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San children, Namibia.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Botswana (55,000), Namibia (27,000), South Africa (10,000), Angola (<5,000), Zimbabwe (1,200)|
|all languages of the Khoe, Kx'a, and Tuu language families|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Khoikhoi, Xhosa, Basters, Griqua|
San children, Namibia.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Botswana (55,000), Namibia (27,000), South Africa (10,000), Angola (<5,000), Zimbabwe (1,200)|
|all languages of the Khoe, Kx'a, and Tuu language families|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Khoikhoi, Xhosa, Basters, Griqua|
The San people (or Saan), also known as Bushmen or Basarwa – all considered pejorative to some degree – are members of various indigenous hunter-gatherer people of Southern Africa, whose territories span Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. There is a significant linguistic difference between the northern people living between the Okavango River in Botswana and Etosha National Park in northwestern Namibia, extending up into southern Angola; the central people of most of Namibia and Botswana, extending into Zambia and Zimbabwe; and the southern people in the central Kalahari towards the Molopo River, who are the last remnant of the previously extensive indigenous San of South Africa.
Starting in the 1950s, and lasting through the 1990s, the San switched to farming as a result of government-mandated modernisation programs. They have provided a wealth of information for the fields of anthropology and genetics, even as their lifestyles change. One broad study of African genetic diversity completed in 2009 found that the San people were among the five populations with the highest measured levels of genetic diversity among the 121 distinct African populations sampled. The San are one of fourteen known extant "ancestral population clusters" from which all known modern humans descend.
The indigenous hunter-gatherer people of southern Africa prefer to be identified by the names of their individual nations, for example the ǃKung, ǀXam, ǂKhomani, Nusan (Nǀu), Khwe (Khoi, Kxoe), Naro, Haiǁom, Tsoa, Auen, Kua, Gǀui and Gǁana. Various terms including San, Bushmen and Basarwa have been used to refer to them collectively. Each of these terms has a problematic history, as they have been used by others to refer to them often with pejorative connotations. In the 1970s, many Western anthropologists adopted the term San (or Saan) to refer to them collectively, although some later switched back to the term Bushmen. Historically this was a derogatory term applied to them by their pastoralist Khoikhoi rivals, meaning "foragers" (saa "picking up from the ground" + plural -n in the Haiǁom dialect), and became associated with people without cattle or people who stole cattle, and is still an ethnic slur in the central Kalahari. The term Bushmen is still widely used by others and to self-identify, however opinions vary on whether it is appropriate as it is sometimes viewed as pejorative.
The consensus of delegates representing the people at various meetings held in the 1990s was in favour of using the term San to refer to them collectively, as it was considered the most neutral term. These meetings included the Common Access to Development Conference organised by the Government of Botswana held in Gaborone in 1993, the 1996 inaugural Annual General Meeting of the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) held in Namibia, and a 1997 conference in Cape Town on "Khoisan Identities and Cultural Heritage" organised by the University of the Western Cape. According to anthropologist Richard Borshay Lee, the term San was in general use by the people themselves by the late 1990s. Representatives of the people from WIMSA and the South African San Institute attending the 2003 Africa Human Genome Initiative conference held in Stellenbosch reiterated that they prefer to be described by either their individual group names or the collective term San.
There are regional variations in acceptable nomenclature:
The San kinship system reflects their interdependence as traditionally small mobile foraging bands. The kinship system is comparable to the eskimo kinship system, with the same set of terms as in European cultures, but also uses a name rule and an age rule. The age rule resolves any confusion arising from kinship terms, as the older of two people always decides what to call the younger. Relatively few names circulate (approximately 35 names per sex), and each child is named after a grandparent or another relative.
Children have no social duties besides playing, and leisure is very important to San of all ages. Large amounts of time are spent in conversation, joking, music, and sacred dances. Women have a high status in San society, are greatly respected, and may be leaders of their own family groups. They make important family and group decisions and claim ownership of water holes and foraging areas. Women are mainly involved in the gathering of food, but may also take part in hunting.
The most important thing in San life is water. Droughts may last many months and waterholes may dry up. When this happens, they use sip wells. To get water this way, a San scrapes a deep hole where the sand is damp. Into this hole is inserted a long hollow grass stem. An empty ostrich egg is used to collect the water. Water is sucked into the straw from the sand, into the mouth, and then travels down another straw into the ostrich egg.
