Nǃxau ǂToma; The Extraordinary Journey of the Bushman Who Touched the World

March 8, 2024
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Nǃxau ǂToma, the Kalahari bushman, brings joy and laughter to the screen in 'The Gods Must Be Crazy,' a timeless tale of simplicity, humour, and the extraordinary journey of a man touched by the gods

In the vastness of the Kalahari Desert, a story unfolded that would transcend cultural boundaries and captivate audiences worldwide. In 1980, South African director Jamie Uys embarked on a quest to find authenticity for his film, “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” His search led him to a humble goatherd, Gcao Tekene, known in his language as “Nǃxau ǂToma.” Little did they know that this collaboration would birth one of the most iconic cinematic journeys ever.

When Jamie Uys discovered Nǃxau in 1980, the Kalahari bushman had minimal exposure to the modern world. Having seen just three white people and never encountered a settlement larger than the houses of the San people, Nǃxau was a living embodiment of simplicity and authenticity.

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Nǃxau in 1980 had minimal exposure to the modern world

The resulting film, “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” surpassed all expectations, becoming the most financially successful South African film of its time. However, behind the scenes, the compensation disparity was stark. Nǃxau, paid a mere $300 for his debut role, unknowingly let his first wages blow away, underestimating the value of paper money.

The movie, with its slapstick comedy and unexpected depth, took the world by storm, grossing $200 million globally on a modest budget. The narrative, set in Botswana, revolves around Xi, played by Nǃxau, and his fellow Ju’/Hoansi bushmen living contently in the Kalahari until a glass bottle falls from the sky, disrupting their peaceful existence.

Nǃxau’s journey didn’t end with the first film. In 1989, the sequel, “The Gods Must Be Crazy 2,” brought newfound awareness for the actor. This time, Nǃxau, having learned the value of money, negotiated a compensation of 600,000 South African Rand (approximately $240,000 US), signifying a shift from the exploitation of his early days in the film industry.

Beyond the spotlight, Nǃxau returned to Namibia, his newfound wealth enabling him to build a comfortable home for his family. However, financial struggles persisted due to his generous nature and lack of financial acumen.

His story reflects the complexities of a simple goatherd thrust into the global spotlight, leaving an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape and the hearts of those who encountered his extraordinary journey.

Watch the captivating trailer for “The Gods Must Be Crazy” here.