For centuries, the Kung bushmen of southern Namibia have known what to do if a drought threatened their crops: dance in clockwise circles while improvising chants on a flat place at the edge of the village to implore the gods for rain. Now, alas, they are facing both mortification and hunger as an older generation of men with two left feet try to join in.
'It really is excruciating,' 19-year-old herdsman Mpumpomelo Nujoma told an anthropologist. 'These 40-something old goats just sit around doing nothing much all year, then when we need rain, there they are shuffling about out of synch. They don't impress the village girls one bit, much less the spirits of our ancestors.'
Since the 1950s, under pressure from governments, the 90,000-strong San, Sho, Barwa, Kung and Khwe tribes of southern Africa have gradually abandoned a hunter-gatherer life for settlement in villages. This makes them vulnerably dependent on unpredictable rainfall, hence the development of a complex series of rain dances.
In this context, 'dad rain dancing' is seen as totally counter-productive. Many of the older men perform their dances on a hillside, contrary to all tradition, yodelling cliched lyrics out of tune in 4/4 time and getting out of breath the first time they spin around. In many cases, young Kung warriors complain, they spin anti-clockwise and say their chants backwards, which actually drives away rain.
With no rainfall in the past five months and the threat of crop failure looming, Nujoma admitted that bold measures are needed. 'It's no good relying on our ancient traditions alone any more,' he said. 'I hear of a land far away called Scotland where water is always plentiful. We are therefore clubbing together to send one of us to attend what they call a 'ceilidh' and learn the 'Strip the Willow' dance that brings the rain. Maybe that will give the silly old sods something worthwile to do.'