San of the Kalahari
The San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert of Botswana are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa. Traditional hunter gatherers, with a culture dating up to 40,000 years, they are believed to be the living evidence of the lifestyle of early man.
Today they are located in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola with a population of 100,000, however there are only 100 San Bushmen left living as hunter gatherers in a confined area of the Kalahari Desert.
Their age-old understanding of the land and their mastery of the harsh terrain have insured their survival in an area where other communities have failed to exist. San Bushman, almost constantly on the move, possess no more than they can carry. They decorate themselves with beads and hides and use basic tools and implements which originated in the stone age.
In order to survive the San Bushmen live together in small communities where men and women’s roles are clearly defined. Women are responsible for gathering, they have a knowledge of 400 to 500 plants with both nutritional and medicinal properties. They know which tubers contain enough water to keep a person alive during the drought. The San Bushmen mainly live off berries, seeds and roots. Yellow and black beetles are a delicacy and truffles are a regular part of their diet.
Whilst women gather, men hunt with bows and arrows in small groups for up to four to five days at a time. They use a deadly poison found in the larvae of beetles which on the tip of an arrowhead can bring down an elephant. When a San Bushman hunter stalks an animal, he believes he is entering a ritual exchange with the animal, who eventually gives itself up. The largest antelope in Africa, the eland is the most powerful mythological creature for the San Bushmen. It is highly valued for its fat which is believed to have a supernatural potency and is an important ritual component for all rites of passage. The San Bushmen believe that when the eland dies its spirit is released. The night of the hunt, shamen gather together to trance dance around the fire. Into the small hours of the morning their footsteps pound into the mesmerising beat of women clapping and chanting. They believe that as they dance the eland’s potency, they assume the animal’s form and enter the spirit world. Here they receive supernatural healing powers from God and the ancestral spirits.