Finding Meaning Alongside Africa’s Indigenous Peoples

Author Jules Hadley
Date February 20, 2024

Actress, filmmaker, artist and activist, Aleksandra (N’aisa) Orbeck has found true meaning alongside Africa’s indigenous peoples. Those keen to learn more could join the Walk Of Ancient Wisdom that she’ll be guiding alongside Ralph Bousfield this June. 25% of the amount you pay will go directly towards supporting the San people as well as wildlife conservation efforts in the Makgadikgadi.

 NS: You’re originally from Norway, so how did you discover your love for Africa?

AON: “I was born in Oslo, Norway but found solace in the lush landscapes of Asker. Growing up in the embrace of nature, I discovered an unyielding desire for adventure. With Oslo’s rigid norms stifling my spirit, I seized an unexpected opportunity at 13, entering the world of modelling. The allure wasn’t in the runway lights but in the escape it promised from Norway’s stifling societal constraints.

However, as my modelling career blossomed, so did my sense of disconnect. A fateful night in New York, where I was robbed, served as a harsh wake-up call. Seeking respite, I impulsively pointed at Namibia on a spinning globe. Two weeks later, I found myself on a plane, flying over the captivating landscapes of Africa.

Namibia wasn’t just a destination; it was a revelation. Determined not to be a mere tourist, I delved into volunteering with wildlife. Weeks turned into years and then serendipity struck when I encountered the San people. Their introduction opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed.

My journey in Africa transformed from a quest for self-discovery to a realisation that the Western perception of this continent is laden with limitations. The San people saved me from my narrow perspective, revealing the wealth of spirit that transcends material possessions. Inspired, I decided to challenge the traditional outreach approach, urging inter-dependency, mutual learning, and shared decision-making.”

NS: Please tell us about Nanofasa.

AON: “Nanofasa was born in 2011 and is a non-profit dedicated to awakening creativity as a catalyst for positive change in Africa. Our mission is to empower indigenous cultures and heal nature through a unique blend of creativity, ancient wisdom, and innovation. Nanofasa Indigenous Innovation harmonises age-old wisdom to become inventive planet solutions, creating a platform for cultural preservation, job creation, and sustainable development. As we embark on this transformative journey, we aim to break free from the shackles of preconceived notions about Africa, fostering a future where cultural heritage and the environment co-exist and flourish.”

NS: Where do you live now and why have you chosen to base yourself there?

AON: “Right now I live in Kenya where I work with the Yaaku people. An indigenous group of peoples that were thought to be extinct. Nanofasa’s Word Forest project is a groundbreaking initiative in partnership with the Yaaku people that aims to save their language, culture, and ancestral forest from extinction. By attaching Yaakunte words to trees in the Mukogodo Forest, this project transforms the forest into a living Yaakunte dictionary and a place for passive learning, promoting cultural identity and tree preservation. For every tree planted, a word is tagged and saved, preserving culture, stories, wisdom, and connection.

The Mukogodo Forest, managed exclusively by the Yaaku people, is vital for biodiversity, wildlife corridors, and cultural identity. This partnership with Nanofasa ensures its preservation and promotes sustainable development. The project aims to sustain itself through honey harvesting, creating a cycle where diverse trees attract bees for honey production, generating revenue to support language revival and tree planting.

The project’s impact extends to the revival of the Yaaku language, preservation of traditional stories, songs, and oral history, as well as digitisation efforts for wider accessibility. Cultural expression through songs and games in the Yaaku language fosters community pride and identity.

Honey harvesting and tree planting create a sustainable cycle that promotes environmental conservation, cultural heritage, and economic viability within the Yaaku community. Nanofasa Indigenous Innovation’s approach blends ancient wisdom with modern solutions, empowering communities, celebrating culture, and preserving traditions while fostering positive socio-economic growth and sustainable resource management.

This unique initiative represents a return to ancient practices in harmony with nature, infusing new life into age-old traditions for the benefit of people and the environment. Nanofasa Indigenous Innovation honours the past, sustains the present, and shapes a future where ancient wisdom and modern innovation co-exist for the greater good of all.”

NS: Where does your great affinity for the San people come from?

AON: “Meeting the San people was akin to encountering avatars, individuals who speak the language of nature as their mother tongue. They possess a unique perspective, not merely living surrounded by nature, but truly being of nature.”

NS: Please tell us about the Walk Of Ancient Wisdom trip and what makes it such a special adventure?

AON: “This walk is a very unique and special adventure where we take you to where the wifi is weaker but the connection is stronger.”

NS: Why should people join your Walk Of Ancient Wisdom trip?  

AON: “We offer a unique and fascinating opportunity to immerse in the age-old rituals and traditions by following tracks, absorbing knowledge and reconnecting to the nature that surrounds you. In our world there are very few places where we can experience silence and stillness. Our senses are over stimulated with noise and constant input. Overload of information both audibly and visually is stretching our nervous system, and we are no longer capable of connecting to ourselves, nature, our purpose or to others. We often find ourselves walking around in circles, not moving forward, not accomplishing our goals. We feel lonely and stressed, when all we want to feel is freedom to create, contribute, share and be who you were meant to be. This walk will welcome you home.

NS: What has been the highlight of your time in Africa?

AON: “There has been many highlight moments in my life. I have built an organisation, raised lions, helped people take charge of their life, and watched them continue to work to inspire and empower others. I have worked for big brands, walked across countries, hosted documentaries and acted in movies. But the greatest moments in my life have been the times when my heart feels happy. Not happy because I was searching for happiness. But the moments when you find something greater than happiness or unhappiness, which is meaning. Because meaning transfigures all. Once what you are doing has for you meaning, it is irrelevant whether you’re happy or unhappy. You are content – you belong. The San taught me that.”

NS:  What do you still hope to achieve on African soil?

AON: “I would like to continue working with different indigenous peoples and help them protect our last wilderness areas. 5% of the world’s population protects 80% of our last wilderness spaces.” 

Click here to find out more about the Walk for Ancient Wisdom with Aleksandra.

Jules Hadley

Author Bio

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