Traditionally, the San were an egalitarian society. Although they had hereditary chiefs, their authority was limited. The San made decisions among themselves by consensus, with women treated as relative equals. San economy was a gift economy, based on giving each other gifts regularly rather than on trading or purchasing goods and services.
Villages range in sturdiness from nightly rain shelters in the warm spring (when people move constantly in search of budding greens), to formalised rings, wherein people congregate in the dry season around permanent waterholes. Early spring is the hardest season: a hot dry period following the cool, dry winter. Most plants still are dead or dormant, and supplies of autumn nuts are exhausted. Meat is particularly important in the dry months when wildlife can not range far from the receding waters.
Women gather fruit, berries, tubers, bush onions, and other plant materials for the band's consumption. Ostrich eggs are gathered, and the empty shells are used as water containers. Insects provide perhaps 10% of animal proteins consumed, most often during the dry season. Depending on location, the San consume 18 to 104 species, including grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, moths, butterflies, and termites.
Women's traditional gathering gear is simple and effective: A hide sling, a blanket, a cloak called a kaross to carry foodstuffs, firewood, smaller bags, a digging stick, and perhaps, a smaller version of the kaross to carry a baby.
Historical evidence shows that certain San communities have always lived in the desert regions of the Kalahari, however, eventually nearly all other San communities in southern Africa were forced into this region. The Kalahari San remained in poverty where their richer neighbours denied them rights to the land. Before long, in both Botswana and Namibia, they found that their territory drastically reduced.
Various Y chromosome studies show that the San carry some of the most divergent (oldest) human Y-chromosome haplogroups. These haplogroups are specific sub-groups of haplogroups A and B, the two earliest branches on the human Y-chromosome tree.
Mitochondrial DNA studies also provide evidence that the San carry high frequencies of the earliest haplogroup branches in the human mitochondrial DNA tree. This DNA is inherited only from one's mother. The most divergent (oldest) mitochondrial haplogroup, L0d, has been identified at its highest frequencies in the southern African San groups.
In a study published in March 2011, Brenna Henn and colleagues found that the ǂKhomani San, as well as the Sandawe and Hadza peoples of Tanzania, were the most genetically diverse of any living humans studied. This high degree of genetic diversity hints at the origin of anatomically modern humans.
Since the mid-1990s, the central government of Botswana has implemented a relocation policy aimed at moving the San out of XamKhomani Heartland, their ancestral land on and near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), into newly created settlements such as New Xade. The government's official reason for adopting the policy is as follows:
"Over time it has become clear that many residents of the CKGR already were or wished to become settled agriculturists, raising crops and tending livestock as opposed to hunting-gathering when the reserve was established in 1961
"In fact, hunting-gathering had become obsolete to sustain their living conditions. These agricultural land uses are not compatible with preserving wildlife resources and not sustainable to be practiced in the Game Reserve."This is the fundamental reason for government to relocate the CKGR residents."
"Government's policy has at all times been based upon the consent of those concerned, at no time has government comtemplated the use of force."
A 2006 court ruling confirmed, however, that residents had been forcibly and unconstitutionally removed.
Opponents of the relocation policy claim that the government's intent is to clear the area—an area the size of Denmark—for the lucrative tourist trade and diamond mining. The government's official web site states that although exploration had taken place, it concluded that diamond mining would not be viable and that the relocation policy had nothing to do with mining.
In 2005, John Simpson of BBC News described New Xade as suffering from drunkenness and sexually transmitted diseases, saying, "When the Botswana government takes foreign guests to New Xade on fact-finding trips, it shows them the showcase schools and clinics which have been built for the Bushmen. The VIP buses take a detour in order to miss the shebeens [bars]." Simpson said he suspected the relocations were partly motivated by plans for diamond mining.
In a 2005 embassy communication released in 2011, United States Ambassador to Botswana Joseph Huggins condemned the forced evictions, saying: "While it is probably the case that two-three years on since the move, the greatest trauma is past, it is also clear that people have been dumped in economically absolutely unviable situations without forethought, and without follow-up support. The lack of imagination displayed on the part of the GOB [Government of Botswana] is breathtaking. The GOB views New Xade as similar to many sites of rural poverty, deserving no special treatment. But the special tragedy of New Xade's dependent population is that it could have been avoided."
