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The San People of Africa

The San tribesmen are descendants of a group of people who lived more than twenty thousand years ago in what is today South Africa. The San tribe is believed to be the direct descendants of the original humans who lived in Sub-Saharan Africa.  They were hunters and gatherers then and some of them are still hunter gatherers in the Kalahari today. They have a unique language that is made of clicks. They are very small in stature and are a darker brown in color.

Because the original San tribesmen were always moving, completely nomadic in nature they did not cultivate crops or domesticate animals. Very little is known of them save what we find in the San tribe today. Testing of the San have concluded that they have the greatest level of biodiversity in their genetic makeup of any other group. They are considered to be remnants of where life began.

San CC BY-SA 2.5--Werner Hammer -  San (Bushmen) preparing poison arrows by using roasted seeds of Bobgunnia madagascariensis

San People CC BY-SA 2.5–Werner Hammer –
San (Bushmen) preparing poison arrows by using roasted seeds of Bobgunnia madagascariensis

There is not  a great deal of village or lifestyle evidence historically, save for just some ostrich shells and other things that were left behind in history. In fact, not a lot has changed for them between then and now, though of course some have and do attend school and behave in a more modern fashion, though many choose not to do so.

Today the San tribesmen and women live in small villages and are less nomadic although they still remain so to a certain extent. The villages range from just rain shelters to formal ring villages where people congregate.

The women of the tribe gather berries, tubers, onions and plant materials. Ostrich eggs are gathered and eaten, while the shells are kept to use as containers for water. Depending on where they live or range, the San eat beetles, grasshoppers, moths and even termites as well as traditional meat.

Women carry the babies with them in slings, as well s a digging stick and a cloak that allows them to carry firewood too.  The men hunt, treking long distances to find game. They kill using spears as their ancestors did, sometimes tipping the spears with the poison that is created from beetle larvae.

Early in the 1990s the government of Botswana  tried –and successfully removed and relocated the San, adopting a policy for moving them out of their homeland and away from the Central Kalahari Gamelands. Their official reason reads 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.”

The government strictly denied that anyone was forced to leave area, but a court ruling in 2006 denied that and confirmed that many of the residents had been forced to move and had been unconstitutionally forced to do so. The court ruling was historic, in that,  San’s lawyer Gordon Bennett, “Nobody thought the Bushmen had any rights” before their court victory. “Nobody even cared.”

While it is a victory, it was a limited one. Only a small amount of the San have been permitted to return to their homeland and many continue to live in forced reservations of a sort, where the rate of alcoholism and STD’s as well as disease is very high, limiting their  lifestyle and perhaps their very existence.

Earlier in 2013, the government again began a policy of moving tribal members away from what was to be a wildlife corridor and into smaller areas. The case is currently winding its way through the court system.