Many Legs Dancing to Different Drums: Once Upon a Time at AfrikaBurn

Roxane Jessi is an intrepid world traveler who spent the last few years participating in Burning Man Regional Events around the globe, from Blazing Swan and Burning Japan to Fuego Austral and Midburn — an odyssey chronicled in her newly released book, Once Upon a Time in the Dust: Burning Man Around the World. Roxane beautifully shares the sights and sounds she experienced in these diverse cities of dreams around the world. Here’s an excerpt from her book. (Curious to learn more? Hear Roxane speak about her adventures on the Burning Man Live podcast.)

AfrikaBurn — South Africa’s annual Regional Burning Man Regional Event — kicks off today. As we write, 9,500 Burners from around the world are building Tankwa Town, a temporary creative community at Quaggafontein Farm in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The event’s 2023 theme is Space, which invites participants to “embark on a journey through universes, to new worlds, through a glimmering wormhole and out the other side.”

Roxane Jessi participated in AfrikaBurn in 2018 — and she’s back there again this year. We thought it would be timely to share her photos and poetic impressions of AfrikaBurn, as described in Once Upon a Time in the Dust: Burning Man Around the World.

Clambering through the binnerking, we suddenly see the central “effigy,” the man of AfrikaBurn called The San Clan rising in the distance. It is uniquely South African symbol, taken from San culture, the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa. It stands at a good 20m tall and has one body, several heads and dancing feet. It is based on an image from the Eastern Cape Province, found in San drawings in the sandstone caves and rock overhangs. Legend has it that it represents the sensations of having extra limbs as a result of shamanic dancing performed during healing, rainmaking trance dance ceremonies. The symbol speaks to release and ritual, so entrenched in African folklore.

The San Clan effigy at AfrikaBurn, 2018 (Photo by Roxane Jessi)

It is a beautiful ode to the communities of afore, that shaped this land into what it is today. Their spirits wander amongst us out in the desert, their presence gracing the stars above and deeply rumbling in the desert’s earthy underbelly. The many legs of the Clan dance to different drums, just as is true of South African culture. The Clan speaks to us all. Even though we may seem far removed from the rituals of our ancestors, we still seek out celebration and dance allowing us to release and connect in wild abandon. And nowhere is the frenzied abandon more visible than here, rising to a crescendo as the week unfolds and accelerates.

AfrikaBurn participant struts their stuff (Photo by Roxane Jessi)

The next day our camp mates are scheduling an impromptu circus performance out on the playa. They are dressed in incredible costumes, giant green and blue geckos, multi-coloured dragons, leotards and clown outfits with long coloured stripy socks… The colours of their outfits pop and their faces are painted with an African pattern, dots of white paint forming a semi-circle drawn around the eyes. As the drums ring out passers-by join the procession which weaves through the playa before stopping in a nearby camp. A circle forms around the troupe as they begin their acrobatic performance. The drummers warm up the crowd as the clapping and cheering gets louder.

Performance at AfrikaBurn (Photo by Roxane Jessi)

They clamber up on each other’s shoulders to form human towers somersaulting and back-flipping perilously through the air, to the gasps of the audience. The crowning moment is provided by the two-year-old daughter of two members of the troupe, born into circus life… As she is hoisted up into the air by the steady arms of her parents she giggles merrily before waving at the audience, with all the carefree self-confidence of a child. The burn brings together people from all walks of life, from circus performers to accountants, giving us all a place for play and Radical Self-expression, reminding us that there is no right path in life. A place where we can be free from judgment.

Circus performers at AfrikaBurn (Photo by Roxane Jessi)

Curious about AfrikaBurn? Browse the event’s very informative website to learn about AfrikaBurn’s unique culture and ethos, its history, and what the community is rolling out this year for their Space-themed burn week.

Cover image of an AfrikaBurn sunset, 2018 (All photos courtesy of Roxane Jessi)

About the author: Roxane Jessi

Roxane Jessi

Roxane Jessi is an aid worker and roving Burner who has participated in more than a dozen different Burns around the globe. In 2023 Burning Man Publishing released her new book, "Once Upon a Time in the Dust, Burning Man Around the World," which chronicles the year she spent participating in seven Regional Burning Man Events on six continents.