Burning Down the Man: AfrikaBurn

After attending their first AfrikaBurn the Nomadic Existence team reflect on their experiences in a way that hopefully inspires you to get involved.

As my attachment to urban life begins to wane, so too does my apprehension to roughing it out in the middle of the Karoo.”

No truer words could have been spoken as we took a leisurely Sunday stroll through a desert storm. We knew we needed to find cover and soon stumbled across what looked like an abandoned World War 2 troop carrier. It was the perfect refuge as we sipped on our last few bottles of cider watching the storm whip over our heads. A short while later we noticed an ungainly group of fellow travellers emerging from the dust cloud.  So naturally we invited them to come share in our shelter and our sweet treats. And as we all sat there in each others company on the back of an abandoned truck in the middle of the Karoo as the desert storm tore up the landscape I realised something, this was a story waiting to be told and could only be told if you found yourself at AfrikaBurn.

Tyre Eater

It had all begun on a hot and dusty Wednesday afternoon as we rolled into the makeshift town known as Tankwa, the setting to the African continents regional Burning man event. It had officially started two days prior but was of no concern to us as we were just too happy to have made it there in one piece. The stress of driving the hundred kilometre gravel road and our conventional way of life were now, as dead as the many burst tyre casings we had passed along the way. But before we could set up our camp we had to make a stop at the main gate. It was a quick yet humorous introduction and was completed with a mandatory MOOP swear.  Which is a promise to leave the desert in much the same way as we had found it, undisturbed and unperturbed by our presence. I knew from that moment on we were not attending a traditional outdoor festival and that we were not in “Kansas” anymore.

But were instead reenacting a scene from a Laurel and Hardy film as we frustrated each other over the technicalities of tent erecting. Only to be saved by our neighbours who apart from helping us, proceeded to shower us with lollipops and chocolate bars in what was to be our first encounter with decommodification. A unique AfrikaBurn initiative where burners  gift each other with just about anything and by doing so abolish the superficial barriers a society dependant on a monetary system creates.

And with this in mind and with the sun beginning to set we too started to gift everyone as we made our way into the darkness toward Tankwa town. It was a hive of activity abuzz with people riding, walking and performing either draped in fairy lights or tossing a flame from one performer to the next. The theme camps were just as intriguing as they opened our eyes to a world of endless possibilities, which left us contemplating as to how far we had fallen into the proverbial rabbit hole. Only to have us climb out and be snatched up by a passing mutant vehicle* and driven deep out into the desert while jamming to their beats en-route to the flames in the distance.

*The mutant vehicles were a highlight and come in many shapes and sizes and could be anything from a wild animal or a Mad Max style contraption shooting flames from its horn or doing a mating dance with a peacock’s tail, it was in a nutshell one hell of a trip.

The next morning saw us up early and eager to get a little more involved, as per AfrikaBurn protocol “to not be just a spectator”. But with so much to participate in we instead opted for something we were good at, which was to drink coffee and alcohol and not necessarily in that order. So naturally the Stasie Kaffee became our first port of call with my internship proving to be invaluable as I was made QC (quality controller) of the crunchies, basically testing them whenever someone refused one, it was tough. And with a job well done we then crossed the street over to the Stoep for something a little stronger; polisie coffee, homebrewed with a double shot of brandy and a Rusk, our morning routine was now almost complete. But just before we headed out into the desert a spot of some light morning yoga and interpretive dance was just the ticket needed to loosen our stiff muscles.

Consequently we forgot to bring along our gallons of water, which quickly put an end to our little adventure.  The midday sun is known to reach temperatures well over the forty degrees Celsius mark. So instead of drying up in the open like an old lizard we agreed to get sloshed at the stock exchange – a sort of makeshift warm beer for cold beer initiative with guaranteed returns- which saw us finishing off a bottle of rum and a couple of pineapples. Our inevitable end of the beginning.

Flag BurningThe result of feeling groggy and dehydrated a couple of hours later not only motivated us to don our fairy lights and head back into the desert but it also begged us to stop for a bit of reflection. No, not for our wicked deeds but to appreciate the piece called Reflections. A heavy-handed giant of a man whose head once aflame provided just the right catalyst  to sweat out the booze as the flames grew hotter.  Howls of excitement rang through the air as his hands burst skyward  into flames like two fireballs existing the nostrils of an enraged dragon. It was a  testament to the  Burners will to make art and then see it all go up in flames. 

