In October 1961, Laurens Van der Post, born in Africa of Dutch parents and author of Lost World of the Kalahari (1958) and Heart of the Hunter (1961), recounting his encounter with the life and world of the Bushman of the Kalahari dessert, the most ancient of peoples, gave lectures on the ancient Patterns of Renewal in which he tells the following story:
My nurse in Africa, who was half Bushman and half Hottentot, told me a story. . . . Once in the days of the early race, there was a man who captured a superb head of cattle, all stippled and black and white. He loved them very much. Every day he took them out to graze, and brought them home in the evenings, put them in this thorn shelter, and milked them in the morning. One morning, he found that they had already been milked; their udders which had been sleek the night before were wrinkled and dry. He thought, “Well, this is very extraordinary. I couldn’t have looked after them very well yesterday,” and he took them to better grazing. But again the next morning he found that they had been milked. That night, bringing them back after a good feed, he sat up to watch. About midnight, he saw a cord come down from the stars, and down this cord, hand over hand, came young women of the people of the stars. He saw them with calabashes and baskets, whispering among themselves, creep into the shelter and start to milk his cattle. He took up his stick and he ran for them. Immediately they scattered and running for the cord they went up as fast as they could.
He managed to catch one of them by the leg and pull her back. She was the loveliest of them all and he married her. Their life would have been happy but for one thing. She had with her, when he caught her, a tightly woven basket with a lip fitted tightly into its neck. She said to him, “There is only one thing I ask of you and that is, that you will never look into this basket without my permission.” He promised. Every day she went out to cultivate the fields as women do and he went to look after the cattle and to hunt. This went on for some months, but gradually the sight of this basket in the corner began to annoy him. One day, coming back for a drink of water in the middle of the day, when his wife was away in the fields, he saw the basket standing there and he said, “Well, really, this is too much. I’m going to have a look into it.” He pulled up the lid of the basket, looked inside, and began to laugh. In the evening his wife came back and after one look at him she knew what had happened. She said, “You’ve looked in the basket.” He said, “Yes, I have,” and then added, “You silly, silly woman. The basket is empty.” She said, “You saw nothing in the basket?” “No, nothing.” Thereupon looking very sad, she turned her back on him and vanished into the sunset.
My old nurse said to me, “you know, it didn’t matter so much his breaking his promise not to look in the basket. What was so awful was that looking in the basket he saw nothing in it. That he couldn’t see all the wonderful things that she brought from the stars for them both.”
—Laurens Van der Post, (1906-1996). Patterns of Renewal.