AfrikaBurn 2023: 24 to 30 April


(words by The Bohemian Doctor – photos by Hervé PHOTOGRAFF)

Trying to describe my first time at AfrikaBurn using words would be like trying to taste music, or to hear colour, or to see speech. It would be like ordering sushi at a burger joint [not okay…for those still confused]. A description would capture but a shadow of what I experienced in the vibe and community that is Tankwa Town. Because this event is so much more than a mere ‘music festival’, it became quite a spiritual experience at times and offered a bubble – in the middle of nowhere and with very few rules – in which to assess one’s own internal milieu and extent of self-regulation and reliance. The fact that I have only found time now – a week later – to write this post after a long and hard week back to reality illustrates faultlessly the stark contrast between the 2 environments, and boy is it a culture-shock being back!
My English teacher taught me that ‘brevity is best’ [she also taught me never to start a sentence with the word ‘but’…oh well] so instead I will split the content over a few posts and describe the culture, the art [and the people] and my interpretations separately [convoy-posts FTW!].
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“AfrikaBurn is a community of participants who come together to create art, burning structures, costume, performance, theme-camps, music, mutant vehicles and much, much more.” BAM. What is important to note is that the above-mentioned offerings are volunteer/participant-driven – radical self-reliance, baby!
A set of ‘guiding principles’ – not rules – exist with the aim of assisting participants into a mindset that will allow them to co-operate fully with the environment, and to ‘reinvent the world and ourselves’ in the most successful way possible. Damn – what an aim! The nerd inside wants to list the principles, so we will let her have her way just this once:

  1. Radical inclusion – ANYONE can be a part of this community.
  2. Gifting – An unconditional devotion to giving of gifts. Repeat: unconditional.
  3. Decommodification – No commercial crap, no sponsors, no transactions and no advertising.
  4. Radical self-reliance – Use and discover your inner-resources! It’s fun, trust me
  5. Radical self-expression – This is offered as a gift, and is respected by the community.
  6. Communal effort – Values such as creative co-operation and collaboration are pivotal here. It’s all about promoting the protection of the community network in this space.
  7. Civic responsibility – Organisers communicate both the civic responsibilities and take responsibility for the event, in a transparent and accountable manner.
  8. Leaving no trace – Leaving no physical trace [Matter Out Of Place: MOOP] is central to AfrikaBurn. Each participant cleans up after themselves, and leaves the environment in a better condition than when found.
  9. Participation – As said by AfrikaBurn: “transformative change can only occur through the medium of deeply-personal participation. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play”.
  10. Immediacy – Immediate experience is crucial. This includes identifying and overcoming all barriers standing between a person and their recognition of their true self, reality and society and how this interacts with the natural world. I love this one.
  11. Each one teach one – We are custodians of our culture – “when the opportunity presents itself, we pass the knowledge on”.

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Toilets, roads, signage, medics and health officers and an airstrip are provided. Every other facility is provided by the participants. Nothing is staged or scheduled in a commercial sense, and performance is said to be “spontaneous and eclectic and frequently designed to encourage participation”. Absolutely nothing is sold at the event, except for ice, and no vendors, advertising or branding is seen. This is a “decommodified zone with a GIFT ECONOMY that is about giving without expecting anything in return”.
I start to hyper-ventilate when reading over what I’ve written so far – as there is SO much to talk about in recreational senses, but more-so in economic and existential senses. I hope that you – the reader – can stop and just CONSIDER properly the kind of environment I have just described. I reiterate the pivotal parts…

  • The aim is creation of art, self-discovery and experimentation. Not money, power, image, being ‘right’ or any other stupid crutches that govern our lives.
  • The event is participant-driven. How rare to see an environment driven by unconditional giving. Without this attitude, all that would be is a medic tent and some toilets in the desert.
  • It is a decommodified zone with a GIFT economy. This relies upon unconditional giving – quite a beauty to pull off in a society and world in which TAKING usually takes precedent.
  • People are forced to rely on themselves or others – there are no services or shops, so this kind of thing cannot be bought. There is no opportunity to BUY comfort or experience – you are forced to make it. [I love this one, as in society it seems like money has become a substitute for innovation].
  • You can be what you want, and experience what you want. Nobody blinks an eye. Find your barriers and destroy them. How often do you get a chance like this?
  • Paramount to the festival is environmental-awareness. The difference is that people actually ABIDE by this and use their discretion. I came across not a SINGLE piece of litter during my stay.

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Perhaps I am reading too much into this experience? Perhaps the average Joe would describe it as “A lekker jol, hey bru”. I think it will take at least 2 more posts on the matter to clear this confusion up…
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars”
– Jack Kerouac [On the Road]

Want to read more from The Bohemian Doctor? Check out her blog here.

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