As many of you know, I recently attended Afrikaburn, the second largest gathering around Burning Man culture, out in the remote desert of South Africa. (Let’s be honest, if you haven’t been accosted by millions of my photos on your feed yet, I commend you).
Anyway, you may know that I went, you may have seen some crazy photos, and you may know a thing or two about what Afrikaburn was. Some kind of music festival? Some kind of hippie gathering? Some kind of thing in the desert? some kind of…. what?
What exactly IS a burn, or ‘burning man culture,’ might you ask? You may have heard of Burning Man, but may not know that similar events exist in other places as well. Burning Man actually developed on a beach in San Francisco, and evolved into the massive desert gathering that it is today. It wasn’t until years after the fact that one of the creators/founding fathers put into writing ten principles that burning man culture centers around.
Afrikaburn is what is called a ‘regional burn,’ or an official Burning Man event held elsewhere in the world and held under the same principles as Burning Man culture. You may have heard of the whole ‘gifting’ thing, and you may know that there is no money at events like this. You may not, however, have known that there are ten principles that govern all ‘regional burns’ that are held up at dozens, if not hundreds, of these regional Burning Man events held all over the world… like Afrikaburn.
Now, these are not laws. No, there are no ‘rules’ in this alternate universe that we call a burn, besides occasionally those of the area the event happens to be in. At a burn, anything really goes, but these principles are here to generally guide the culture that governs the gathering.
Can’t actually attend Burning Man? Read all about road tripping in Nevada and experiencing Burning Man year round.
Burning Man Culture at Afrikaburn: What Makes it Different?
If you know me, you know I LOVE festivals largely because of the complete different vibe and openness that exists in these little mini-worlds for a weekend at a time. People who don’t look each other in the eye in the city may come together in an embrace and have genuine conversation at a festival. I think this is one of the situations on earth that people are at their most raw, open selves, ready to experience connection and expand their perspective a bit past what they are used to. And, as a burn is pretty much the pinnacle of a festival experience (if you can really even call it that!) it exists the most intensely in this type of space.
So since I love this feeling so much and want everyone to experience it, I want to let you all know more about what it’s like. So here I have outlined the ten principles of a burn that govern burning man culture, and made a few notes on what we can take away from them back to the ‘real world.’ In any case, these are very thought provoking and will hopefully lead you to step back a little bit and reconsider our societal norms in this day and age.
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 1: RADICAL INCLUSION🔥
Radical Inclusion means that, no matter who you are, where you’re from, or how high you let your freak flag fly, you are ACCEPTED. Everyone is included in burning man culture, and accepted how they are.
Radical inclusion means that everyone, brought together by the binding force of Afrikaburn (or any burn), is together as one, as friends, going through the same experience together. At an event like this you can honestly walk up to anyone and give them a compliment or strike up conversation, and it is not only completely normal, but encouraged! Everyone meets one another, learns about the different walks of life each other comes from, compliments outfits or features, and shares the love.
This is one of the principles I miss the most in ‘normal life,’ especially in big cities like London where it is considered strange to even look someone else in the eyes during your morning commute.
What can we learn?
Ask yourself: why can’t we be radically inclusive all the time, strike up conversation with others, share smiles with strangers, and spread positivity? Why do we need a specific environment to do so, and why it is often considered strange in many parts of the world?
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 2: GIFTING.🔥
This is a burn principle that a lot of people get a bit confused. You don’t always have to pack a ton of material things to ‘give out’ to people, the main idea is that you do something, anything, to positively enhance the experience of others at the burn. And this is not trading, it’s the idea of selflessly giving without expecting anything in return.
You can gift compliments, smiles, or laughter. You can give out sunscreen in the heat of the day; you can wear a crazy costume or drive around a ridiculously decorated car that entertains people and adds value to their experience. You can serve champagne 2 hours a day from your camp, or wine, snacks, water, g&t, whatever. You can teach yoga classes or meditation sessions, or perform a silly circus or dance routine. You can drive people around in a silly taxi. You can hand out little cards that say ‘thank you for being you.’ You can go big or small, individual or collective. Some entire camps come together to gift open bars, jacuzzis, live bands, margarita parties, or big stages lined up with sound systems & DJ’s.
