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The San (or Bushmen) are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa and renowned for their survival and hunting skills, and rich cultural traditions.
Who are the san?
The San live in clans, and village settlements often consisting of 20-100 people who are loosely-connected family groups, traditionally following seasonal game migrations. They have a formidable reputation as trackers and hunters and vast knowledge of flora that they use for nutritional and medicinal purposes. They have numerous dialects known for their characteristic ‘clicks’. Colonialism and settling of Bantu tribes throughout Southern Africa have largely destroyed their migratory way of life. Unfortunately, their recent history has been one of poverty and social rejection, as well as decline of cultural identity and the discrimination of their rights as a group. Few modern San are able to continue as hunter-gatherers, and most live at the very bottom of the social scale. Their loss of identity has contributed to low self-esteem, apathy, promiscuity, and alcoholism, particularly amongst the youth. The San have been marginalised in Namibian society and largely overlooked by church and evangelical mission over the years.
What about the team’s arrival?
Team leader Zeka Avelino shares the thoughts of a San builder hired to help with the team members’ houses.
I asked Kgao what he thought of our arrival. He responded by saying, “You are different because you treated me as an equally important person”. For many years, the San have been overlooked and treated as inferior. He said, “We don’t know what to expect from team members coming to live among us yet… we can’t predict the future!” The community knows that language learning is going to be hard for the missionaries but they have faith that they can make it because other Europeans and Westerners (Anthropologists) were able to learn and speak it. There is a general appreciation of people (from other people groups or races) thought by the San to be superior to them coming to socialise and mingle together.
The San of the Tsumkwe area traditionally believe in a distant and good creator god known as !Khu, and a near but not so ‘good’ god, Gaua. Gaua is often revered and called upon via dances, ceremonies, and shaman consultations for village problems such as sickness, hunger, and drought. !Khu is viewed as too distant to care about the problems of everyday life. In the past missionaries have equated the God of the Bible to !Khu and Satan to Gaua. This has contributed to syncretism, confusion about God’s character and his concern for them in their daily struggles.
Day to day life
A few San people have government jobs but the majority don’t. Most people wake up early in the morning and make fire outside with firewood. The mother wakes up early and boils water for tea. Sometimes the water is boiled in a 4 litre tin can because they do not own a saucepan. Often there is not enough tea for everyone so then one cup is shared between five people or more.
After tea, children go and play and adults continue to chat. If one of the adults happens to have something to do, such as doing laundry in the case of ladies, then the rest will try and help while they continue to chat and spend time together.
Men usually sit around together and talk about anything that comes up. For those who drink, they are always found at Sheebens (illegal liquor shops). Most of them do not have money to buy the liquor but they nevertheless get drunk from sharing with their friends.
There are no set menus in the San communities. People eat what is available, when it is available. Sometimes when a family has food, there is a non-stop cooking till there is no more food.