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Tribes of Africa: the Bushmen of the Kalahari

By 22nd December 2011March 13th, 2023No Comments

The indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose homeland covers much of Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Angola, are often also known as Bushmen or the San people. They are traditionally nomadic hunters and gatherers who moved over vast areas of land throughout Southern Africa. The Bushmen are split into northern and southern bushmen due to their differences in language. The most significant populations are divided between Botswana (55,000), Namibia (27,000) and South Africa (10,000) with most being based around the Kalahari Desert.

The Bushmen have been studied many, many times by anthropologist fascinated by their roots and their traditions. They are one of 14 known groups known as “ancestral population clusters” ie tribes from which all modern mankind have descended from.

They have a fairly egalitarian society with women being accorded much respect and authority. Kinship and family is very important with large family groups living together. Leisure time is important as they spend a lot of time recreationally in family and kin groups. Most important of all is the hunt for food and for water as they live in an arid and barren desert region. Drought is a real threat to them and their way of life and one of the reasons various governments have tried to force them into farming. The Bushmen of Botswana have been involved in long running legal battles to be allowed to return to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve one of their most important and protected homelands.

The Bushmen of the Kalahari or San people first came to worldwide prominence when Laurens Van Der Post  filmed a documentary series on the Bushmen for the BBC in the 1950s. It was a huge hit and triggered a worldwide fascination with this ancient and forgotten tribe of Africa. His views of them were very European but led the way to a deeper understanding and respect of their way of life from later anthropologists and academics.

The further investigations of Bushman culture and traditions have demonstrated a common link with other ancient races such as the Native Americans and South American rainforest tribes in their experiences with trances and “soul quests”. Many anthropologists are very excited by the fact that these seem to be common experiences amongst early man despite never having been in contact with each other.

It is vital that these people and their traditional way of life are supported, respected and preserved. They are far too important to just let them fade away.