Hell, you can blow bubbles if you want!! Personally, I gifted my photos at Afrikaburn – and have finally edited and published them – and also face paint. I must have painted about 80 faces/bodies throughout the burn, and it made me so happy to see people so happy with their new tribal face designs. You can also see a fraction of the faces I painted in my photo journal (the white paint)!
It’s also of course central to gift ART. Art is integral to Burning Man culture – from big massive structures out in the desert to decorating your bike. Art is pretty much the main aspect of any burn, and adds exponential value to everyone’s experience. Many of the structures that took weeks or even months to construct are burnt down at the end as well, which adds to the concept of gifting or really ‘letting go’ of something near to your heart.
What can we learn?
This is definitely something to think about in ‘real life.’ We live in a day and age where gifts nearly always come with an expectation of something in return. Why can’t we learn to give, to let go, selflessly? What would it mean to the recipient? When was the last time you gave, or someone gave selflessly to you?
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 3: DECOMMODIFICATION🔥
This means that, at the burn, you are not subject to advertising, commercialism, sponsorships, or any type of consumption that we are constantly subject to in the ‘real world.’
Burning Man/Afrikaburn/etc seek to keep the event completely participatory and involving, and prevent it from being something people attend simply to consume and not contribute. This also preserves the whole gifting idea (above) in that people do not expect anything in return for what they give.
This principle comes into play at and outside of the event – it even extends to using content created at the burn for advertising or commodification after the fact. It’s meant to be completely detached from that facet of the world.
Interestingly enough, the burn also kind of deconstructs the whole idea of having famous people/dj’s or building up to see a certain show. It’s very hard to come upon any type of lineup for a burn; you may know someone is playing but you won’t know when or where. You must just stumble upon any act you see while wandering the desert! In this way, you learn to simply enjoy the music rather than worry about who is playing it. Everyone is equal out on the playa, no one is to be sold to or sell anything.
What can we learn?
It’s astonishing to think about how much we are ‘sold to’ on a daily basis. This succumbing/resisting to advertisement has become a normal facet of our every day lives, to the point we don’t even realize it. They’re everywhere – from McDonald’s billboards that make us hungry, to fashion ads that make us want to spend all our money at the mall, to destination campaigns that make us want to jump on the next plane.
Think about what it would be like if we weren’t being constantly sold to, or using anything we possibly could to make money. The world would be a much more genuine place!
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 4: RADICAL SELF-RELIANCE🔥
This means that you are going to have to account for everything you need, use, and make at the burn, yourself.
The only thing you can buy at Afrikaburn is ice. Everything else, you MUST bring. Each person/camp is responsible for their food and water for the week, camping and cooking supplies, basically all survival supplies (weather can get extreme), and all rubbish.
Radical self-reliance also builds upon decommodification in that you cannot buy anything or be sold to. You obviously don’t go as far as to grow your own food or build your own tent (😂) but you must be totally responsible for what you bring in and out of the playa and how you survive in the remote desert for the week – no one else is going to take care of you!
What can we learn?
It’s interesting to think about how much we rely on other people/things each day. We purchase food, drinks, transportation (public transport, ubers, petrol, etc), and other people’s services DAILY. It’s crazy to think about how much we rely on others, and also very different to be in a position where you are solely relying on yourself (and maybe the logicstics of your camp setup and some gifts from others!)
Try to go a day in the real world where you are radically self-reliant. Hard, isn’t it? Impossible, even?
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 5: RADICAL SELF EXPRESSION🔥
This one slightly just describes itself. At a burn, you can express yourself however. the. f. you.want.
Want to dress like a unicorn? Want to entirely cover yourself in body paint? Want to channel your inner child at a 5th birthday party or your inner tribal warrior? Want to walk around as naked as the day you were born? GREAT, then that’s what you should do!