A spokesperson for the CKGR San, Jumanda Gakelebone, claimed that the government refused to provide them with a polling station for the 2009 elections and that in response, the San would boycott the 2011 census. He said the lack of polling stations "showed that the government does not recognise us as a people. So why count us?"
On 13 December 2006, the San won a historic ruling in their long-running court case against the government. According to the San's lawyer Gordon Bennett, "Nobody thought the Bushmen had any rights" before their court victory. "Nobody even cared."
By a 2–1 majority, the court ruled the refusal to allow the Basarwa into the CKGR without a permit, and the refusal to issue special game licences to allow the San to hunt, was "unlawful and unconstitutional". It also found that the San were "forcibly and wrongly deprived of their possessions" by the government. The court did not compel the government to provide services, such as water, to any San who returned to the reserve. As of 2006, more than 1,000 San intended to return to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, one of Africa's largest protected nature reserves.
The government interpreted the ruling narrowly, however, and only limited numbers of San have been allowed to return to this land. In April 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) criticised Botswana's government for not allowing certain San to return.
On 27 January 2011, the San won an appeal against the government in the Botswana High Court after they initially were prohibited from accessing drinking water inside the Reserve through bore holes. Barrister Gordon Bennett represented the San in court as the judges declared the Botswana government guilty of ‘degrading treatment’ and described the case as ‘a harrowing story of human suffering and despair’. Furthermore, the Government was ordered to pay the costs of the San's appeal.
The Botswana government's official Facebook page states in several 2013 posts that "contrary to some media reports the Government has consistently provided the residents with water. When the borehole was temporarily shut down last year water was trucked in until the borehole was restored."
On 24 May 2013, Survival International reported that some San in Ranyane were slated to be evicted from their ancestral land in order to create a wildlife corridor, known as the Western Kgalagadi Conservation Corridor. On May 28, Botswana's High Court had ruled that the eviction be suspended until 18 June, when the case would return to court. Botswana government representative Jeff Ramsay denied any forced eviction plans. The official Facebook page of the Botswana government also denied any such plans. A Survival International campaigner said, "I don’t know how the government can say [...] that they are not planning to evict them when the Ranyane Bushmen are taking the government to court to stop from being removed." The Director of Khwedom Council, Keibakile Mogodu, said, "We have been deliberating on the issue with government officials, yes I can confirm that government was due to relocate [six hundred] Basarwa on Monday, [May 27th]." A case was filed on the San's behalf.
On 5 June 2013, Survival International reported that government trucks had arrived on 4 June for the eviction. An 11 June 2013 post on the Botswana government's Facebook page stated that forty-six people, including some of San ancestry, had been voluntarily moved from Ranyane to the Bere settlement, and reiterated, "[T]here is no merit to the allegations being mass-circulated to the media by the London based Survival International organisation, and their supporters at the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA), that the Government of Botswana is either forcibly removing people from Ranyane or defying a court order." A follow-up 14 June post stated that seventy-one people had moved to Bere. In an 18 June 2013 update, Survival International reported that the court had ruled in the San's favour. Along with the article, Survival International posted a photograph of the relocation trucks and a copy of the High Court order, which included the stipulation that "[t]he Applicants and members of the families shall not be removed from Ranyane less than 48 hours after those persons have informed the Applicants' Attorneys by telephone of their proposed removal." On the same day, a post on the Botswana government's Facebook page said, "This morning [attorneys] representing 12 Ranyane residents (Applicants) on one side and the Ghanzi Land Board, Ghanzi District Council and Ghanzi District Commissioner (Respondents) appeared in the Lobatse High Court, as a follow up to the Court's 28th May 2013 interdict barring the Applicants' supposed eviction from Ranyane [...] For its part the Government of Botswana has made its position clear that it has no intention of evicting the said applicants or for that matter relocating any others from the settlement against their will." It went on to quote the High Court order.
On 26 July 2013, Survival International reported that the Botswana government had placed the San's British attorney Gordon Bennett on a visa list, effectively preventing him from entering the country until he obtains a visa. Prior to this, Bennett has successfully represented the Botswana San in court three times. Bennett said, "The right to a fair trial normally includes the right to be represented by counsel of your choice. Not in Botswana, apparently – or at least not if you sue the Government." A Botswana government Facebook post stated that the Department of Immigration had turned down Bennett's request for a visa, describing it as "submitted on short notice[.]" A follow-up Facebook post said that the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, the Honourable Edwin Batshu, defended this move as being "in the interest of national security." The trial began on 29 July.
