5 ways to prepare for Afrikaburn

Posted on 19 April 2013

This year, I will be visiting Afrikaburn for the third time, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. This enthusiasm, it seems, is widespread: the tickets sold out in a shake of a dinosaur-fairy’s tail, even though at least 1000 extra tickets were made available this year.

For those not in the know, Afrikaburn is an art festival that happens every year in the Tankwa Karoo. It’s inspired by Burning Man, a festival in Black Rock Desert where every year, 50 000 people construct a temporary city built on a few core values: self-expression, self-reliance, and fun. Our African version is only a fraction of this size, but is true to the original theme.

If this is going to be your first visit to Afrikaburn, people have probably already told you that there’s no way you can fully “get” it without being there. That’s true. But I’d describe it as a tumbleweed of art, being pushed around by a huge community of happy people, in a very inhospitable environment. (For the long version, read the official Afrikaburn Surivival Guide.)

But so that you don’t blunder off into the unknown without the necessities, here are some tips.

1. Make an awesome costume  

Afrikaburn costume Afrikaburn costume Afrikaburn costume Afrikaburn costume

This year, the theme at Afrikaburn is “archetypes”. That’s pretty broad. This is where the radical self-expression comes in: quite literally, anything goes. I’ve seen people dressed up like aloes, Inspector Gadget, giraffes, and others dressed down into… well, nothing. If there’s anything that you’ve always kinda wanted to explore, now is the time. It’s also lots of fun to make a plan with a group of friends, and getting your materials and creating your outfit together is a great way to get into the Afrikaburn headspace before you actually arrive.

Just remember: no MOOP (matter out of place). The site of Tankwa Town must be left looking untouched, so that means no feathers, sequins, or other baubles that will come loose in the desert.

 2. Think about your gift


It’s a little hard to comprehend out here in the “other” world, but here goes: at Afrikaburn, there’s a gift-giving economy. No money, no trade. People walk around giving things to each other (neck rubs, ice tea, leather workshops, cherry pancakes) simply because it’s a nice thing to do.

You don’t have to spend hours building a kitchen to give away midnight butternut soup if you’re short on cash: there are plenty of ways to contribute. Bring extra food to share, musical instruments, lip balm or face-paint. Or offer services instead. There’s such a feeling of camaraderie that you really will feel like a tosser if you have nothing to reciprocate with.

 3. Self-reliance is number 1

Now that we’ve spoken about the creative, it’s time for the pragmatic. You are literally arriving in a desert: it’s quite a lot more hard-core than a weekend at a camping site. The ground, baked stone-hard by thousands of years of Karoo sun, will laugh at your flimsy tent-pegs. Most folks go for rebar, long lengths of stainless steel, to anchor their tents in the face of sudden storms.


You don't want this to be your campsite.

Going with the flow is easier if you're returning to a dry campsite!

If you’re a newbie, the main things to plan are water and shade. You’ll need at least five litres a person a day, which will cover your drinking and washing. The Karoo is fierce during the day, and although there will be many theme tents with shade and beanbags, it’s best to have some coverage at your own campsite.

If you want a fire (for cooking or fending off the bitter Karoo cold) you’ll have to bring some sort of container for it: burn scars on the desert aren’t pretty! A discarded drum from a washing machine is best, but a brazier or even a metal waste-bin with holes punched into it will work.

 4. Support a fundraiser

This ain’t no trance party: Afrikaburn has no corporate sponsors, and all the ticket-sales go towards financing next year’s artworks. Making these massive, mind-blowing works of art takes months, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of crowd-sourced rands. The main artwork for 2013 is called “Reflection”, and it’s still behind on budget: start your giving early by donating a little something to its transport. It will be so, so worth it.


The DMV, or Department of Mutant Vehicles, is taken very seriously.


Like all dragons, this fellow breathed fire!


5. Stoke the excitement online

If you’re not excited already, I probably can’t help you. If, however, you’re excited but still dumbfounded about what to expect, the Internet is here to help you. Read our coverage of last year’s Afrikaburn, our list of necessary gear, or have a look at this great time-lapse video. The Afrikaburn website has got all sorts of amazing snippets, from how-to guides to creative writing, that will fill you with ideas. It’s a must-read for first-time Burners.

Finally, and most importantly, is a video called “Oh, The Places You’ll Go at Burning Man.” Yes yes, it was filmed at the main festival in America, but it is the best thing you’ll watch all week. Plus, who can say no to Dr Seuss?

Oh, the Places You’ll Go at Burning Man! from Parker Howell on Vimeo.

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