Radical self expression also entails accepting all other people in the way they choose to express themselves as well. It also goes right along with radical inclusion and gifting – everyone is included exactly as they wish to be in burning man culture, and often giving the gift of a crazy outfit for others to enjoy and gain value from.
What can we learn?
Just when exactly did society evolve to put on boring business pants and jackets each morning? What if we really did wake up each day and put on glitter, shine, patterns, colors, and body paint? This one is easy to take back into the real world in premise, but not quite in practice (unfortunately 😛 ).
What can we do? Just remember to always retain a little piece of your individuality and to express yourself fabulously wherever you are, whether in what you wear or what you do. Make your presence and positivity a gift to others always!
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 6: COMMUNAL EFFORT🔥
Communal effort means that the creation of public and communal spaces, networks, and gatherings is valued, and everyone should play a part in bringing each other closer together. Communication and creation are central values to the burn, and are encouraged in honestly any form at all!
Coming together with other burners to co-create something, whether an art piece, a temporary dance floor, a wine party or pancake house, a desert coffee shop or climbing wall, a paint party or body art studio, a shower, a place to watch the sunset, or just a temporary meeting of new friends or sharing of good energy… is so valued.
We come to the desert as strangers and leave it together as one, as part of a community that shares a unique bond, and each person plays a role in the communal effort it takes to get there.
What can we learn?
Well, it does seem as if, in today’s world, it is all too often ‘every man for himself.’ What if we took a minute to think about how powerful it could be if everyone came together more often, to cocreate, to appreciate, to reinstate a sense of community in this detached world? Artistic expression and creation are often suppressed these days in pursuit of big careers, money, etc, but at the burn it is constantly encouraged in any form, individual and collective.
At the burn people seem to be more thinking more about what they can do to make others’ experience better rather than selfishly consuming the experience just for their own benefit. Why don’t we try more often to come together, work together, and do what we can to make others’ days/lives better? This is an easy one to bring back to real life. Why don’t we all try to positively contribute to someone else’s day today? 🙂
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 7: CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY🔥
With all this radical self-expression, inclusion, and gifting comes a bit of responsibility to conduct whatever-it-is we are doing, wearing, gifting, or showing in a civil way. We treat each other kindly, we ensure that stages/vehicles/food/drink are safe to use/consume, and we essentially want to make sure we are all being good humans to each other, to the environment, and to other creations.
In a space of burning man culture with no specific policing force (per say) it is important for people to take responsibility for their own actions. There is no event company who ‘puts on’ any burn – besides the infrastructure, the entire event is put on by the people who attend it. So it’s important for each citizen to ensure safety and welfare of themselves and others.
Basically, everyone just needs to be kind and take care of themselves and others! Seems easy, doesn’t it?
What can we learn?
Civic responsibility it essentially good karma. There are always of course a few bad apples in every bunch, but all in all it does seem that people at the burn really do police themselves – ensuring safety and cleanliness without someone to tell them what to do. And this is actually so beautiful. Everyone comes together to have a good time and also to uphold the ten principles and not leave any rubbish behind. What if we policed ourselves every day, didn’t wait for people to tell us to do things, built up good karma, and held ourselves more accountable for what we say and do?
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 8: LEAVE NO TRACE🔥
With civic responsibility to each other and to the ten principles comes being responsible for our own trash. Afrikaburn calls this MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) and each person is responsible for their own moop. Glitter, glow sticks, feathers, gems, traces of lost outfits, decorations, beer cans, tents, alcohol bottles, plastic bags, and food do NOT belong in the desert…. they are MOOP.
This is not the kind of festival where you can crawl absent-mindedly out of your tent on the last day and leave all your sh*t behind in a massive pile of dust for someone else to take care of. People are REALLY serious about this. You even pick up a little gem at Afrikaburn if it falls off your face! Many people help clean up moop throughout the day as well, and bring it back to their camp to dispose of.
