so many ways. It creates a consciousness about the environment and how we, a conscious human entity interact with that environment. It’s an over-whelming positive experience.
Going to the Burn is no light-hearted affair. It takes weeks of planning and gathering of goods to survive the desert and all it’s potential environmental outbursts. You have to take your own water for drinking, cooking and cleansing. The toilets are long drops with the most spectacular view of the stretched out desert. The R355 to Tankwa is a long stretch of dirt road with a small section littered with sharp rocks. The road is notorious for shredding tyres and turning over many a car with trailer. It can be a dangerous road! Besides this, it is worth embarking on the journey.
My journey to the Burn started 3 years ago. I had bought a ticket, which I eventually sold because the engine in my 4×4 had blown up. The group I was going to set up camp with dissolved quickly. It was certain; I was not going to Afrika Burn. Thanks to the perseverance of a special friend, I did make it to the Burn that year. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I had been introduced into a circle of powerful individuals. Not powerful in the sense of what society would deem powerful but rather powerful for their talents. This group is the ‘New Moon Collective’ and they were going to attempt a monster sized puppet show. Grateful for where I was I did my very best to help make this performance possible. Regardless of the months of preparation there unfortunately was a glitch.
A little bit about the performance…
It’s called ‘A Prayer to the New Moon’ which is based on a Xam poem. Conceptualized by Craig Leo – Puppetry Director of War Horse and Charles Standing – The Urban Hunter Gatherer.
Let me set the scene – There’s a velvety orange-red sunset on the playa where this enormous worm-like creature emerges, heavy and pregnant. She is unruly and needs to be held back by tall mythical guardians, half-animal half-human stilted beings. She bucks and arches, reaching up to the sky. When her time comes, she releases the moon into the night sky, giving birth to her kin suspended under the moon.
Sounding epic and dramatic? It was! When we first attempted this performance in 2013 we didn’t have enough helium to get the balloon up high enough, let alone with the worm body attached. We literally took an 8-year-old boy for a walk on the playa while suspended from a giant balloon. Which was very surreal but not nearly as epic as this year’s performance.
The success of this years performance was largely based on the opportunity to do a dress rehearsal / performance for Infecting the City. It sure helped our ‘New Moon’ booties to have a full run through of the performance. We were also blessed with perfect weather at AB. We did a full performance on Thursday night and a half performance on Friday night.
With the performance done and literally dusted we packed up all our performing gear and spent the remaining time indulging even more in everything the Burn had on offer.
It’s very difficult to express the joy the Burn can bring a person, especially when it’s through the experiences of just one OddWheeler. But I will try.
I spent 9 days at the Burn this year. I helped set up and de-rigged our camp of 42 people strong. We had the best camp! It was so impressive that I spent a little too much time there. We were situated on the inside tip of the Horn which came off 6ish. The Horn is a really good location to setup your home. We had two 9 x 12 meter stretch tents pitched side by side that protected us from the 2 prominent winds in Tankwa and provided loads of shade. Our kitchen was phenomenal! But you couldn’t expect anything less when you have the Urban Hunter Gatherer there. I ran our sprout garden. I tried my hand at a bicycle parking lot but it was a failure near the end. There was a costume area with rail, mirror and costume pieces that we shared. We had communal showers, chill space, a fire drum and lots of solar solutions. Camp ‘New Moon Collective’ was kitted out.
Myself, Jimbo and Davie spent an entire week restoring the previously known ‘Chai Wallah’ into the ‘Dik-Skou Doos’. The ‘Dik-Skou Doos’ is a pink with green polka dot mobile tea station and sound system. We pushed the ‘Doos’ all over the playa having mini tea parties. My most memorable outing with the ‘Doos’ was when; somehow, we managed to mobilize mostly everyone in the camp fairly early. All costumed up and we started our way down to the Binnekring. I insisted we stopped by the Flowarts camp for a little slackline session. Well, we parked here all day. What did we do all day? Ummm… drank tea, danced, drummed, hula-hooped, stilt-walked, unicycled, electric unicycled, juggled, the list is endless. I had an incredible club passing session with a British dude. I haven’t had a juggle like that in a long time. Then some people joined us and made pancakes so lunch was kind of sorted. Then there were the people serving cocktails. To end a perfect day was the most magnificent sunset with my Binnekring buddy, Ryno.
The nights were filled with watching the various structures being burnt. Metomorphis was a very beautiful structure! Beautiful before it burnt and especially beautiful while it was burning. It was a silent burn. It was the first time I got to experience a silent burn. This is when I really felt the ritual of what the burns symbolize. Subterrafuge went up in flames quickly and came crashing down as quickly. It had been standing for an entire year. It was originally going to burn in 2014 but a ferocious wind swept across Tankwa that resulted in a mass evacuation of the residents of Tankwa Town. You may or may not know that last year Kyle Pratt walked a highline between 2 of the Subterrafuge towers. Personally I felt the burns of 2014 were a lot more spectacular than this year. The structures last year were massive with multiple tornados’ spinning out of the structures. I love it when the tornados are around!
Besides watching the burns the evenings are filled with visiting the ‘Loud Zone’, situated on the furthest edges of the playa and for good reason. There you will find all the mobile dance floors that move around the playa creating parties. This is where those bicycles really come in handy. I can’t imagine trying to get around the Burn without some form of transport. You’d be walking for eternity-ish.
I would also recommend putting some effort into costume creations. Normal just does not cut it at the Burn. This is a place where fantasy comes to life! And that’s why I love it. For my first Burn I bought a camo pith helmet because it was a great protector from the sun and I love camo. This single helmet has set the tone for my Burn wardrobe – Donna on safari at the Burn.
Another cool thing at the Burn is that it is common practice to get a playa name. This name can change whenever you want it to. You can also give yourself the name or someone else can give it to you. I didn’t have a name the first time I went because I didn’t know about it. Last year ‘Space Ken’ gave me the name ‘Kisses Oddly’. That one is not that hard to figure out, I leave it up to you. This year is changed to ‘Squirrel’ because of my boundless energy, apparently. I think I’m going to stick to ‘KO’.
You will all be very happy to hear that I was not the only unicyclist at the Burn. I met 4 riders that I’ve never met before – Callan Hollenbach, Clayden Burger, Dylan Els and Kevin Mulligan. There were 2 unicyclists in my camp – Ian Freemantle and Mattieu De Villiers. This brings the total amount of unicyclists up to 7. Who would’ve thought! I even met an electric unicyclist.
Three pages already, time to wrap it up. Go to the Burn, you’ll love it!
Don’t think about it, just go, do it, you’ll love it!
…and if you don’t love it you’re not a Burner.