On 6 August 2013, a Botswana government Facebook post announced that local government in the Ghanzi District had recently made plans to move Ranyane residents, and that the national government repudiated these plans.
Hoodia gordonii, used by the San, was patented by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1998, for its presumed appetite suppressing quality. A licence was granted to Phytopharm, for development of the active ingredient in the Hoodia plant, p57 (glycoside), to be used as a pharmaceutical drug for dieting. Once this patent was brought to the attention of the San, a benefit-sharing agreement was reached between them and the CSIR in 2003. This would award royalties to the San for the benefits of their indigenous knowledge. During the case, the San people were represented and assisted by the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA), the South African San Council and the South African San Institute.
This benefit-sharing agreement is one of the first to give royalties to the holders of traditional knowledge used for drug sales. The terms of the agreement are contentious, because of their apparent lack of adherence to the Bonn Guidelines on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing, as outlined in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The San have yet to profit from this agreement, as P57 has still not yet been legally developed and marketed.
The San of the Kalahari were first brought to the Western world's attention in the 1950s by South African author Laurens van der Post. In 1955, Van der Post was commissioned by the BBC to go to the Kalahari desert with a film crew in search of the San. The filmed material was turned into a very popular six-part television documentary a year later. Driven by a lifelong fascination with this "vanished tribe", Van der Post published a 1958 book about the same expedition, entitled, The Lost World of the Kalahari. It was to be his most famous book. In 1961, he published The Heart of the Hunter, a narrative derived from nineteenth-century San stories by Wilhelm Bleek. Van der Post's work is largely discredited, as it is the subjective view of a European in the 1950s and 1960s. His opinions branded the San as simple "children of Nature" or even "mystical ecologists".
John Marshall, the son of Harvard anthropologist Lorna Marshall, documented the lives of San in the Nyae Nyae region of Namibia over a more than 50-year period. His early film The Hunters, released in 1957, shows a giraffe hunt during the 1950s. The film Nǃai, the Story of a ǃKung Woman (1980) is the account of a woman who grew up while the San lived as autonomous hunter-gatherers, but who later was forced into a dependent life in the government-created community at Tsumkwe. A Kalahari Family (2002) is a five-part, six-hour series documenting 50 years in the lives of the Juǀʼhoansi of Southern Africa, from 1951 to 2000. Marshall was a vocal proponent of the San cause throughout his life.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (sister of John Marshall) wrote several books and numerous articles about the San, based in part on her experiences living with these people when their culture was still intact. The Harmless People, published in 1959 (revised in 1989), and The Old Way: A Story of the First People, published in 2006, are the two primary works.
The BBC series How Art Made the World compares San cave paintings from 200 years ago to Paleolithic European paintings that are 14,000 years old. Because of their similarities, the San works may illustrate the reasons for ancient cave paintings. In this programme, Nigel Spivey draws largely on the work of Professor David Lewis-Williams. Drawing parallels between modern hunter-gatherers in southern Africa (San) and the Americas, Lewis-Williams claims that healers, or ritual specialists, deliberately force themselves into a trance in which they travel to the spirit world. The visions they experience on these journeys of the mind are terrifying and complex, and the activity itself is undertaken for the good of the community. The Kalahari San go to the spirit world to entreat their god Bihisabolo for the lives of the sick, to make rain, and to control the movements of the game animals.
Lewis-Williams claims that in the lightest stages of trance states, all humans have the capacity to see geometric shapes known as form constants. They are hard-wired in the brain. As the trance deepens, and the subject tries to make sense of the shapes, so they change into things which are governed by that person's particular culture. The geometries are found all over the world and throughout history. Coupled to this are experiences such as changing into animals: the rock art traditions of hunter-gatherers the world over—including Ice Age Europe—contain images of figures that are half human and half animal. Lewis-Williams claims that going into deep caves is likened to going into a deep trance. Some images in France and Spain are more than 1 km into the caves. Native Americans would call this 'Vision Questing'—going to barely accessible places such as mountain tops to perform rock art making, the images likely derived from visions they had experienced at special ceremonies.