Being totally participatory and radically self-reliant, Afrikaburn doesn’t even have trash cans for people to use on the grounds. Who would take them out, when the event is put on by its attendees? Unless a camp wants to gift trash cans and deal with them for other people, you are dependent solely on yourself (radical self-reliance 😉 )to make sure you leave no trace behind in the desert. This means you bring all your trash out with you as well!
Leaving no trace is a fantastic example of civic responsibility in that it seems most people encourage others to pick up any moop that may be left behind. Afrikaburn even gives out little containers to fill with cigarette butts, and people always share these around so cigarette butts don’t crowd the desert floor. Teams of people volunteer to pick up moop for days after the event, to leave the desert looking just like it did before.
What can we learn?
We too often rely on others to pick up after us. People litter on the side of the road, people wait for their cleaning lady, significant other, roommates, or other service people to clean up after them all the time. Think about this: if each person in the world took care of ONLY their OWN moop (and at least got it to a trash can or in a place it belongs), there would be no issues with litter or soiled places! Something to think about.
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 9: PARTICIPATION🔥
You don’t ‘attend’ Afrikaburn… you cocreate it. The only thing that is put on by Afrikaburn is the infrastructure and the Clan (or ‘the Man’ at Burning Man). Everything there is created by it’s participants, and each person there is an important part of the event.
Don’t be a tourist at a burn, participate. This doesn’t mean you have to make some kind of massive artwork (although you could!), it just means you must immerse yourself in the culture… and get amongst it! 😉
Be about Afrikaburn/ burning man culture. Talk to other burners. Accept gifts, and give them. Walk through camps, meet people, and find out what they’re all about. Share smiles. Enter temples. Meet artists. Share whatever it is that you can contribute, it can be anything, and appreciate what others contribute as well. Open your heart to whatever the experience may bring. Enrich your soul through true connection and presence. Discover music. Dance with people. Share the vibes. The world is absolute magic if you simply allow it inside of you – and it is even more so at a burn 😀
What can we learn?
Oh, this is the best one to bring to real life! Attendees co-create at Afrikaburn, and if you think about it, all of us humans are co-creating the race of life. We’re all in this together, why not act like it? Talk to people. Be giving. Spread good vibes always… even if you live in a big city where no one talks to each other. Break the mold! Compliment someone, or smile at them. They will either think it’s weird or it will make their day, but at least you have a chance to make someone’s day! 🙂 There is so much to learn from others and from opening your mind to new experience, on or off the playa.
🔥BURN PRINCIPLE 10: IMMEDIACY🔥
Immediacy means being present…. totally and completely present, in the now, and conscious of the immediate world around you. Don’t think about tomorrow, next week, or what work you may have to do later on. Be 100% in the moment; be right here, right now.
What can we learn?
Being immediately present is a lot harder than it seems! But this burn principle is something we can ALL take away back to the ‘real world.’ But, then again, everything is the real world ! It’s just your experience of it that changes.
This is one of the ways to get the most not only out of your burn, but out of life. Be present and experience this moment in its entirety without your mind taking you somewhere else. Open your heart to now, and let the moment teach you and guide you where you need to go. You are exactly where you need to be. 😀
Well guys, we got a little deep for a minute there! I hope this has helped you gain some insight into burning man culture and my favorite alternate dimension called Afrikaburn (well, existent at any burn… I have been having trouble knowing what to call it :P) and maybe possibly potentially a little bit convinced you to put some of these things into practice in that whole ‘real world’ thing.
The elusive 11th Burning Man principle is ‘Each One Teach One,’ meaning that each burner should go back and teach someone else about these ideals. I hope I have taught at least one, but why don’t we all go and do the same?
I would love to hear your comments, critiques, thoughts, and ideas about how far-fetched it is to be able to bring festival ideals and burning man culture back to reality with us. It may be impossible, but we can sure as hell try! If each one teaches one, that is already thousands more perspectives changed. And that already in some form, is success.
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