Much in the same way as our old lives had rapidly become integrated into the very fabric of the Burn.And by the Saturday we were acting as if we were never going to leave. Afternoon MOOP swoops had become the norm as well as the act of self-expression and gifting made all the more special when lubricated with all kinds of whizzers and fizzle snaps. This was no more evident than when we attended the purple wedding. A mass ceremony attended by whoever wished to be unionised for the duration of well, their lives. It took us awhile to understand what the purpose of such a celebration was but in the end it proved fruitless as the answer was and will always be “why not?”

With this in mind we went over to the next event; the rambunctious titty parade. It was at first a suffocating experience as we strolled through the participants and could only be described as drowning in a sea of nipples and ass. But after a while I had to submit to the fact that it was completely normal and was a sentiment shared amongst most of  the participants. And to be frank it was absolutely natural and it was amazing to note how my perspective had changed when cultural taboos were abolished.

During which time the setting sun had begun to exemplify the excitement brewing amongst the populace for the “big burns”, namely the The Clan/ The Interpreter and Subterrafuge. The The Clan/ The Interpreter or what I liked to call “Evil Bunny” was first and left me feeling a little sad as its left ear became the first casualty of the flames . Its face came in a close second until finally all that was left was its toes. After bunny took one for the team the winds suddenly swept up and decided to spoil our fun as the finale Subterrafuge was cancelled, but not without good reason. It could literally have been the death of us all as I envisioned  all the embers flying into the campsites effectively changing the meaning of what AfrikaBurn was all about; burning real men alive and not effigies.

The Virgin Bell

For the most part it was not all bad news as we awoke relatively early on the Sunday morning just as the bulk of the burners were fleeing the storm. This inevitably regulated Tankwa town to the status of a ghost town but had provided us with ample supplies. So lying low for most of the day in our troop carrier all we could do was wait for the shamanistic temple burn. And unlike the other burns it was a silent burn and was all about letting go of lost ones and well, letting go. It was one of the more intimate burns and was well worth staying for. After which we had a chance encounter at the AfrikaBurn airport with a fellow named Kerwin  who encouraged us to relax while his friend Quinn reminisced about eating guinea pigs in Peru.

All things considered most people would probably find the idea of sitting in a cramped space with a bunch of strangers in the desert unappealing but thats the point. Because for most Burners their experiences are orchestrated by using the Burn as their inspiration and the terrain as their playground. But the one underlying message everyone walks away with is this, it’s like nothing you have ever experienced and it will probably be that way for the rest of your life. (Or until the next burn.)

A Virgin Burners guide to surviving AfrikaBurn.

  • Save (it’s quite costly) and practise the ethos of self sustainability and reliance, no explanation needed.
  • Your mode of transport, is it reliable, are the tyres in tip top condition. We suggest refraining from bundu bashing with nothing less than a high rise 4X4. (And even that doesn’t guarantee you a faultless journey).
  • Get involved by volunteering or participation by registering on their website or by singing up at the off center camp, its not a spectator event.
  • Respect and practice your MOOP swear to leave only footprints behind, this is serious, it’s a privilege and not a right to be out there in the desert, so listen, look, appreciate, learn and get it done. (Practise this point even when you’re back home).
  • Abolish your preconceived notions of established society for at Afrika Burn it’s to a degree pissed to the wind. This is not to say that acts of decency and respect are disregarded, but rather exemplified but without the division imposed by having any sort of monetary system and instead it focuses on a system of decommodification or as they call it “gifting”.
  • Once you have returned from the  burn and would like to reconnect with what was  your other life for one week of the year then attend the Decompression.

For more of Nomadic Bugs photos go to the AfrikaBurn 2014  Gallery

And for the AfrikaBurn Official Website click here.

By Slippery Joe Lyzard © (Writer for Nomadic Existence)

Photography: Nomadic Bug © 

Nomadic Existence 2015 ©

 Explore. Conserve. Discover.


One Comment on “Burning Down the Man: AfrikaBurn

  1. Hi everyone, please feel free to share your experiences of AfrikaBurn or of any other burn you may have attended by commenting below.

    Alternatively you could post us a link to your story and/ or pictures. We would love to grow the community by sharing yours along with ours.

    Yours in travel.

    Nomadic Existence.


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