Spencer Wells' 2003 book The Journey of Man—in connection with National Geographic's Genographic Project—discusses a genetic analysis of the San and asserts their genetic markers were the first ones to split from those of the ancestors of the bulk of other Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The San's Y-chromosomal DNA haplogroup (type A) is one of the oldest, splitting off approximately 70,000 years ago from those found in the rest of humanity (type BT). Therefore, the San likely represent one of the oldest existing populations. Genetic markers present on the y chromosome are passed down through thousands of generations in a relatively pure form. The PBS documentary based on the book follows these markers throughout the world, demonstrating that all of humankind can be traced back to the African continent and that the San are one of the oldest and most genetically unadulterated remnants of humankind's ancient ancestors. More recent analysis suggests that the San may have been isolated from other original ancestral groups for as much as 100,000 years and later rejoined, re-integrating the human gene pool.
The 1980 comedy movie The Gods Must Be Crazy portrays a Kalahari San tribe's first encounter with an artifact from the outside world (a Coca-Cola bottle). By the time this movie was made, the ǃKung had recently been forced into sedentary villages, and the San hired as actors were confused by the instructions to act out inaccurate exaggerations of their almost abandoned hunting and gathering life. The director of this movie, Jamie Uys, also had directed Lost in the Desert in 1969, in which a small boy, stranded in the desert, encounters a group of wandering San, who help him and then abandon him as a result of a misunderstanding created by the lack of a common language and culture. Coca-Cola sponsored a documentary on San hunting entitled, The Great Dance: A Hunter's Story (2000), directed by Craig and Damon Foster.
John Marshall and Adrienne Miesmer documented the lives of the !Kung San people between the 1950s and 1978 in Nǃai, the Story of a ǃKung Woman. This film shows how the lives of the !Kung people, who lived for millennia as hunter gatherers, were forever changed when they were forced onto a reservation too small to support them.
South African film-maker Richard Wicksteed has produced a number of documentaries on San culture, history and present situation; these include In God's Places/Iindawo ZikaThixo (1995) on the San cultural legacy in the southern Drakensberg; Death of a Bushman (2002) on the murder of San tracker Optel Rooi by South African police; The Will To Survive (2009) which covers the history and situation of San communities in southern Africa today; and My Land is My Dignity (2009) on the San's epic land rights struggle in Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
"Eh Hee" by Dave Matthews Band was written as an evocation of the music and culture of the San. In a story told to the Radio City audience (an edited version of which appears on the DVD version of Live at Radio City), Matthews recalls hearing the music of the San and, upon asking his guide what the words to their songs were, being told that "there are no words to these songs, because these songs, we've been singing since before people had words". He goes on to describe the song as his "homage to meeting... the most advanced people on the planet".
The BBC's The Life of Mammals series includes video footage of an indigenous San of the Kalahari desert undertaking a persistence hunt of a kudu through harsh desert conditions. It provides an illustration of how early man may have pursued and captured prey with minimal weaponry.
In Wilbur Smith's novel The Burning Shore (an installment in the Courtneys of Africa book series), the San people are portrayed through two major characters, O'wa and H'ani; Smith describes the San's struggles, history, and beliefs in great detail.
Tad Williams' epic Otherland series of novels features a South African San named ǃXabbu, whom Williams confesses to be highly fictionalised, and not necessarily an accurate representation. In the novel, Williams invokes aspects of San mythology and culture.
In 2007, author David Gilman published The Devil's Breath, a novel partly based on the San. One of the main characters, a small San boy named ǃKoga, uses traditional San methods to help the character Max Gordon travel across Namibia.
In Peter Godwin's biography When A Crocodile Eats the Sun, he mentions his time spent with the San for an assignment. His title comes from the San's belief that a solar eclipse occurs when a crocodile eats the sun.
Laurens Van der Post's two novels, A Story Like The Wind (1972) and its sequel, A Far-Off Place (1974), are about a white boy encountering a wandering San and his wife, and how the San's life and survival skills save the white teenagers' lives in a journey across the desert.
the term 'San' comes from the Haiǁom language and has been abbreviated in the following way ... Saa – Picking things up (food) from the ground (i.e. 'gathering'), Saab – A male person gathering, Saas – A female person gathering, Saan – Many people gathering, San – One way to write 'all of the people gathering'
Although the people are also known by the names Bushmen and Basarwa, the term San was chosen as an inclusive group name for this report, since WIMSA representatives have decided to use it until such time as one representative name for all groups will be accepted by all.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to San people.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Bushmen.|